From the moment you see those two pink lines pop up, you will have many people giving you a ton of advice whether you want it or not. Most of the time, all this unsolicited information is well-meaning, but it can still be annoying and overwhelming. For me, most of what I wanted to learn as a new mom I could find by reading books, researching, or talking to friends who already had kids and talking to my doctor or midwife. But, looking back now, there were just a handful of things that never really got discussed, and I wish someone had shared them with me when I became a stay-at-home mom.
Of course, all of my experience as a mom is as a stay-at-home mom, so for you working moms out there, your experiences may be different, and I’d LOVE to hear what things you wish someone had shared with you. But, for me, these five things are what came as a surprise to me as a SAHM:
1. You will feel bored and lonely.
This one was a bit of a shocker for me: I am an introvert—a big one. There’s not much more I enjoy than spending quality time with myself. So I thought that this part of being a SAHM would be awesome! What? I get to hang out at home all day and “just” take care of a tiny baby? Sign me up!
However, being home alone with an itty-bitty baby all day is not nearly as awesome as I thought it would be. There are only so many episodes of Ellen you can watch while nursing (every two hours) before you want to chunk the remote through the T.V. I also quickly realized that I didn’t have the time I thought I would have (more on this one later) to do all the things I thought I would do. I was too busy going from one mundane task to the next, day in and day out, so the baby and I stayed alive that day. The days became long and monotonous and, dare I admit it, BORING.
More than that, I was so, so lonely. Being an introvert, I honestly didn’t think I could get lonely since I’d always thrived on being alone. But this was different because, in all my years of loving my alone time, I’d always been able to choose between it and hanging out with friends. This time, I had no choice. I was stuck in my house with my baby all day. I didn’t have any other mommy friends whom I could call and chat with or hang out with. All of my friends were still childless and went to work every day.
It was sweet relief when my husband came home in the evenings so that I could have at least one adult conversation per day. Becoming a SAHM was a very isolating experience, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I genuinely believe that the isolation I felt contributed in a big way to my postpartum depression.
It’s no wonder that SAHMs report more depression, sadness, and anger than their working counterparts.1 The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, you will go through a period of adjustment in those first few months. Yes, you will experience periods of boredom and loneliness you didn’t expect. But if you arm yourself with some tools now, such as setting a daily schedule for yourself and your baby, implementing “me time,” and finding your tribe (which I discuss below), you can get through these periods much easier than I did.
2. You will have very little time to do anything productive.
Logically, I knew I would be staying home alone with my new baby, and it would be a change. What I didn’t realize is that, despite my fantasies of using this time at home to excel in the art of being a domestic goddess, I would have very little time or energy to do any of the things I thought I would do—like keeping a clean house or working on all my various craft and home projects.
The reality was that I was getting very little sleep due to the little bundle who refused to sleep anywhere other than ON me, and during the day, my darling child did very little besides scream her head off (hello, colic!). I was struggling to survive those first few months. After she got a little older and we got more of a routine down, she still napped for very short spurts (20 minutes max) so that even if I started to do something productive, I’d never get to finish it. I felt like I was in a perpetual paradox of having too little time to accomplish anything and too much time sitting around nursing or trying to get my baby to sleep where I couldn’t do anything. It was very frustrating!
Granted, I know some moms are blessed with really easy babies. Babies who pretty much eat, sleep, and poop on a schedule from day one. Babies who sleep soundly, leaving mom to her own devices to get stuff done. I hope you have one of these easy babies. I did not. My baby was difficult, so I had to resign myself to the fact that, for a season, I would not be able to get as much done in a day as I had hoped. I had to lower my expectations of myself for my sanity.
If you are like me and have to give up on doing ALL.THE.THINGS with the time you thought you’d have, give yourself some grace and realize that it won’t always be this way. Babies will learn to sleep better (most of the time). They’ll eventually be happy playing independently for at least a few minutes a day. Eventually and gradually, you will gain more time to do all those things. So be patient and give yourself a break!
