When I first became a stay-at-home mom, I couldn’t believe how much I loved it. I know it can be a challenge for some parents to be pinned down in the house so much, but it was a dream come true for me. As an introvert and somewhat of a control freak, I love being home. At home, I'm in control of my surroundings and most importantly, my schedule. When I was pregnant with my first child, I figured that a perfectly coordinated schedule would be my ticket to parental success. I researched sleep schedules, feeding schedules, and the best brain-stimulating activities for infants. My planner was filled with ideal times for feeding, napping, and playtime. Over the years I've learned that my organized personality complements my take on motherhood quite well, but I was also mistaken about one very large thing. Babies, kids, and life in general can't always be perfectly planned out. Schedules are great and kids thrive when they have structure in their lives, but they also need spontaneity, a word that wasn't even in my vocabulary at the time. I thought I had to stick to a strict schedule to be a successful stay-at-home mom, but three kids later, I've learned that I don't.
I've always been a planner. I feel best prepared for the day when I am viewing life through the pages of my trusty planner. All of my house chores, errands, and meals are planned out for the week. I love to make checklists and get abnormally excited to check things off as "completed." Even before I was pregnant, I spent hours researching how to take care of my new addition. I had read What to Expect When You're Expecting cover to cover long before I was even expecting. I was ready to be a mom, or so I thought.
Real life was proving more difficult to plan out, especially as I had more children.
When I had my first child, giving birth was nerve wracking. My water broke early, which was not according to plan. Sudden labor sent me to the hospital, but luckily I was prepared for that. I brought with me a strict birth plan, perfectly coordinated baby outfits, and my planner, of course. I even had an app on my phone, ready to track my baby's poops and feedings after he'd arrived. I was ready to get this baby on a schedule as soon as possible. Then something happened that changed all of that: I actually had the baby. My birth plan went out the window at around 4 centimeters when I requested (quite aggressively) all the pain medication my doctor had. The idea of sleep- and feeding schedules became laughable, especially once I'd realized that babies are much harder to control than I'd originally thought. Even when I was able to track the feedings on my fancy app, it was still a struggle to remember what day it was, let alone which breast I fed on last time. As for the fancy coordinated outfits, well, they just came home with spit-up on them. Real life was proving more difficult to plan out, especially as I had more children.
Honestly, I've always felt like I was meant to be a mother. When I had each child, I was astounded at the amount of love I felt. I had this precious life to mold and it was exciting, but it was also a lot of pressure. I wanted to make sure I was feeding my kids the right foods at the right times, that they were sleeping enough, and that I was doing the absolute best job I could when raising them. I worried I'd somehow mess them up if I didn't overthink every decision.
But babies don’t seem to understand the “best” times to sleep and they definitely don't care about “optimal” feeding times. The books recommended one thing, but real life was telling me to do something entirely different. Children have minds of their own and don’t always cooperate with routines and even though I was trying my best to provide the best structure I could, I was beginning to wonder if I needed to let go a little. Don’t get me wrong, I'm a big fan of kids having a routine, but I was beginning to realize that actually sticking to it is easier said than done. It was easy to mark down a certain nap time in my planner, but actually getting my child to sleep around that time proved more difficult.
And then came the toddler years.
As a stay-at-home mom, I thought I needed to schedule educational activities to help their minds develop properly instead of just winging each day. I thought I needed to constantly teach them about academics, independence, manners, bravery, proper life skills, and everything in between. And trying to do that while also keep my house functional and livable was proving to be quite the challenge, so back to my planner I went. I tried to plan for everything, but quickly learned that is obviously impossible. Sometimes kids don’t eat what you want them to or listen to your well thought-out lesson on shapes and colors. Kids need structure, absolutely, but not every darn second of every single day. Schedules helped me stay organized, but it was starting to affect my sanity when things didn't go according to plan. Structure is good, but so is living in the moment.
The moments we don’t schedule are usually the most memorable ones.
My planner meant well, but it wasn't helping me with things like having a picky eater, teething, potty training, surviving sleep regression, or my son's gluten sensitivity (at the time). I was trying so hard to make their lives perfect through the pages of a planner that I was forgetting that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Life, and more importantly, parenting, require a bit of flexibility.
Being a stay-at-home mom is a constant, 24/7 job full of cleaning, cooking, sick kids, hyper kids, play dates, bumps, bruises, discipline, stress, and unimaginable, incomparable joy. Some moments are wonderful and some are really, really hard. Routine has been an essential part of my day for years and I'm still a firm believer in kids needing a little structure to feel secure but what I didn’t realize was that trying to stick to a strict schedule for every little thing was just not possible. I felt like a failure every time my list was left incomplete. And I realized that just because I stay at home doesn't mean I have to be glued to my house or my schedule.
I've been a stay-at-home mom for six years and honestly, I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. But I would love to go back in time and tell myself to calm down, chill out, and let go of the structure just a tad.
I've finally learned to prioritize my day. I thought that cleaning, planning and teaching was my top priority each day. But, I've realized that throwing the plan out the window for the day and getting down on the floor to play with my children is a bigger priority sometimes. Kids grow up fast and I don’t want to miss it because I was so focused on my tasks. I don't want to miss the fun parts.
I used to think that I had to be productive every second of the day, but now I know raising kids is productive.
I've been a stay-at-home mom for six years and honestly, I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. But I would love to go back in time and tell myself to calm down, chill out, and let go of the structure just a tad. Not every checklist needs to get done, not every meal needs to be healthy, and not every activity needs to be educational. Some of my favorite days are the ones when it’s pouring outside and we skip the chores to climb in my bed to watch our favorite movie together; the days when we ignore the routine to play a board game at the table; the days when we ignore the healthy meal and order a pizza. Those times, the ones when we just hang out together doing nothing productive are just as important as the days we get it all done. The moments we don’t schedule are usually the most memorable ones.
I thought as a stay-at-home mom that I had to plan for everything. I thought I needed a schedule full of playdates, educational activities, healthy meals, and early bedtimes. Now, three kids later, I've finally learned the secret a stay-at-home-mom schedule that works for me. I've learned how to have the perfect day, at least as far as my kids and I are concerned. Schedules are wonderful because they give us a game plan, but sometimes we just need to push it aside and go bowling. Sometimes I have to ignore the dirty dishes and play hide and seek instead. Some days I have to let go of the structure, laugh together, and be silly. I used to think that I had to be productive every second of the day, but now I know raising kids is productive.
When I get up in the morning, I still schedule out my day. I still make checklists in my planner. It looks different now, though. I schedule a rough window of time to work, to clean, and to just be with my kids. Some days we get a lot accomplished and others, we don’t. When the stress of the long to-do list staring back at me starts weighing me down, I adapt. I draw a big down arrow in my planner and move all of my duties to the following day. I throw back on my pajamas (or keep them on, if we’re being honest) and decide to just have fun with my kids instead. Because those are the times I’ll remember, not the fact that I cleaned the entire house in one day or got the kids to bed at the exact time I scheduled. I’ll remember the laughter, the snuggles, the spontaneous trips to get ice cream, the late-night snack I never should have let them have, and the moments I never could have planned for. Sometimes, living in the moment is the most important task to check off my list.