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Becoming a stay-at-home parent: tips for a mindful transition.

Recently a former colleague of mine (and friend) emailed me out of the blue to tell me she was pregnant with her third child and was leaving her job to become a stay-at-home mom. She was emailing me, out of all people, to ask my advice on how to make the transition easier from working outside the home to working in the home (stay-at-home mom). I was flattered. I also didn’t hesitate to share my experiences with her, both the good and the bad.  There’s no sense in candy coating an experience to save face.

I figured this might be a great opportunity for me to share a few tips on how to mindfully transition from working full-time outside the home, to working full-time inside the home as a stay-at-home parent.

**Before I dive right in with my clear, concise, non-rambling bullet points that are just so pinterestingly pinnable… a little background. My mother was not a stay-at-home mom. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that she was laid off and she was home every day when I got back from school. It was weird. It was just not something I was used to seeing or having in my life. When Henry was born in 2008, I went back to work when he was 12 weeks old. I’ll never forget that long walk to the train, wearing my backpack breast pump, eyes weepy, like some kindergartener going off to school for the first time.  I worked 40 plus hours a week and frankly, I felt like a part-time mother. My job was intense, the leader of my department, while brilliant, was intense, and I felt like my job came first much of the time. I traveled a lot and much of the evening/weekend care of Henry was left to my husband. I was in China for Henry’s first birthday. Enough said.**

When I had an office job, Henry would love to visit!

When I had an office job, Henry would love to visit. “Um, Mom? This excel chart is a disaster.”

When we moved to Vermont in 2011 I had quit my job in Chicago and had no plans of looking for work. I wanted to stay home with Henry and get him settled before delving into a job search. And frankly, I was tired of working in the academic industry, so finding a new career all together was daunting. And then poof…I got pregnant with Ruby. And that’s when I figured it would just be best to stay home with Henry and my newborn. I realize how lucky we are to be able to make this choice. In Chicago, we were not fortunate enough and I had to work to help support the family.

So now on to the crux of the matter…transitions. Cha-Cha-Cha Changes…..

SAHP pinnable.jpg

Based on my experiences, here are my top tips for making a smooth transition from working full time to stay-at-home parent (although one, including myself, would argue that both work full-time).

  1. Me, myself and I:  Finding “you” time. Remember this post of mine from awhile back? It’s really important that you get at least a few minutes of time alone to yourself on a daily basis. If not daily at least once a week. You will soon realize that pooping in the bathroom stall at work next to a complete stranger was much more relaxing than having to take your daily constitutional with the door open and your children asking you twenty questions about how chewing gum is made.  If you’re not able to have your partner watch your children for you then find another parent to drop your kids off with while you drive around the countryside eating Doritos and listening to NPR  run errands.  For me, running has been my alone time. I try and get out several times a week for a run. It’s amazing how much you can get “accomplished” when you’re by yourself.  I’m a better person and a better mother when I have some time to myself .
  2. Where my Homies at?:  Finding friends who are stay-at-home parents. Listen up, and here’s the truth, and it hurts: not all stay-at-home parents are created equal.  It’s true. Some are really awesome. And some will just suck the life out of you and your spirit. It’s up to you to find a fellow mother or father with whom you can align. Someone who’s parenting style is similar to yours. Someone who you can admit freely to that you let your child watch 5 episodes in a row of Word Girl because you were so tired. Really, it’s like dating (see a previous post of mine about this—shameless plug for my archived work, can’t you tell?!).  Finding a fellow stay-at-homie is important for a few reasons. Chances are they have kiddos the same age as yours and you can have insta-play dates with them. And second, while your kids are sharing their goldfish together and/or plotting your demise you have a friend with whom you can chat. Or in my case last week a friend who will continue to eat her salad, not bat an eye, and smile continually while you bawl your eyes out at the kitchen table because you’re feeling like a crappy parent. Depending on where you live and your intro/extro-vertness finding friends will be challenging. Sometimes it’s helpful to enroll your kiddos in activities. They meet new friends, and you will likely find one or two parents you like. Either way, be patient and be easy on yourself.
  3. Adjust your expectations…about everything: Finding your inner zen. Before I became a stay-at- home parent I had this romantic notion of what it would be like at home with my kids. Dinner would be prepared on time, children would be quietly working on a craft at the dining room table, and all laundry would be folded. Oh heck no. For some reason when you’re a stay-at -home parent, not only does the duty of raising your children (during the day) fall to you but so does all the housework, errand work, and general crap duties. If this is not the case with your current situation, then just skip on over to point #4.  Oh you’re still here? Good because I have yet to meet a parent who is able to successfully navigate all of these duties with aplomb.  Some days it’s really easy to make that green tomato chutney you’ve been dreaming about, other days you’re lucky if you’re able to take a shower and/or even get out of the house. I have not mastered finding my inner zen. Some days I am ok with complete chaos and other days you’ll find me in the hallway closet crying and stuffing my face with a bag of skittles. Truth.  Find a little perspective.
    Day time fun time