3. Finding your tribe is essential.
This one, I believe, applies to SAHMs and working moms alike. I’ve written on this topic many times because it is vital. You know the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child”? It’s so, so true. So true. It’s also true that it takes a tribe to grow a mom.
As I mentioned before, I felt very isolated and alone when I had my first baby. I had no one within my immediate circle of friends who had babies, and I wasn’t very good at making friends on my own (and I certainly had no idea how to find new mommy friends). After crying in my wineglass to my doula several weeks after my daughter’s birth, I finally realized that I wanted, no, I needed friends. Friends who could relate to everything I was going through as a new mom. Those friends I could call in the middle of the day, so I didn’t lose my mind. Friends who would join me at a park with the kids so we could escape our prison-like home. And friends who can tell me about all the new mom essentials I really need.
My doula, God bless her, knew how to help me find those friends and introduced me via social media, and I soon went to my first playdate. It saved my life. Those girls welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like I was no longer alone. We met weekly for playdates (even though my child was only three months old, I still went, and they still loved me), and we chatted daily on our private Facebook page. It was a turning point for me as a new mom. Those precious women are still my friends, to this day, despite living in different cities. If there were only one advice I could give all moms, it would be to find your tribe!
4. Carve out some time for your husband, even if you don’t feel like it.
This one also applies to both SAHMs and working mamas. Okay, so I’m going to get a little personal here and admit that even when my midwife gave my husband and me the go-ahead to start having sex again after baby, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I was utterly exhausted from lack of sleep, caring for a screaming infant 24/7, trying to keep the house from being a complete dump, and fighting body image issues after having a baby. The thought of trying to get sexy with my husband was about as exciting to me as getting a bikini wax.
But I knew that sex was important to my husband. Not just because he’s a man and wired to want it more but also because he tends to express emotion and intimacy through sex, like most men. So while I had little to no desire to get back in the swing of things in that area of our life, I knew it was important to him and, therefore, important to our marriage for me to, at the very least, make a concentrated effort to have sexy time again.
It may take a while to find what works for you as a couple again. Remember, your body and your lives have changed after having a baby, and it’s not going to be as easy as it once was to concentrate on each other. Try to be sensitive to his needs, but don’t be afraid to tell him your needs. It may take some time for you to want to be intimate again. However, I have found that making an effort, even when I’m so tired I can barely stand up, often leads to some precious and tender moments between my husband and me. And that’s worth being tired for.
5. Learn to trust your instincts and let it go.
Again, this is a universal truth that all moms can benefit from. There are pretty much three things I can guarantee about parenting decisions: (1) It will never be easy, (2) You will never be “right,” and (3) It will all be okay.
From the moment you find out that you’re expecting, you are bombarded with many important decisions: will you breastfeed? Will you circumcise? Vaccinate? Have a home birth or a hospital birth? Will you stay at home or go back to work? Will you co-sleep? The list could go on and on. Making these decisions can be stressful because none of them are easy questions. You could read books, articles, online resources, blogs, and everything you can get your hands on about the pros and cons of each decision you are trying to make and end up making yourself even more conflicted and confused!
Listen, I want you to realize something: making parenting decisions will never be easy. Decisions like these often take a lot of thought, research, prayer, and discussion. Further, no matter how thoroughly you research, discuss, pray, and ponder, your decision will never be the “right” one because THERE ARE NO RIGHT ANSWERS. Let that sink in for a minute.
All you can ever do when you have to make a hard parenting choice is research. Make the right decision for you and your family, trust your instincts, and then roll with it. You will always come across someone who made a different choice or a mom who is being Miss Judgy-pants about your decision (believe me, I’ve been judged for many of my choices). Ignore them. It’s YOUR choice for YOUR child, and you have to stop worrying once you’ve made your decision. Trust yourself, mama.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I want you to take a breath and repeat this to yourself, “It will all be okay.” This mothering thing is hard, and there are a lot of really challenging parts of it. But it’s also amazing and like nothing else in life. It may seem pretty overwhelming at times, especially in the beginning, but I promise you, mama, it really will all be okay. You’ve got this!