From the moment I had my son in 2018, I dreamed of leaving teaching to be a stay-at-home parent.
At the time, we lived in one of the most expensive counties in the country, so living on one income was out of the question for our family. After we had our daughter, we knew we wanted to move back to North Dakota to be closer to family, and also reduce our cost of living so I could fulfill my dream of staying home with our children.
First of all, let me say, being a working parent is hard.
Being a stay-at-home parent is hard.
It is all very, very hard.
The transition from working as a teacher with a highly scheduled day and other adult interaction to staying home with two toddlers was, to my surprise, a very difficult but wonderful transition. Here’s what I learned:
1. Get out of the house. Every. Single. Day.
I learned very quickly that everyone’s mental health improves when we change our scenery at least once a day. It doesn’t have to be fancy or cost money. Sometimes we might not even get out of the car. I learned quickly that there is A LOT of day to fill when you’re home and leaving the house was absolutely necessary for our (my) sanity! Some of our favorite low/no cost activities that we spread throughout the week are:
- Grocery pickup
- Mall walking, visiting the fish, playing at the play place, and pretend playing arcade games
- Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) in Moorhead
- Walks/bike rides/scooter rides
- Playgrounds when the weather is nice
- Rustad Rec Center indoor playground when the weather is terrible (and I question my life choices regarding moving to the Midwest)
- Toddler open gymnastics
- Library story times and Wiggle Room
- Fast food play places
2. Clean/tidy throughout the day, NOT at nap or rest time!
Hear me out on this one. I read this tip online and it changed my life as a stay-at-home parent. I want my kids to see the work that goes into keeping a house in order and I want them to help within reason.
Clean-up is another great activity to fill the day! I have a supportive partner and we work together on household chores. I learned that while my kids are resting, I need a little bit of time for myself, too! Somedays it’s a workout. Other days it’s mindless scrolling — balance!
3. Make stay-at-home parent friends or just SEE other adults during the day
I know this is easier said than done. You always hear about the village it takes, but finding that village can be tricky. Making friends as an adult is hard and awkward.
I’m still working on it myself, but even a little chat with another parent at the playground in between chasing my kids is so good for the soul (even if you never see them again).
I have connected with some other parents that stay home and getting the kids together mid-week is an actual vacation. You’d think that having more kids together would create even more chaos, and it totally is chaos, but they entertain each other and it gives parents a nice break! I’ve learned to say yes to the play dates. It’s always worth it.
4. Screentime is a tool
At the risk of being controversial, I’ll say it: I could not survive staying home without the help of Bluey, Blippi, Ms. Rachel, and a good Disney movie. Especially in the dead of winter!
I’m in awe of anyone who doesn’t do any screen time, but I’m just not there. I like to think of it as a tool. A show here and there helps keep the kids entertained when I’m trying to make a meal or throw a load of laundry in. It also helps me when I just need a little break. Some days we watch two movies before 9:00 am. Some days we don’t watch anything. But I know that when I need it, my trusty TV is ready to give me a much needed break and put a smile on my kids’ faces!
5. Every activity doesn’t need to be Instagram-worthy
At the beginning of my stay-at-home journey, I was planning activity after activity. Prepping arts and crafts. Making games. Searching the internet for ideas. I was burning myself out…fast!
Of course, I still plan some cute activities (that they might be interested in for all of five minutes), but I’ve also learned that they don’t need to be entertained all day. It’s ok (and necessary!) for them to learn how to have fun on their own. They can play with each other and a bin of toys and have just as much fun (and learn just as much) as they would completing an aesthetically pleasing activity.
6. Not every day will be great
Listen, I knew I would be staying home, but no one told me that the kids would always be here, too! It’s a lot of work being the primary caretaker for small humans all day, everyday.
You never get to clock out and that thought often overwhelms me.
Sometimes I question my decision to leave teaching to stay home. So no, not every day is great, but there is something every day that make me smile and reminds me that I made the best decision for our family to be a stay-at-home parent.