Going from working full-time to staying at home with your kids is not only a lifestyle change, but a huge mental shift. You’re going from earning income that provides for your family in tangible ways to providing services that provide for your family in ways that can only be felt. Navigating this drastic change will probably include self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, but also the great joy of watching your child grow everyday.
Preparing yourself to go from working on your own terms to constantly being touched and needed 24/7 is a daunting task on its own. But if you’re reading this, you’re not trying to just survive, you want to thrive. So your task will be harder as you embark on this new (and exciting!) stage of your life while preserving your own value as an individual.
But before we get there, congratulations! Women are often met with blank stares when they say they have decided to stay home with the kids. Looks of surprise or judgement that a modern day woman would choose such a thing are commonplace. In reality, this is an exciting time for you and you should be met with a celebratory tone rather than criticism.
A study conducted by Welch’s found that American moms work the equivalent of 2.5 full time jobs with 98 hours worked on an average week. Obviously, physical exhaustion will be a factor, especially in the newborn phase, but the mental exhaustion that comes with being a stay at home parent is not to be forgotten.
Here are a few ways to make this adjustment easier on you, your partner, and your finances.
1. Ease into it
Before I had my first child, I built in a small window between my last day of work and my due date. That way I could rest (hello, 3rd trimester!) and adjust to being home daily. I took this time to really live in my space. I made sure that the house was functional for how I planned on living once the baby arrived.
This also gives you a little time to disassociate your self worth from earning an income. Take some time to understand that your self worth will have to come largely from within. Your child will only “pay” you in milk drunk stares and eventually little hugs. Recognizing that you are what makes the world turn for your child (and likely what makes your household function) when you haven’t showered in days or you only eat frozen pizza is hard to do at the beginning.
2. Rationalize your choice
You will likely struggle with feelings of inadequacy. This can come from past coworkers who act disappointed in your decision to “give up your career”. However these feelings can also come from your own fleeting thoughts of “I should be doing more” or “I’m just a mom now.”
When I have dealt with this in the past, it helps to rationalize my choice to stay home separate from my own personal calling to do so. Childcare costs vary greatly across the country, but a study by the Economic Policy Institute found that childcare costs exceed the cost of college tuition in many states especially when an infant is in childcare. In ten of the major metropolitan areas that they studied across the country, every city’s cost of childcare exceeds 10% of the median family income, which the Department of Health and Human Services has determined to be the affordability threshold. A little math can put things in perspective when I doubt my choices.
3. Take time to mourn your past life
Mentally shifting into a parent isn’t addressed nearly as often as sleep deprivation in new parents. In a moment, you go from being an individual with interests and friends to being a parent. This seems like a natural progression, but there will be times when you just want to run into Target and spend ridiculous money on things that you don’t need or grab a drink during happy hour with friends.
Having these freedoms will come again! The newborn stage is hard as your child frequently feeds and you might be trying to protect them from germs, especially right now.
It will get better, but until you’ve reached that point, you are not a bad parent if you mourn your past life. You are still the woman you were before, you have just added a new dimension to yourself. That doesn’t mean that your old priorities completely disappear. They have just been put on hold temporarily.
That can be a tough shift to endure. Figuring out times when you can revisit your old self is important. Hand your kids off to your partner one night a week or schedule time in your day to let the kids watch a show and get some much needed quiet time to talk on the phone with friends. Find the time to just be by yourself.
4. Find your support team
There will be times when it all becomes too much for you; the endless feeding, laundry, house cleaning while missing your freedom. Having someone to share these feelings with is crucial.
Oftentimes, partners don’t understand the mental demands after having a child. And as much as we want someone to know all the thoughts bouncing around in our heads, your partner is not a mind reader. They may not realize you stayed up all night watching the baby breathe or researching the next leap in growth. Talk to someone. If that is a partner in the thick of it with you, great. If you want to talk to your own mother who has been there before or a counselor, great. Just talk to someone.
5. Prepare financially
In addition to all the mental shifts, transitioning to a single income home will come with some lifestyle changes. There are many steps to financially prepare to be a stay at home parent, but being on the same page as your partner and having a hand in the finances will help set you on the right path.
While you may be saving on your commute, the cost of diapers, formula, and toys quickly add up. After a few months of parenting once the newborn haziness wears off, set a new line item in your budget for your child’s needs based on what you’ve spent recently.
6. Don’t keep score with your partner
When I had my first child, I would keep score with my husband. I got the last dirty diaper, you’re up! Or I just cleaned this whole kitchen, you can empty the dishwasher.
It is hard to balance the household chores with your partner when you are the one who is staying at home and they have been at work all day. It can feel like in addition to rearing your children, it is also your responsibility to take care of all the household duties.
Even if tasks go unfinished, don’t keep score. It will add up and you will start to resent your partner for not chipping in in the way that you think they should. When the thought crosses your mind, challenge yourself to find a way to complete that task together. You dry the dishes, and I’ll put them away. Remember, you are a team, not rivals.
7. When the to-do list seems endless, look at what you have accomplished
There will be days when you get nothing on your list done. In your mind all you managed to do was keep the kids fed, clothed, and happy. Take a step back and realize that the one thing you did accomplish is the one thing you have to do. All the other things can wait.
8. Remember your needs
You will hear “Just enjoy this time” from countless people. While they are right (sometimes), it is not an easy thing to hear in the moment when you are deliriously tired and second-guessing every decision you make for your child.
Eat well, exercise, indulge in self-care—or whatever fills you up. Don’t hesitate to ask for and accept help.
Choosing to stay home is rarely an easy choice. If you are making that choice for financial reasons, you will likely have to make ends meet and adjust your lifestyle as you transition to a single income home. If your ability to stay home comes from a place of privilege, you may face judgment that you haven’t met your full career potential.
What outsiders don’t see is how vital you are to your child’s development. You will be there for each giggle, hug, and tear. You will be there to shape the person they become. You will take on each emotion they feel at 10x the strength they feel it. Your job will never be done.
But you will likely never feel more rewarded by another career. In the eyes of your child, you are indispensable. And you can do this.