No matter how old your baby is, being a parent is always hard. It doesn’t even stop when they’re adults. In fact, I’m pretty convinced that “parent” comes from a Latin root word meaning “person who has decided to forevermore be deeply concerned with someone else’s needs, challenges, and happiness.” Today I’d like to talk about the unique challenges a stay-at-home mother faces when her child is an infant, and those she has to deal with when they become a toddler. Because being a stay-at-home mom is not a static job — it evolves and changes so dramatically, in fact, that from year-to-year (hell, from month-to-month) sometimes, it can require an entirely new and distinct set of skills, casting off the previous, hard-earned set from when your kid was younger. Being a stay-at-home mom isn't just a job, it's many different jobs.
Truthfully, these are challenges that all moms will face at some point. (When I worked outside of the home, they were still all certainly relevant to me.) But in many instances, it’s the collective and constant barrage of these factors over time that prove to be particularly harrowing (or in fun instances, enlivening), so I thought I would take these from a mostly SAHM perspective. Also, ya know, I am a stay-at-home mom, so I figure it’s best to speak from direct experience. Today, I am home with a young toddler and a preschooler, but it wasn’t too long ago that I had a toddler and an infant (#sob #mybabiesaregrowingup #sunrisesunset) and could directly compare the differences between the two experiences, which include but are not limited to...
With A Baby, You Drag Them To Do What YOU Need Or Want To Do
Going out to do something for an infant is usually just kind of annoying, in my experience. Because either they’re too young to sit up on their own, much less get the concept of a music class or whatever. Or they’re sitting up and in the stage where they put absolutely everything in their mouths, so the world outside of your designated living room floor space is more or less a choking hazard death trap. But, if you want to go out just for you? Your infant is essentially an accessory; like a chihuahua you carry around in your purse, but less yappy. (At least usually. I guess that depends on the baby and the chihuahua in question.)
Want to go meet a friend at Starbucks for a couple hours? Great! Just plan it around one of your baby’s 900 naps. They’ll sleep in their stroller or in the Moby wrap and you enjoy your time to yourself. Just be careful if you are wearing them in a wrap, sling, or carrier that you don’t get food on their head. I really should have started a Tumblr of foods that wound up on my babies’ heads when they were infants — salad, jelly, oatmeal, pasta, innumerable sandwiches. This wasn’t such a big deal for my son, who was bald so I could just brush that schmutz off. My daughter was born with a full head of hair, so she required daily baths to get the bagel crumbs out of her luxurious mane.
With A Toddler, You Don't Dare Try To Take Them Anywhere That Won't Be Engaging For Them
The playground is way less stressful with a toddler than an infant, mainly because I don’t have to constantly fish wood chips out of their mouth. Ditto the zoo (I don’t have to carry them everywhere), or any other family-friendly destination. But those Starbucks coffee talk dates? A thing of the past. Unless you have a magical toddler, there’s no way you will be able to get them to sit quietly for a couple hours (and if you do, cherish them and count your lucky stars). You want to go shopping for a few new items? Trying to shop for yourself with a toddler is really, really annoying, mainly because they want to know why you’re not at the toy store. Or they insist non-toy items are toys and then get upset when you won’t buy them nail guns or toilet brushes or whatever. This isn’t to say they’re always bratty, because they’re really not. But they have their own ideas about what they’d like to be doing.
With A Baby, You Can Watch Whatever TV You Want
I got through so many series on my maternity leaves: Luther, Top of the Lake, Orange is the New Black, and House, just to name a few. Needless to say, none of these are especially appropriate for children, but infants don’t understand English and they can’t see very far in front of them, so you don’t have to worry about averting their eyes.
With A Toddler, Binge Watching "True Blood" Is Pretty Much Off The Table
You just don’t want to have to explain rampant sexuality and bloodlust to a small child, and they will ask.
With A Baby, Your House Stays Basically Clean
A baby only has a few needs: to be fed, to be cuddled, to be changed, and to be put to sleep. They don’t want a million toys, they don’t want to grind Play-Doh into the carpet, they don’t want to mix all the condiments in your refrigerator in a big bowl with some eggs “to see what would happen.” They’re simple creatures, and while they can get quite messy because they have no control over their body functions and everything at that age is often projectile, they really don’t disrupt the order of your home.
