When I first became a stay at home mother, it isn’t because I dreamed of it or even planned it. In fact, I had every intention of being a working mom career minded. I actually dreamed of becoming a an English instructor for teaching English as a second language (TESL).
In my mind, my kids were going to travel the world with me as I moved from country to country until they needed stability in which I would settle back in the states and find a local TESL job. So why did I become a stay at home mom instead?
After becoming a mom, I quickly realized that the market for child care isn’t the greatest and is highly competitive. The best day cares, baby sitters, nannies, etc. come with a price tag and waiting lists for a reason. They are fantastic at their jobs and deserve every cent they earn from extended hours to curriculum development and implementation of nurturing needs. The ones that halfway do things usually receive complaints, bad reviews and change ownership frequently.
And even while I was working, the only child care I could really afford were on the lower end of the spectrum. And almost my entire paycheck was going to childcare. The remainder of my income went to gas and food. I didn’t even have enough to pay our bills. Luckily, my husband was working as well, but when he lost his job, everything changed.
We lived off our savings, and he watched our baby while I worked, but it didn’t look like we were going to make it. So he found a job, and I traded places. I learned to coupon, unplug appliances daily and nightly, live without the internet and television and stretch a dollar on food stamps. Yep, that’s right. We had to use Medicaid for our children and food stamps for 4 to 5 years.
I drove the same car for 14 years until the water pump fell out on to the road and cracked our engine block. We tried buying used vehicles but they always broke down on us. I have heard everything of, “Well you should have sucked it up and worked!” Guys, I sucked it up so much that I was paying my job to work.
For 4 years, I did without medical insurance until legally I couldn’t anymore (and no, I don’t qualify for Obamacare as everyone reminds me) dental care, vision insurance, etc. It’s been probably 5 to 7 years since I’ve been to a hair salon for me. My mom paid for my nails to be done 4 to 5 years ago, and I refuse to let her pay for such trifles.
I don’t buy nail polish or designer shampoo. I use Head and Shoulders shampoo I bought on sale for cheap. I have used baking soda for shampoo in the past. Any make up you see me wearing was on sale at Rite Aid for a dollar or two, and I stretch it out as long as I can.
I have yard sales sometimes throughout the year, but our city limits it to no more than 3 a year. I would have them all the time if I could. I pick up extra money by helping people clean house and do side projects. I have to schedule it around when my parents and in laws have time off from work to watch the boys or if someone is kind enough to let me bring them (which is ridiculously rare!).
So back to our reason for our post. Being a stay at home mom isn’t for the faint of heart. If you think it’s a vacation or a walk in the park, be ready for a reality check. And here’s my top 10 Survival strategies for being a stay at home mom.
1. The most under utilized resource for any person is your local library. Ours has movies to check out, books to read to cut expenses, books on recipes, grocery shopping strategies and any home improvement job you can think to tackle. The library is any stay at home mom’s best friend. Our local library has summer reading programs for kids of all ages, free story time every week, free puppet shows or special events for kids, and kids computers to educate and explore. Moms, you need to take advantage of your local library! This picture is at a nature center, however, the library has many projects available especially in the summer!
2. The public park is your best friend and worst enemy. The park. Beautiful outdoor natural scenery. Playgrounds to romp and play all day. What better way to get the kids outside! But what’s this? Parents, grandparents and guardians exchanging kids for weekly visits or weekends? No problem until a fight ensues. Shady people exchanging packages and scoping out the area. Could this be a drug trade or terrorist attack? Or I am pretty sure that truck pulled in just after me and the person is staring at me and my children. Is that a stalker or child predator or rapist? Suddenly, your quaint park is like an episode of cops or that horror movie you and your friends stayed up to watch at your high school sleepover (or on Lifetime last week?). Parks are fun, and they are free. But they are very public, and while most days are just fine, some days you just can’t help but wonder.
But don’t be afraid of the park forever. Rather, find out local activities like fairs, disc golf tournaments, marathons and events that are probably going to be better protected by local law enforcement and support staff. Now, the park can be considered more friendly.
3. Find local organizations to join. I am a Christian, and church seriously comes in handy not just for my own religious benefit for growing closer to the Lord, but also for educating and encouraging my children. While I understand and completely respect everyone’s differing opinions, church offers the kids a getaway from the daily routine. Bible stories, crafts, coloring, games and sometimes outdoor activities are not the same as school and home activities. Kids probe and ask questions, and we as parents need to be prepared for any and all questions kids throw at us. But if you don’t join a church because of your beliefs, it would be in your best interests to find something to belong to give you adult interactions as well as the kids a safe environment to be a kid. You and your children deserve an outlet to break away from the daily grind. And I can’t think of a better way for me personally!
