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Staying Home

A Juggling Act

From New Beginnings, Vol. 31 No. 2, 2010, pp. 14-16

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine New Beginnings, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of New Beginnings to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

Recently, my husband has been expected to work longer hours, which helps financially but means he is unable to do anything much to help in the home. We are expecting our second child and I am worried that I will struggle without his help to take care of a toddler and a newborn, as well as do all the household chores and cooking. I am happy that I am able to stay home to raise our children, but I am panicking at the prospect of having to manage everything on my own. How have other mothers coped in similar situations?

Response

Take care of the children’s needs first. If some dishes need to be left in the sink, who cares? Regular household chores will get done when there is time. If funds allow, hire a cleaning service.

Prepare your toddler as much as possible for the new baby's arrival. Read books to him on the subject and talk about it. When the new baby arrives, wear him in a sling or a carrier as much as possible so you can keep your hands free to accomplish those household chores. Wearing the baby also allows you to spend time with your older child.

Make sure your husband is aware of your concerns. Including him in the planning and problem solving will keep you from feeling as if you are alone in the matter. You might find that he has been worrying about it as well, and has come up with some potential solutions or suggestions.

Most of all, remember to give yourself a break. Adjusting to a newborn takes time, even if you have a lot of help in the house. Allow yourself the chance to fall into a routine with the new baby and the toddler. The house and all of its chores will still be there when you are ready for it. Good luck!

Karli Offutt
New Wilmington, PA, USA

Response

When I had my second baby, I was a stay-at-home mom and my husband was working full time, and also taking two courses at a college 30 minutes away. We had his mother stay at our house for the first week and my mother the second week. After that a couple of friends came over to help me with the housework once or twice. They helpfully suggested that we eat on paper plates, use paper cups, and even sometimes use disposable plastic utensils. We did that for several months, which was wonderful!

During that time, two responsible teenage sisters, whom we knew and trusted, would come to our apartment after high school a couple of afternoons a week to play with our babies while I took a shower, took the kitchen trash to the dumpster behind our building, and started cooking supper. Their mom would pick them up on her way home from work. One or the other of them continued to come at least once a week for a few months. They were glad to do it free of charge because they were in an achievement program that required them to get service hours in order to receive awards.

Although I eventually had to face having two children and managing my home all by myself, that transition time while I recovered from pregnancy and birth was a lifesaver for me!

Annette Avery
Johnstown, Colorado, USA

Response

I too am a full-time stay-at-home mom and have been facing a similar situation. I have a 14-month-old son and I am 15 weeks pregnant. My husband has been gone for nearly six months: he is in the Army National Guard and is training in Baltimore, while we live in St Louis. We have been to visit him twice.

I suggest you start by getting organized and having a fairly set schedule. We eat basic meals that can be planned on a set schedule. It might get a little boring, but if you always know what you are going to eat and know what you need to have on hand it helps. I make three weeks of menus and have them rotate. The grocery list I use is also set and perhaps, like me, you can cut grocery shopping to a once a week activity.

I do a small load of laundry every single day and have a small basket for my son and one for me. Each day I wash one basket load and have my son help with the folding by playing with his basket -- he pushes it around, or puts his stuffed animals in it.

I attend a mom and baby exercise class three times a week and find that time to be very important to me. The friendships with the other moms and the stress relief of getting exercise and getting out of the house on a regular set schedule is so important. There are great double strollers available and you don't have to spend a fortune on one. I find great baby stuff on Craigslist and Freecycle.

For me the biggest thing that I have learned is how to put things into perspective. While I too worry about when the new baby comes and about dealing with a toddler, a newborn, and an entire household, I know what is important and what can wait.

I don't want to sound like I am complaining but I would be so happy to have my husband be home even for just an hour a day. I have learned through this experience to count my blessings first.

Good luck.

Jamie Smith-Rickly
USA

Response

I can empathize with your situation and can tell you honestly that it will be difficult in the beginning, but this too shall pass. I know that isn’t consoling as you face this mountain, but in the bigger picture I would say celebrate the small victories, and stay focused on the small steps you are making.

I had two small children one year apart and when our second child was born, my husband had a new job and could not take any time off. He also attended graduate school three times a week, which meant I was home alone with the children. With the birth of our third child (three years after our second), we had moved and he started another new job. He works long hours and the household tasks are left up to me to handle.

When you have a newborn, everyone in the house has to adjust to the new baby. You will likely feel pulled in every direction. Give yourself time to adjust, even as much as three to six months to settle in to a routine. Only then can you start to prioritize a routine for yourself and your children. I strongly recommend soliciting the help of family and friends whenever possible, especially in the early months.