    Day time fun time

  4. You say “tomato”, I say “bite me”: Finding communication zen with your partner. My husband and I have been together for 12 years and we still have issues with communication.  There was a point where my husband said to me one night, “I don’t understand why you’re so p***y when I come home at the end of the day. I’m so excited to see you and the kids and you can barely talk to me.” He was right. I was p***y. I can be really p***y some nights. What he didn’t realize was that while he was decompressing in the car on the way home from work, I was essentially herding cats all day without much of a break or thank-you (even though I teach them manners on a daily basis).  Once we sat down and talked about what goes on with me and the kids all day, he could understand that some days I wasn’t composed, wearing a starched shirt-dress and calling the Beav downstairs for dinner upon his arrival. Talk with your partner. Tell them about your day, the good the bad and the ugly. Tell them about the errands you run, the relationships you manage, and the dried pepperoni you found under the couch cushions. Your job is important… really important. It’s important to talk to them about your day too.  It’s also important for your kids to hear you share these details.

Being a stay-at-home parent has been one of the most amazing experiences for me. It was, however, a very difficult transition for me. My career had defined me in almost all aspects of my life. Sad but true. When I quit my day job, I felt lost. I felt like I wasn’t interesting anymore.

It took time for me to warm-up to the idea that being at home with my kids was a legitimate job.

It’s the best job in the world…some days. Like any job… you have good days…days where your heart swells with love and emotion and warm snuggly thoughts. And there are bad days…days where you yelled too much, scowled at your kids, and wished you had a different job.

When I first became a stay-at-home mom I felt so awful about having bad days. I would be so hard on myself, “What are you complaining about? You don’t have to go to “work”…you get to be home all day with your kids.” Just because you admit to yourself that you’re not enjoying every moment of being at home, it doesn’t mean you love your kids any less.  I think these feelings are ok, we’re only human. Maybe you never feel this way…and that’s why we’ll never be friends…no, I’m kidding. Everyone’s experiences are different. The above mentioned points about a mindful transition are obviously not exhaustive. Some points may apply to you…others could be completely useless. This is just my story.

What’s your story?

I took this picture the first week as a stay-at-home mom with Henry. We took a stroller run/ride up to a deserted North Beach. It started to snow unexpectedly. I told Henry that these moments would build character as we sat on the playground and at a snack.

I took this picture the first week as a stay-at-home mom with Henry. We took a stroller run/ride up to a very deserted North Beach. It started to snow unexpectedly. I told Henry that these moments would build character as we sat on the playground and ate a snack. I’ll never forget that first week home with him.

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20 Responses to Becoming a stay-at-home parent: tips for a mindful transition.

  1. Elissa April 2, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    I need to stop reading the blog while nursing the baby to sleep.. your comment about eating doritos while driving around the countryside just about did me in.

    • heather polifka-rivas April 4, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

      ha! thanks elissa. i can’t make any noises when i feed ruby b/c she wants to talk back and then bites. so i have to stifle all laughs as well (when i’m reading online).

  2. Peng April 2, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    I wish I had read this when I was forced to be a SAHM 6 years ago. I find that finding inner zen and adjusting expectations is an ongoing experience and #2 (mom friends) absolutely essential to one’s sanity. Favorite me time = pedicures. Great advice!

    • heather polifka-rivas April 4, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

      thanks for reading (and commenting) peng! i agree–finding the inner zen and expectations has been the hardest. it is a constant struggle for me. mmmm pedicures…i’ve gotta get one soon. its been too long! i never think to do this unless someone suggests it to me, and then when i have them i think…why did i wait so long?! 🙂

  3. tessa April 2, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    LOVE this post! Every point was SPOT ON. Even a few months into Wes’s outside the womb life I was still in major denial that I was a SHAM. Since I was working for myself before couldn’t I just continue that? NOT. I mean to most of my friends without kids I still am a working mom. I run my little businesses, a little bit and they are impressed. But those so needed mom friends, and my husband, they know the truth. That I actually dont ‘work’ that much. Part of me actually finds it painful to go into my sewing room or into New Duds workshop. I feel like I avoid it sometimes because I love it so much. Because I want to do so much, to have those days before when I would work with my husband all day and get so much done. Because there is so much I have had to let go, be more hands off with or give to someone else. So much that I know I could do better. But its just not my time now. It has been such a mental struggle because I don’t really know what my role is. Ive come to the conclusion now with #2 on the way that I am a stay at home mom who works when she can. But the MOM is first. But I also, some days, feel like I am not cut out for that either. Filling the days drives me crazy sometimes. I am so fortunate to have a grandma that takes Wes twice a week and like you said some awesome mom friends I can meet with. I had no idea how hard it would be to stay connected with my non parent friends, how hard it would be to keep working, but I also am FLOORED by how awesome it is that I can do this. That we are making it work and that I get to see Wes every day. Thanks for this post. We did watch two+ episodes of Curious George this morning… yep that happened. The best thing that works for me is to try to plan my days I am finding. Nothing set in stone but If I can have a idea of what we are going to do rather than leave it all up in the air I feel way less overwhelmed. My lists often include, ‘eat’ and ‘shower’ but it works. Great post!! Lets get together some time in real life!!

