Four and a half years into my role as a stay-at-home mom, I thought I'd list some of the regular tricks I use to ensure I stay half-way sane. By the way my kids are 7.5 years, 4.5 years and 6 months and we're unschooling. (So no break from them most days)
- Bathtime is still a novelty here, we've never had regular bath time, so it's my failsafe "diffuse a tantrum" trick. The older kids are old enough to spend a good while in there playing, topping up the hot water and giving me time to eat, dress, make-up or feed the baby.
- Golden hour stolen from my years as a primary school teacher, this is the "do what you want within reason" time where everyone gets to play what they want to, on their own, no screens though. Except for mommy's. It's never a whole hour, but the name has stuck.
- Early bedtime no clocks in the house, and my kids are too young to check, but when I say it's bedtime, it is. Works in the winter months. Dinner at 5pm, one hour of screen time, then the bedtime wind-down begins. I've heard of desperate friends starting bedtime at 4.45pm.
- One thing a day In my excitement of the early mothering days I frequently scheduled two playdates a day, morning and afternoon. Cue stress and mad rushing, getting stuck in traffic, eating on the go... Now it's one activity, preferably 11am-3pm and home before the afternoon traffic begins. If there's shopping to be done, or a medical appointment, that is the activity for the day. Home, cuppa tea, dinner and bed. No craziness
- Respect mommy's work By now my older kids know to respect mommy's work (blogging, studying, Facebooking, whatever I deem "work", sometimes vital escapism). They can entertain themselves like they did today, building a train track, while I feed the baby and work on my laptop. They know screen time is limited to early evening and sometimes early morning, and they're ok with the new regime. (The old regime had 24/7 screens while desperate postpartum mommy mothered alone for 4 months...)
- Slow cooker This saves my sanity as a SAHM, I don't know how working moms live without one at all. By 4-5pm I'm flagging and the last thing I'd want to do would be to wonder what to cook and spend an hour preparing and cooking a meal. Two or three times a week I load this up in the morning and it's done for dinnertime. I also cook enough for two meals, so we eat the same thing the next night, or I freeze it for another time, or reuse in a different way. I've even cracked how to reuse the first meal in a second and third way, not needing to wash out the slow cooker, oh yeah baby, I'm a pro. Details will follow in a separate blog post. I held off buying one, thinking the evangelical women raving about them were a little nutty, now I am one of them.
- Roast dinner The frugal home education classes we got in 1990 still serve me well. I know to use the whole oven if it's on, to use energy most efficiently. So if I'm roasting a tray of vegetables I will often throw in some sweet potatoes or a butternut squash to roast, still in the skins, whole, and use them the next day in dinner, muffins or pancakes. Yes, a roast dinner is a hassle, lots of veg prep, but if you do it once a week and fill the oven (three shelves) you have food for many days.
- Online shopping Planning birthday gifts is simple nowadays, no running from shop to shop. A little while online gets the job done, and delivered to our door, or the recipient's door in some cases (if we won't see them in person). Ditto groceries the odd time, like if we're sick.
- A sling The baby's needs for holding are met with the amazing sling (I use a buckle now), she's on my back usually. She'll sleep and I have free hands to hold little boy's crossing roads, or hang out laundry. Baby will sit for a couple of minutes in a highchair, but that's about it for now.
|Baby grabbing for the cheese bag... Other bags contain: cucumber and tomatoes, banana chips, apricots and walnuts and scones.|
- The snack bag If we're going out the next day, I'll try to prep a few vegetables for our lunch at dinnertime or in the evening when baby is playing with Dada. Carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, the kind of thing that seems a hassle in the morning only takes a couple of minutes while you've the chopping board out already. Plus they last a few days in a plastic bag in the fridge, so prepare well ahead if you like. I wasn't so well prepared today, so had to drag the kids around a supermarket, buying sliced cheese as I didn't have a knife... totally saves money bringing it from home.
- Water in the car I know about sunshine, water bottles and BPA thanks! I try to have the odd stainless steel or glass bottle of water in the car (usually half-finished from a previous day out) and this can be a great stop-gap if a trip to a shop is too much hassle (3 kids out of car, walk to shop, buy water, walk to car, 3 kids into car - you get me...)
- Nappies in the car There is inevitably a poo when you least expect it, so I keep a stash of nappies and wipes in the car. Also handy for mopping up spilt water, see above. Or a nappy in the bra is a good breastpad in a pinch.
|Veggie shepherd's pie before the potato, I add mushrooms and corn, veg that don't mind being frozen...|
- Advance cooking Most dinners are either slow cooked, or defrosted from an advance cooking session, that's a real sanity saver. Today's veggie shepherd's pie was lentils from my last curry cook-off, layered into a dish with passata and frozen, taken out of the freezer yesterday and topped with leftover mashed potato, refrigerated for today. It is rare that I cook a whole meal from scratch, I just go by what I have in the freezer. For example today I defrosted a lentil soup, to which I will add curry powder tomorrow and serve as dahl with rice. (We don't like soup that much, overdosed on it last winter)
- Date night The long days at home with the kids are made way easier by the plans for movie watching with my husband and a glass of wine, or the fortnightly date "night" (more often afternoon) we plan. We have 3 willing family members who mind our older boys, rotated so they only mind them once every 6 weeks or so, and baby comes on the date in the sling.
- Phone a friend This one is tricky, as my friends are all equally busy with their own kids, school runs etc, and there never seems to be "time" to have a proper conversation. But I'm trying to phone a friend on the days I'm not seeing other adults, it's a great sanity saver. Even a Facebook message conversation can brighten a day. So if you have my number, don't be afraid to call!
- Movie time Two hours to go until dinner and Dada's return, yesterday I declared it "movie time", we made a big bowl of buttered popcorn, the kids raided the sweet stash, and we sat together and watched Willy Wonka, bliss.
- Caffeine free I have to give caffeine a total miss these days. I find it affects my system way too much, stopping me absorbing vitamins, lowering my immune system, disrupting my sleep cycle and giving me feelings of anxiety. It's just not worth it. I've been off caffeine (yes, black tea too) for about 4 months now, and I've stopped missing it. Instead I drink rooibos tea, herbal teas (nettle/raspberry leaf, vanilla chai) or warm water with molasses and milk or lemon juice.
- Fresh air When it's all getting too much, the kids are bickering and I'm tetchy, I fling on our jackets and shoes and get out. Seconds into the fresh air we're all smiling and in good humour. Works like magic.
- Good food Much as I'd love the convenience (and taste) of eating processed pizzas, sausages, take-outs etc, and wish they could be a timesaving regular part of our diets, I've realised what a toll on our health they take. They lower our immune systems, especially in winter, and we get sick more often, which is a stress I don't need. So we keep them for a sporadic "treat". I've committed to spending a little extra time per week (maybe 2 hours extra over the course of the week) preparing fresh food for us, and it's paying off. I've worked food shopping into our weekly habits too. I'm hoping I'll be able to continue this when I return to work later this year. The kids snack on fruit and raw vegetables and I've a few stalwart meals everyone loves, so I rotate them with variations.
- Breathing Yes, breathing. I have a habit of shallow breathing, which I have to consciously correct with deeper breathing from time to time throughout the day. Just a minute of staring out a window, breathing deeper with good posture can lower blood pressure, de-stress the mind and give me the clarity to jump back into the fray
What keeps you sane?