Three and a half years ago I made one of the biggest decisions of my life: I left my full-tim job as a lawyer to stay at home with our first son. Despite all the schooling I endured to get my degree and the thousands of dollars of debt I accrued, by the time my son was born I kind of “just knew” that I needed to be at home with him. That doesn’t mean it was an easy decision. I had worked five years making my reputation as a lawyer and moving my way up at my place of employment. I had lots of contacts and professional colleagues that had guided my journey and had invested in me as a lawyer and professional woman. My family had also come to rely on my income as well, which further contributed to the decision making process. While it didn’t make the ultimate decision to quit my job that much easier, it did feel like the “right” decision for our family at the time.
When I first became a SAHM, I loved it. Even though I was sleep deprived from my baby, I couldn’t believe all the free time I had and it really sparked some creative juices that had been stifled from years of being super busy in school and my job. I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to stay at home.
Then a few months into my new “job” the honeymoon phase started to wear off and I started to miss several things about my previous professional life: looking presentable on a regular basis, challenging myself intellectually like I had previously when I worked, connecting with my husband in conversations about work stories and cases, and a more busy schedule. But one of the things I missed the most was my identity as a professional woman. I had worked very hard to become a lawyer and was proud to share my profession when people would ask the popular question “what do you do for a living.” I was quickly becoming the cook, chef, housekeeper, laundress, doctor, and therapist of our household, which were all wonderful jobs I fully embraced, but I started to struggle with how to maintain my sense of identify (and sanity) as a long-term SAHM. I found this became even more important when baby #2 arrived on the scene and life became even more chaotic.
Here are a few things I have done along the way that have helped me greatly maintain my sense of identity and self:
1) Find a Hobby: Photography has always been an interest of mine but one I frankly never had the time to really pursue. My first son’s birth gave me the perfect opportunity to explore my creative side. I quickly fell back in love with photography and it has been my regular hobby for the past three years. Whether it is tackling DIY projects on your pinterest board, baking, running, reading, cooking, or knitting, find a hobby that lights you up inside and makes you smile. I know there isn’t much downtime when you are a SAHM with little ones keeping you buys all the time but it is so important to carve out small amounts of time doing something you love. You will be happier for it I promise.
2) Weekly Date Nights: You might be wondering how this ties into being a SAHM. But let me tell you it is absolutely crucial, at least it was for my marriage. With the growing demands of the kids it is easy for your relationship to take a toll. If you are anything like me by the end of the day you are completely worn out and completely devoid of any leftover patience. One way to curb the disconnect my husband and I are started to feel encroaching on our relationship was to implement weekly, yes weekly, date nights. Now going out together each week is absolutely not possible for us with two kids under 3. In fact, we actually go out for a date about once every four months when we have a family member to watch our kids. So we do date nights at home every week. We put the kids to bed a tad bit earlier each Saturday night, dress up, order take-out from a special restaurant, and sit in our dining room to chat over a nice relaxing dinner. It is a great opportunity to reconnect with each other, share our struggles and joys from the previous week and put our marriage first.
3) Regular Mom’s Night Outs: Nothing can cure some mommy blues like a night out with some great friends. I know it is hard to find the time but I strongly encourage you to make some special time away with your friends (aside from playdates where I find it near impossible to finish a sentence much less a complete thought). I did not do a very good job of this at all the first year after my son was born. Between sleep deprivation and feeling like I was constantly constrained by his nursing schedule, I rarely left the house to spend anytime with my friends. I have since started socializing with friends more (usually about once a month) and have really come to depend on this time to reconnect with my friends and commiserate with others in similar situations. For an awesome life of MNO ideas, be sure to check out this post.
4) Volunteer: I know time isn’t exactly abundant when you are home with your kids but I think it is important to find a small project or activity to volunteer your time with even if it is once a month. I have taken on a few legal cases pro bono (for free) over the past three years since being home and each time I am done, I feel so reenergized and content about my decision. I also volunteer with our Church and love the sense of helping others and being involved with a cause. Whatever sparks your interest and passion I encourage you to reach out and find a way to use your talents to get involved and give back. Not only is it great to show your children the importance of serving, it will also revitalize your spirit.
5) Exercise: This one is kind of self-explanatory but I always feel better about myself when I am exercising. During the Spring, Summer, and even Fall months it is so easy to be outside running around with the kids so I find exercise is a breeze. Find some mom friends in your neighborhood and meet up whenever you can for a quick walk around. During the really cold winter months, however, exercise takes a bit more work. At this time in our life I simply do not have the time to go to the gym on a regular basis. I have found, however, that a half hour exercise DVD or YouTube video in the morning with my older son is a fun and great way to squeeze in just a bit of exercise before the rush of the days takes hold.
6) Get Dressed (Most Days): When I first became a SHAM (especially after having a baby), I found myself living in sweat pants. This is fine for awhile but it quickly started to make me feel yucky. I felt like I always looked like crap and every night my husband would come home I knew he was wondering whether I had bothered to get dressed at any point in the day or stayed in pajamas all day. While comfy clothes and jammies are great now and then, I find that I feel better about myself if I just take five to ten minutes each morning before starting the day to freshen up and get dressed. Something small but this has made a huge deal in my happiness.
7) Don’t Complain: I was bit by the complaining bug lately. I feel like every other thing out of my mouth has been a complaint. I am trying SO hard to change this! While some of the days at home are long and hard, there is truly so much to be grateful for in our life and I am very blessed to be able to “make” the decision to stay home right now. Focusing on the positives instead of the negatives is helping me to truly thrive as a momma during this time in my life.
8) Don’t Compare: I remember as a first time mom attending playgroups with my then six month old and listening to all the discussions among well-intentioned moms about whose baby was sleeping through the night, whose rolled over, e.g. I fell right into the trap of comparing my sons milestones and would start to second guess or question what I was doing. Why wasn’t my son sleeping through the night? What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t my son crawling my 8 months? The thoughts were all consuming. I still find myself falling into these comparison traps now and then. But I quickly learned that comparing my son (or our house, our car, our lifestyle) to others was serving only one purpose: robbing me of my contentment. Whether you are a SAHM or a working mom, comparing your situation to others will do nothing but steal your joy. Embrace your family, your decision and be proud of what you are doing in this parenting journey.
9) Don’t Criticize: I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of criticizing others, especially when it comes to how people parent. However, the more I challenge myself to focus my energy away from what I perceive others to be doing wrong and more on what I can do to improve myself, the happier I am.
10) Cut Yourself Some Slack: Being a SAHM is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Each day has its own set of challenges (and wonderful blessings). There are days when the hours crawl by and I have no idea how I will get through. There are others when the hours fly by and are filled with laughter and joy and I don’t want them to end. My house is 100 times messier now than I could have ever imagined it would be and I never seem to be caught up with laundry. But you know what? I am doing the best I can and that is all that matters. I love my children more than anything in the entire world and no messy house or dirty kitchen is going to change that. By letting some of these little things go I am slowly, but steadily learning to embrace these moments more fully with my children and be grateful for each and every day.
In the next few years I hope to renter the workforce as a lawyer. Although I know it will be challenging having a few missing years on my resume, I know I won’t regret this time at home with my little ones for anything. After three+ years in the “field”, I can honestly say that motherhood is no easy task. In fact, I regularly tell my husband being a mom is hands down harder than being a lawyer. Whether you are a SAHM, working mom, work from home or a combination, you are truly incredible. Being a mom is the most admirable “job” and should be viewed as such. I commend each and every one of you mommas for the job you are doing. Keep up the good work.