Tips from a Stay-At-Home Dad…
A little over a year ago I got a very flattering email from a friend of a friend. It went like this. “Not sure if you remember me but we met at a wedding, a whole bunch of years ago. Though we haven’t seen each other since then, I get constant updates about how you and your wife have grown quite the family. I’ve also paid close attention to how they describe your (seemingly) Herculen abilities to not only care for the three of them during the day but at the same time run a business out of your house AND write books and music…not to mention carving out time for your wife, church, etc. Which leads to my question and the purpose of this email…how, my man, do you do it!?” It went on to say a few other things about time management, but you get the gist.
Humbled by this email I spent the next few hours emailing this friend some tips that I personally used when I was in the throws of three small boys and trying to hold on to my sanity.
Remember, when my youngest was born my oldest was only 25+ months old. Now I thought I might share them. These are just my own personal tips. I don’t claim to be a parenting “guru” but if they can help someone else that would be great.
1. Join a gym with daycare and don’t be afraid to take your kid to it!
Really. I know there is the whole issue with germs that many first time parents go through but I finally succumbed to taking my oldest at about 10 months and that was huge. For me, it was the YMCA. I could take one or all my kids there, to the daycare, for free for 80 minutes everyday. That 80 minutes was a gift from heaven. Sometimes I’d workout. Sometimes I’d sit at the pool and just read and listen to music. My YMCA eventually got WIFI, so I was actually able to do some work. Even if your gym makes you pay for the daycare, like many 24-hour fitness locations do, it’s worth it. REALLY. We all know the benefits to excercise, but the untold mental benefits of sitting and doing something for you for 60 minutes or so is just as important.
I tell moms about relaxing at the gym all the time. It’s so funny how many of them never realized that when they drop their kid off they could go sip their coffee at the pool with some friends for “me” time and not HAVE to actually work out.
Oh, and none of my kids ever got sick from the gym.
2. FORCE the nap (sleep).
I know it’s hard but you have to schedule it and make it happen. Your kid may cry for 3 straight days and it will be over. It usually never lasts for more than 3 days. I had to “break” my oldest of his desire to not nap or wake up too early. He would wake up after 45 minutes and be done. NO WAY! I spent 3 days listening to him cry for 45 to 60 or more minutes (while I worked). Then I would let him up. He had to, at least ,get that 1 1/2 hours at least 2 times a day regardless of if he slept the whole time or not. After that 3rd day he actually started sleeping for the full 1.5 to 2 hours. Now our kids are not allowed out of their room in the morning until their clock has a “7 at the front” (7am). They all know what a 7 is and it’s nice. It may be tough to handle at first, the crying and screaming, but it ends and then life gets that much easier.
3. Partner Up!
Seriously, split as much as possible down the middle. It will help you be less exhausted. My wife and I, for 5 years had an “every other night” schedule. Tonight she wakes up with the kids, if they wake, and she gets up with them in the morning. Tomorrow is my night. This is a hard one if your schedules, in general, are not exactly 9-5 but sharing everything is key. You’ll be happier, your spouse will be happier. Stress will be less. Marriage is a team effort and the game of child-rearing is a team sport. If you work outside the home, your job is not done when you come home from work. Get in there and help out.
4. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule!
Scheduling kids is key. At least it was for me. Kids love schedules. Routines. I’ve gone to a story time for 7 years that is so popular because the lady that runs it has played the same exact songs every week for 7 years! Kids love the familiar, heck we all do. Schedule their meals. Schedule their naps, sleep, etc… They will get used to it and LIKE IT. You will have more time and a way to schedule your life and you will like it. You’ll know when you can do what and for how long. Schedule! My parents didn’t “get” the schedule and always tried to talk me our of it. If yours do, don’t let them. It’s key to you and your kids. One time my mom talked us out of my oldest son’s nap schedule to stay at a pumpkin patch for an extra hour. HOLY COW we paid for that. He wouldn’t nap, screamed, cried and threw us off for two days. Scheduling saved all of our sanity and helped us live a more stress free life. All hail the schedule!
