For the first year of motherhood, I was on cloud 9. I loved this sh*t. I felt like I was made for being a mama. But life with a baby is verrrry different from life with a toddler. I can’t just put little M into her carrier or stroller and spend the day out doing what I want to be doing anymore. I don’t have the luxury of those two nice, long naps anymore, that afforded me to the opportunity to relax, get work done, and maintain some balance.
My little bundle is a full-fledged person now, with her own opinions and desires. And though I still follow all of my 5 Secrets to Happier Motherhood, suddenly, as we approached a year and a half, they just weren’t enough.
The choice to be a stay-at-home mom was an easy one for me. I love my work, and mindfully created a holistic nutrition counseling practice that I can do from home, in 6 or so hours a week, while still being present for my baby’s first few years. This was an intentional life choice that I was confident and happy with.
But as M began to get older, as we moved from 3 naps, to 2, to now 1, limiting my time to get things done; as long stroller rides or car rides became rather tedious, limiting our activities throughout the day; and as the endless demands of a spirited toddler began to grate on my nerves, I suddenly found myself doubting my choice. I craved time to be a whole person, instead of only a mother. I felt little space for my ambitions and plans to become a reality. Hell, I can hardly find time to write a blog post, let alone launch a new program or work on a book.
As my favorite mama websites extolled the many virtues of the working mother, I suddenly felt like this work of being a stay-at-home mom was more work than I had bargained for. I feel guilty even writing that. Because, of course, I know it isn’t true. The reward of being here for my daughter’s first words, first steps, every smile, every minuscule change in her persona or interests, these are all phenomenal rewards for the work that I do, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
But the feeling that I’m being swallowed up whole by motherhood was still there, and it was straight up robbing me of the joy that this beautiful time in my life should be all about.
So this year has become all about reclaiming that joy. I am committed to making stay-at-home motherhood into the fun, fulfilling adventure that I always imagined it to be. And here’s how I’m making it happen:
I’m prioritizing quick, easy, healthy cooking.
Despite my career as a nutritionist, I’ve always been a lazy cook. I’m not one to spend hours in the kitchen, and I’m happy to eat similar versions of the same, favorite healthy meals every day. But with an opinionated toddler who is not keen on giving me time to cook, keeping myself and my little one fed with healthy meals now takes a little more planning than I’m used to.
Now, at the beginning of the week, I do a little “meal planning lite” — I loosely figure out what we’re going to eat all week, and I precook a few key items (typically a whole grain, some roasted veggies or a big soup, and some baked salmon or a bean dish). This makes it super duper easy to throw together healthy lunches for myself and M in less than 10 minutes — a veggie/whole grain/bean or fish combo, with some fruit for dessert.
I also keep a few pre-prepared items on hand for days when she’s attached to me at the hip or when things are crazy — Dr. Praeger’s Kale Veggie Burgers, Spinach Littles, wild-caught Rice Crusted Fishies, and Hilary’s Veggie Bites are all favorites in our house, and I always try to have a batch of my own green muffins or freezable patties in the freezer as well. Since we typically have soups or salads for dinner (and eat long after M goes to bed), getting her dinner together is seldom more effort than heating up a few things!
This little bit of planning and batch cooking for the week goes a long way towards keeping our meals off my list of stressors!
I’m batching and scheduling my tasks, and getting more help.
Something that was driving me crazy and making me feel like there was just never enough time in the day was trying to “fit things in” where I could — cooking, laundry, work, blogging, exercise. Sometimes they’d get done and sometimes they wouldn’t, but the end result was a frazzled mama who seldom felt totally calm and present when just spending time with my girl. So now I’m working on sticking to a weekly schedule that batches my tasks together. Monday I cook for the week, Tuesday is my work day, Monday/Wednesday/Friday are my workout days, Thursday is my blogging day, etc. If I feel inspired to do a little something extra on a non-scheduled day, great! But there is no pressure, because I know I have time every week dedicated to (almost) everything that needs to get done.
I’m also adding another 4 hours of weekly childcare to have for myself — doctor’s appointments, self-care, a yoga class (sans baby), or a little extra work if I’m feeling motivated.
I’m encouraging more independent play.
Independent play was going gangbusters for us for a long time — little M was always content to do her own thing — but around 18 months, the separation anxiety and mommy obsession hit hard. Suddenly, I was lucky to get 10 minutes before she realized I wan’t by her side and frantically came for me. We started a RIE Parenting class a while ago which is ALL about independent play, and I’ve learned that practice makes perfect. So several times a day, I’m being intentional about taking time to do my own thing (sip my tea while reading up on the latest headlines, straightening up the kitchen, answering emails) while she plays on her own. When she needs me, I give her my attention, explain what we’re doing, and then calmly direct her back to her play. Some days are needier than others, but she’s gradually working her way up to playing on her own for upwards of 45 minutes again, which feels great (and is great for her).
Then, when it’s playtime together, I can give her my full attention, and not feel drained!
I’m not letting her call the shots.
In an effort to avoid meltdowns and drama, it’s so easy to let toddlers become little tyrants by giving in to what they want to do all the time. I’ve never been much inclined to this style of parenting, but there was a chunk of time when sleep regression and back-to-back colds had me tiredly saying “whatever, we’ll listen to Baa Baa Black Sheep for the 50th time in a row.” But this mindset just left me feeling like my desires were completely subsumed by my child’s, and that is just a breeding ground for resentment and misery. So if she wants to play with me, and it’s a good time for me to give her my undivided attention, we do something that I, too will find enjoyable (like building elaborate structures with blocks or reading books). If she’s engaged in something I’m just not that excited about doing, I’ll give her my attention by just observing and being present.
I am also being intentional about not giving in to all of her many demands throughout the day. If she wants to listen to music, but I just need some peace and quiet, I explain to her that mommy doesn’t want to hear music right now, and that we’ll listen to some music together later. Obviously, if she’s particularly tired or cranky, I’m not going to get into a battle of the wills with her. But in the absence of extenuating circumstances, it feels good to teach her that she can’t always have what she wants when she wants it.
I’m making time for MORE ME.
A few weekends ago, I went to acupuncture for an hour on Saturday, and had a spa day on Sunday. When I came back to my family, I could feel myself renewed and re-energized for being the kind of mom I want to be. I could feel a lot of the toddler-induced stress of the last few weeks melting away. Now I certainly can’t have a spa day every weekend, but I did realize that it is super crucial for me to get away for a couple of hours every weekend, without fail.
I think it is so important to stay connected to the parts of us that are totally unrelated to being a mother, so I’m also looking for a cool acting class to take! I think creating some space for all aspects of my identity will help me feel more well-rounded, balanced, and joyful throughout this period of stay-at-home motherhood.
This process is by no means perfect, and keeping up with these intentions is definitely a work in progress, but these 5 goals are keeping me more sane, happy, and much more like the mother I want to be!
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