I had an emergency c-section with our second child and I wasn't permitted to pick up my one-year-old. I needed friends and family to help me with the most mundane tasks. Overall, I think friends enjoyed being able to spend time with my little ones and me. In return, I was humbled and in awe of their loving support.

It can be very easy to become isolated, so it is important to get out as often as you can. Getting involved in local mothers groups can be a big help.

Try to become more relaxed with regards to household chores and cooking. Having two small children forces you to be flexible with your priorities. Toys out, dishes in the sink, and laundry in the hamper waiting to be folded was (and still is) a daily sight at my house. I tackle what I can when I can.

Be patient with yourself and allow yourself some time to adjust. Know that you aren't alone and you are doing the best you can and that is all anyone can ask of you!

Bianca Hennager
Roseville, California, USA

Response

Congratulations on the upcoming birth of your new baby! I can relate to your concerns about handling the needs of two children on your own while your husband is working long hours. I have four children and my husband works a military night-check (3 pm to 1 am Sunday to Thursday). He is home and awake from about 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. Our two oldest children are in elementary school, one is in preschool and I have a six-month-old. Most days I have the baby with me, a four-year-old boy whom I watch, and my own three-year-old after 11:30 am. My two older kids get home around 2:45 (not long after daddy has just left for work). During the busiest times of the day, getting everyone out the door to get to school in the morning and homework, supper and bedtime routines in the evening, I am on my own. I am a morning person so getting five people out the door isn't too bad for the most part.

The after school routine is where I struggle. I am not an evening person! I have found that the biggest hurdle in my evening is getting food on the table. Housework is sometimes a hurdle if I get behind. However, because my husband is at home and awake in the middle of the day, I do have help either with the children or with the work itself. I do all my cooking on the weekend when my husband is home all day. Since he tries to spend quality time with the kids on the weekend, I can get a lot done. I prepare all our hot meals on Saturday (or sometimes Friday although that is usually errand day). I also do things like bake muffins and bread, and make and freeze pizza dough. During the week, we reheat the food and I use frozen vegetables, which I thaw/heat in the microwave because it's faster. I admit that at least once a week we have cheese pizza. I keep tinned tomatoes in the pantry, the dough will thaw in about six hours and I just have to grate some cheese (which I can do before my husband goes to work).

Figure out easy recipes that are nutritious and make two or three batches if you've got a deep freeze. I often assemble things like lasagne and freeze it uncooked. Then I can thaw it out during the day or overnight and bake it for supper. A freshly baked meal that only requires me to transfer a dish from the freezer to the fridge and the fridge to the oven is great.

I tackle the housework a room or two at a time over the course of a week rather than trying to do it all at once. I use a modified "FlyLady" routine by dividing my home into zones for each day, except Sunday. I can get one or two rooms cleaned properly in a day. It's amazing what you can accomplish in 10 or 15 minutes if you break up the tasks over the course of the day.

With a new baby I found out something very important: friends want to help! If someone offers help take it. People do not offer help that they are not prepared to provide. If your LLL Group or friends offer you meals accept them! If someone asks if you need anything at the store, ask him to pick up that gallon of milk you were going to try to get out for later. If someone offers to come and play with your toddler while you take a nap with the new baby, say "yes!" Allow those who have anticipated or seen your need to meet it.

You may have to let the housework slip a little because of the needs of the children -- either to spend time with your toddler while your baby is sleeping, or because if you’re tandem nursing, you may be spending a lot time sitting in your nursing chair. Use the time your husband is home to do a little catching up and remember that while he’s been at work, he's missed time with you so don't spend all the precious time you have with your husband at home cleaning and cooking.

I had some tough days in the first ten weeks with my fourth baby. She was a fussy baby -- I think she had reflux -- and I spent a lot of time from 4 pm onwards having to walk with her in the sling, crying most of the time. It made getting food on the table a real challenge even when it was just warming something up in the microwave. But things settled down and now we're in a nice smooth routine.

I found that each time a new baby arrived, it was challenging at first and then within a couple of months, we had adjusted to our new routine with the extra person's needs worked into our routine. It can be so hard sometimes when you're exhausted and the baby still needs you and you’ve got no one to hand the baby off to so you can just go to the bathroom. However, it's also rewarding. I hope your husband won't be working overtime forever and you'll have him home more in the future to be a helping hand.

Good luck with everything! It might take a bit of trial and error, but I'm confident you'll find a way to make things work for your household just as I did for mine.

Margo Trueman
California, USA

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