4. Bulk stores are not your friend unless you have a large family or a way to split the difference. As a stay at home mom, I was certain bulk food stores were the way to go! But what I learned is that couponing saved me more time, money and hassle than the bulk food stores. Now, I know that there are serious deals at bulk food stores, but often times, stay at home moms are on a fixed budget, and these stores are easy to blow your budget. Stick to your list, and use bulk food stores for things like olive oil, diapers and shelf stable products and paper goods. Otherwise, you’ll quickly learn that bulk food stores can ruin your budget. This picture is at Target, but you get the idea.
As your family grows (think school age to middle school/high school), bulk stores become your friends. You can save tons on lunches, snacks and even meat and produce purchases. Laundry is a never ending story, and you’ll need lots of detergent more than you did when your kids were small. Bigger kids equal bigger messes and more clothes than you can keep up with, so be prepared.
5. Finish laundry and dishes before bed. Nothing helps like waking up to a clean house. With kids (especially babies), it can seem like the house work is never ending! Making sure your laundry and dishes are caught up every day means you can tackle your daily jobs more easily. When supper is over, tackle your messes to ensure that you’ll be ready for the next day and enforce that everyone clean up their messes, too!
6. Don’t worry yourself about being a domestic conqueror. Sometimes you’ll wake up and conquer the day no problem. Others, you were lucky to have an hour of sleep for the whole day. The reality of it is you are doing the best you can. You will hear the most absurd lines about your failures and criticisms of how you should live your life and run your household. Celebrate small victories daily! I unclogged the toilet! My kids are happy and healthy. Kids have no cavities. I got a new magazine in the mail! Whatever it is, own your moments. No one knows your struggles like you do.
7. Your kids are going to get into some kind of trouble no matter how hard you try and watch them. Any parent that says their kids are perfect angels is a flat liar! Any parent that says, “Well my kids didn’t do that” may only be telling the truth because of the exact incident. The reality is their kids were probably bigger monsters than your kids will ever be. Your kids are just curious and get into everything, like Liam did when he discovered marshmallow cream. And I discovered his discovery as I was getting out of the shower. Yay…
8. Chik-Fil-A isn’t as pricey as you once thought now that you know you can get free ice cream for turning in your toy or book with your kids meal. Family night is also a saver as they serve special activities and lots of memories to your children. Liam still looks for Santa Cow instead of Santa Claus. The best part? Your kids’ confidence in making something. My kids were so excited, they now want to create, make and invent things daily. It’s truly amazing the things that they come up with their imagination. This particular day pictured, the boys made wooden air planes with Home Depot at Chik-Fil-A. Seriously, if you don’t have one in your area, find out about local family night activities. They make fantastic memories, and your kids won’t be bored! It’ll expand their creativity and make them smarter than sitting in front of the t.v. all the time. Yes, I am guilty of this as well.
9. Invest in a phone with a great camera. Why? Because you will have so many random acts from the kids at home or in public. While some can be embarrassing, some are flat out hilarious. Enjoy the moment while you can. Your children won’t be small forever.
10. Blanket tents are your worst nightmare and best friend ever all at the same time. Blanket tents provide hours of entertainment, but nothing will clutter up your living room faster than their tent with their plethora of toys and treasures. Be prepared for temper tantrums when you take the tents down at night. The kids will be terrified you’re tearing down their “house.”
*Bonus tip. Remember to treat yourself from time to time. It could be a visit to the salon or having your nails done, maybe reading a book or some kind of mom activity. My aunt and I went to see Phantom of the Opera at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) earlier this year. I won’t lie. For a day, I felt kinda expensive like a mini celebrity.
So there you have it! I had no ambition at all to becoming a stay at home mom, but here I am still hanging around 7 years later. While I have every intention of returning to the work force, one thing is for sure. Being a stay at home mom helps you appreciate the little things in life. Bills haunt you, but you can find pleasure in the little things like warm hugs and smiles from your kids. Exploring and learning with them helps you appreciate your world and want to care for it a little better than you used to do. Above all, remember to just add a little patience to each day. That will make the biggest difference of all!