    • heather polifka-rivas April 4, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

      tessa! thanks so much for the awesome response. i agree with you on all your points. i understand exactly what you mean about having to “let go” of so much stuff because its impossible to do it all. even during nap times i have ridiculous expectations of what i will get done and when she wakes up “early” than expected i get all irritated. i find that if i have a few reasonable tasks on my plate for the day, and can get them done its ok…but you’re right if eat and shower are on the lists, thats ok too. i’ll have a look at the calendar and let’s do something!

  4. Trish April 2, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    YES, being a SAHM IS a job. FO SHO! I loved this Heather, especially the Dorito part. 🙂 I think perhaps I feel a sister post brewing? SAHM to Out of Home Working Mom? Interestingly enough, some of the emotions are exactly the same. Especially the crying part. Hot Damn, I’m so glad the cafeteria starting stocking little bags of Doritos. Now, if they’d just put a limit on how many I can buy at once.

    • heather polifka-rivas April 4, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

      trish–i’d love to see a sister post. something that i will definitely want to file away in my brain for when i eventually go back to “work”…whenever that may be. thanks for the comment!

  5. Beth April 2, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    great post, Heather.

    • heather polifka-rivas April 4, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

      thanks beth! loved your post about aeden. i had the same exact feelings when ruby was born. totally didn’t expect that to happen but it was the hardest thing to get thru.

  6. Nissa April 2, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    I loved this Heather- your writing is powerful but also literally makes me laugh out loud 🙂

    • heather polifka-rivas April 4, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

      thanks nissa! appreciate your commenting. and reading…ofcourse! 🙂

  7. Shauna April 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    This was great, H-Dawg. Seriously. I was kind of a SAHM for the twins first year (worked part-time graveyards in a Seattle ER as a social worker) and really, really had a lot of adjusting to do. My previous professional identity as a mental health consultant and administrator and work life had been huge players in my identity and suddenly my world felt very small and I felt invisible. Now that I have gone back to a “real” big kid job, I desperately miss my year as a SAHM and yet appreciate the little gifts of working outside the home: the commute by myself, the energy I can bring to an evening tantrum because I wasn’t maxed out by 8 previous tantrums earlier in the day. My next post is actually entitled “Daycare: A Love Story” 🙂 Thanks for this!

    • heather polifka-rivas April 4, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

      shauna–your comment about appreciating the little gifts now that you’re working like bringing energy to a temper tantrum is so true. i sometimes feel like i was a better mom when i was working all the time. that energy and freshness at the end of the day and weekends were so helpful in maintaining patience with my kid. ive been thinking a lot lately and sometimes think that maybe a part time job might be a good fit for me. we’ll see. can’t wait to read your next post about daycare!

  8. Jayne April 2, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    Terrific post, Heather. I always wished I could take a year off with every one of my kids. But alas! Never could do that. You, Karl, Ruby and Henry are are a terrific little family. You are blessed and should be so proud!!!! Kisses and I miss you!

    • heather polifka-rivas April 4, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

      thanks so much aunt jayne. always appreciate you reading my stuff…and commenting. 🙂 xoxo.

  9. Audrey August 20, 2016 at 11:52 pm #

    I left my job to be a SAHM to my kids who probably were fine in daycare and school. I did it out of selfishness to experience what it would be like to spend more than 180 minutes with them a day before they’re too grown up to not want to hang out with me.
    I thought it’d be so much easier in so many ways compared to working FT and being a mom. I don’t think it’s easier, but it is different . And difficult to not have things like : coffee while checking email and bantering with colleagues , going to the bathroom alone whenever I need to go, using a telephone alone, eating food someone else cooked…good food…and not doing dishes, again. Oh, and the biggest change, not getting a paycheck, or feeling of some importance in something bigger…that requires meetings .
    But I do enjoy it. It’s only been 2 months . My oldest will return to school soon…and I’m going to miss him with that same feeling I had driving away from daycare…away from my baby…to drink coffee and check emails alone.

  10. Rach Rac August 14, 2017 at 1:48 pm #

    with the possibly of my job position being eliminated along with the high probability of my husband accepting a job position where he will be making a decent income it seems the next thing for me is to become a SAHM. i’m very apprehensive about it because (1)i’m not used to being entirely monetarily dependent on my husband (2) i didn’t go to college with the intent of doing nothing with my degree (which turned out to be a useless degree BTW) (3) i’ve racked so much student loan debt that i feel morally obligated to pay for it rather than my husband (4) Work is my main means of interacting with other people because i’m predominantly an introvert. the upside to the transition is that i can start running again, i look forward to managing the household, & we can work on having baby #2. my mother in law managed to raise 3 boys and somehow keep their large house clean AND have dinner ready. so yes, there is a superwoman out there who somehow did all those things without losing their mind.

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