That’s how long it’s taken me to feel like I have (maybe…) found my groove as a stay at home mom. Sixteen months of learning how to juggle an ever-changing schedule that works for a tiny human and myself. Sixteen months of finding the balance of staying home and curing cabin fever, of planning activities throughout the week to get out of the house, and knowing when we both needed to stay in pjs. And that is okay. I am blessed and thankful to be a stay at home mom. Extraordinarily blessed. Even when the days are long, when I am counting down the minutes to my husband walking through the door, or when my toddler has taken every single piece of Tupperware out of the cabinet for the umpteenth time and exhausted every ounce of patience I can muster up. I am thankful and grateful for this chapter in life. But that doesn’t mean that it is or has been easy.
I think so much of finding my groove as a SAHM has to do with separating the time and energy I am pouring into this tiny human with what I am doing for myself. Early motherhood feels like losing your identity. We pour so much of ourselves, literally and physically into creating, sustaining, and maintaining this little life, that once they’re here and functioning (mostly) on their own, we have to meet ourselves again. But now we’re different. You cannot go through something like that and expect to resume the same sense of normalcy you had before with your life or yourself. There’s no way.
I don’t pretend to have it all together. But I think there’s too big a part of Mom Culture these days that’s proudly screaming from the rooftops you haven’t washed your hair in a week. Surely I have gone more than 24 hours without showering and proudly display a can of Dove Dry Shampoo on my bathroom countertop, but why are we reveling in the fact that we are forgetting to care for ourselves? Why is this some sort of twisted victory? The term self-care feels so overdone, but that shouldn’t discredit just how important the concept is. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
The first few months (that feel like years) // Surviving
It is no secret, regardless of if you go back to work once your maternity leave is up or continue to stay at home, the first few months are about surviving. So much of those months are blurry; with fear, caution, over-thinking, adjusting. I remember after all the visitors were gone and my husband went back to work being left alone with a baby who just seemed to cry all the time. I had days, hours, moments, of back and forth feelings. One minute I was able to grab a shower as my content newborn babe swayed in her rocker on the bathroom floor. I was Rosie the Riveter, hand me that red bandana. The next, I was dejectedly texting my husband how many times she had spit up by 10am. I mourned the outrageous amount of clothing we had both gone through in an hour, and begged him to just come home to rescue me. I promise this, the newborn haze will clear. You’ll stop just surviving and start managing, flourishing even.
Out of the fog // Managing
After the clouds seemed to clear and we got more in a routine (just for it to change again, of course, but a routine nonetheless) we moved into the managing phase. She was about five months now and more alert. I went to friend’s houses and out shopping. I could grocery shop with the best of them with her strapped to my chest in the carrier. I was feeling like a functioning member of society again and hey, I even put on makeup. Things were less cloudy. I had found the sweet spot of when to clean the house and when to shower. I could even manage to make dinner while my sweet babe stared at me from where she sat on the floor in her swing. I remembered to feed myself (or rather barbarically stuff my face with whatever snack was nearby out of ravenous nursing hunger). I was managing. I was gaining confidence.
In the groove // Confidence
This is probably not what all you pregnant mamas want to read and absolutely is different for everyone…but it took about a year for me to truly feel confident. Of course day to day there were some exceptions, but around that time the days deemed ‘good’ were more common than the days that seemed to outweigh me. Confident, in that I didn’t need to jump straight to Google or the pediatrician for every single little thing (I still frequent Google). Confident that I could juggle a schedule for my babe and a routine for myself more days than not and we would both be semi-clean, fed, and relatively happy. Confident in that, instead of worrying if my baby was screaming because everything was wrong I could narrow it down to 2-4 things; hunger, teeth, or who knows, and that the frantic Save Me text to my husband came around 3pm or not at all, instead of 9am.
Flourishing // New Growth
At sixteen months I felt like I hit a period of sudden growth. Like I could allow my toddler to have some independence at home while I focused a little more on things I’d been neglecting, myself. I realized about this time that I needed to fill my cup, and not just my morning cold coffee I survive on. I was neglecting my body; I need endorphins from exercising to keep my brain happy, quite literally. I had been forgetting this fact for far too long. I need a steady routine which worked while I stayed at home but still worked with taking care of my body. I was neglecting healthy habits. I needed healthy food instead of whatever I could scrounge up in the pantry. I was neglecting growth, attainable growth while I was merely surviving and maintaining. In those moments, that was okay. Those chapters are okay, they are necessary. They had to be. But now I could start to flourish again. To prune back the old leaves that were brown and tired and wilted in order to make room for new and beautiful ones. I didn’t have to have it all figured out, but I was growing again.