With Toddlers, Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter
The million toys? The Play-Doh in the carpet? The eggs and condiments science experiment? I’m speaking from experience — and those are just experiences from, like, the last week. Toddlers are fascinating, imaginative, curious little creatures. Most of the time, that is awesome… until it’s time to clean up. And that’s just the mess they make. Never mind all the stuff you now leave lying around the house because you’re too busy making sure your toddler isn’t setting the cat on fire or whatever (another mess).
With A Baby, You Have To Find Your Own Entertainment
While it is possible to just lovingly gaze at your baby, it gets a little old after a while. Babies are wonderful, but they really don’t earn their keep in the entertainment-value department. Ever notice how new parents get really, crazy excited when their babies do completely normal, boring things? “OMG, MCKENZIE ROLLED OVER THE FIRST TIME TODAY!!!” and you’re like, “Whatever, I roll over all the time.” It’s because that’s literally the most interesting thing that an infant can do. Every new thing an infant does is greeting with disproportionate excitement, because we parents are just so pleased they’re finally doing something.
With Toddlers, They Are The Entertainment
Intentionally or not, toddlers are hilarious. They somehow find this perfect balance between actually clever and naively clueless that culminates into a small human you could laugh with for hours. The other day, after adorably re-enacting scenes from Brave word for word for about half an hour (ever hear an American child attempt a Scottish accent? It’s amazing), my son began telling me all about how the gorillas he’s going to see at the zoo are nice and not mean, and maybe he can be friends with some of them, but if they’re mean he’s going to make them go back in a cage. I get stories like this hourly.
With Babies, There's (Usually) More Downtime
Infants sleep about 17 hours a day, which often gives those staying home with them a lot of downtime. Don’t get me wrong: Caring for an infant takes a lot out of you, and that sleep comes at weird times that don’t necessarily accommodate you getting a whole hell of a lot done. But sometimes, magic happens and you can be productive AF. Or you can watch a Malcolm in the Middle marathon, because it’s on and it’s funny and why didn’t you watch this back when it was on? I mean, Bryan Cranston, for goodness sake!
With A Toddler, Naps Are Often A Thing Of The Past
My son gave up naps at age three and a half and I’m still in mourning. When my infant and my toddler napped at the same? I called that “The Double Rainbow” because it filled me with the same awe and happiness this guy experienced…
With A Baby, Your House Is Ridiculously Cluttered With A Sh*t-ton Of Baby Gear
From all the nursery furniture, to the swing, to the Mamaroo, to the high chair, to the Bumbo, to the activity mat, to the exersaucer, to the Rock n’ Play, to the Pack n’ Play, to whatever-the-hell-else-you-bought-in-an-attempt-to-find-something-that freed-your hands-for-more-than-five minutes, your house can be tidy with an infant, but it will be obvious to anyone who enters your home that you have a new baby around. They’re very tiny, but their stuff is not.
With A Toddler, Your House Is Ridiculously Cluttered With A Sh*t-ton Of Toys
The big gear is mostly gone, but now that your little one isn’t so little their toys are the big things in the house — Legos, Hot Wheels, action figures, Polly Pocket — which means you step on them constantly, especially in the middle of the night. Also, there are so many of them (thanks a lot, grandparents) since they cry whenever you suggest giving some of them away, so now you’ve got, like, years of toys built up with no hope of ever purging the toybox.
With A Baby, You Do Not Have Full Use Of Your Hands For A Long Time
Neither of my children would consent to be put down for longer than a few minutes for months and months. My babywearing devices were a real lifesaver here, but even then, my mobility and dexterity were somewhat inhibited. Also, your back and arms get both ripped and tired as hell, so that's a nice bonus.
With A Toddler, You're Free As A Bird Because You’re Not Carrying Them everywhere.
...but your hands are basically always busy doing their bidding, or trying to catch them, or keep them from running into traffic, so it’s kind of a draw. Well played, toddlers, you wiley overlords.
Images: Abigail Batchelder/Flickr; Giphy(14)