5. Get a CROCKPOT
We don’t use it as much anymore but, my goodness, this was a life saver! You can start the meal at 6 am if you need to, let it sit all day and when dinner time rolls around it’s done. You can make some wonderful meals in them. Chili, Corn beef and Cabbage, Pot Roast, Chicken and vegetables, Soups. Get a good Crockpot and Crockpot recipe book and you’ll be very thankful. I used to throw three frozen chicken breast in the pot around noon, put in whatever marinade sounded good. Then with about an hour to go I’d throw in carrots, brussel sprouts, onions, etc… and we’d have a nice dinner ready at 6 pm. Very simple but good. I do Taco meat in there. I get ground turkey or Italian sausage and brown it. Then stick it in a Crockpot for four or five hours with a marinara sauce. With one hour left, I’d drop, right into the hot marinara, a box of Rigatoni and mix it up. Turn the pot to high and an hour later the noodles were soft and I had a nice pasta meal that was similar to baked ziti. Throw a garlic bread in the oven and Whalla! Nothing to it. Dinner was something we always did together but we didn’t go fancy. We made tasty meals that were easy and usually had about ten that rotated in and out of a two week cycle. So we’d see pasta two times in two weeks, then tacos, then hamburgers, then chicken, rice and veggies. etc..
6. Maid or Yard Worker?
I don’t mean extravagantly having a maid all the time or a yard guy or two all the time but if you can afford someone every two weeks to come in and tidy up that is a good thing. If you can’t then I’m sorry I put it in here. I went with a Yard Guy. $100 a month and he’d come every week. That gave me the opportunity to clean inside. It could be vice versa if that worked better for you. You have enough to deal with everyday. I know, that for me, mess, clutter and the feeling of being unkempt would DRAG me down. It’d make everything feel worse. What’s the saying, “Clean House, Clear Mind”. So True! The yard being taken care gave me the mental freedom to keep the house straightened up. The smaller the house (and we lived in a small house) the messier it can appear. Talk about claustrophobia. I had a business to run, a house to keep up and running, and three little boys to take care of. That $100 a month went a long way.
7. Try to relax:
This is coming from knowing how my wife and I were with the first one. Your child is going to be just fine! Many of us don’t realize that until the second one comes around and we’ve learned that lesson. It’s very hard not to “coddle” the first child and think that everything is going to negatively affect him or her. I remember when our first was about 5 days old a friend put her finger in his mouth. I tell you, the crap hit the fan, when she did that. But he was fine, probably healthier for it. I really don’t know if you are like this but 99% of us first parents are. Another example: Steph and I for the first 3 or 4 months of our first son’s life stayed up with him around the clock. I would be awake from 10 pm to 6 am. Then I’d sleep. She’d wake up at 6 am. Then I’d wake up later and we’d team up for a while, but one of us always watched him. That is incredibly extreme and never happened again, but we were freaked out at the time. Basically, it’s undue pressure on yourself to stress over everything that “could” happen. It really is. I’ll tell you right now, I know a family where the mom’s a nurse and the husband’s a pharmacist. They stress hard about everything “germy” because they are “in the know”. I’ve never met sicker kids. Think about us, we survived. Our parents drove cars without seat belts. We played in stagnant ponds. We constantly ate crap off the ground. One time a kid put a booger in my ear and I had to go to the hospital to get it sucked out. Just realize every first time parent is as unsure and unsteady as the next. You are not alone. We all try to do our best and let God handle the rest.
8. Remember 3 days
This goes with Tip 2. If you ever need to “break” any kind of habit, remember, the crying only lasts 3 days (of course off and on). It’s typical that it’s “3 days and out”. Suck it up. It’s hard, I know, but 3 months from now you won’t even remember those three days.
9. Be a Kid
I was going to call this tip “use your imagination” but I figure if you can put yourself in the mindset of a kid you’ll automatically do that. . I always found one of the hardest parts of being an at-home-parent was not getting bored out of my mind. There are only so many times I can go, “goo goo goo goo ga ga ga ga” while making a rattle or bee toy go up and down. But I found that if I got down on the floor and explored the wonder that is visible in the eyes of my kids just discovering something new or trying to figure out how something worked, it made it so much easier. Put away the inhibitions or flat our laziness and be silly, be adventurous, explore, rediscover, wonder and learn anew with your kids.