I meant to write this post a couple of days ago, but then I needed to wait until I was having a day where I felt like I was more than just surviving. My kids are 11 and 13 and I still have days I feel like the joke’s on me. As I’m putting out fire after fire our house becomes more a blast zone than peaceful haven. Those are the-two-steps-forward, three-steps-back days or weeks and we all have them. And then you get a good night’s sleep and deal with your dissues {I explain those here} and forward the laundry, take a deep breath and feel like you’re back on track. My being a stay-at-home mom was not plan A for our family. When I became pregnant with Delaney, I was working a full time family practice, seeing patients at 3 hospitals before and/or after my full day, doing urgent care some nights and weekends, and taking call for our large group a week at a time every 7 weeks. I knew that schedule was completely incompatible with motherhood, but we thought I’d work 2 or 3 days a week and have my mom nanny. Then Delaney was born and reality set in.

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I realized that I didn’t have room inside of me to be the physician my patients deserved and to be the wife and mother I wanted for my family. I already knew that during those 6 years of marriage before kids I worked hard all day, gave every bit of myself away piece by piece, and then came home and offered Scott the crappy leftovers. He knew how hard I was trying and didn’t complain much. It worked, but a baby tipped the scales. We couldn’t both work jobs where emergencies make the schedule predictably unpredictable. I was exhausted and knew there was no way I could face the emotional liability and intellectual demand of being a physician in my state. And I loved being with that baby girl. When I was away from her I felt an undeniable tug back. Then Bailey arrived less than 2 years later and it was decided. I was staying home. For good.

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At first, I was in survival mode and didn’t care about the changes I saw in myself. I just wanted sleep and ice cream. But eventually I started to wonder if who I used to be would ever matter again and how to find her.

Over a decade in, that woman is back. But she’s better than she used to be. More patient. More settled. More fulfilled. Less scared. Looking back on the transition from professional to harried new mom to seasoned household CEO, I’ve come up with some tactics to help those just getting started or those who don’t feel it’s all it could be.

  1. Don’t ignore routine or schedule. In our working lives, we had schedules, deadlines, a framework for our tasks and projects. If you liked that aspect of working life, add a little of that into your routine without overscheduling yourself. It sounds silly, but I developed a memory hook to remind myself to accomplish at least one major house keeping task per weekday. Monday-market (grocery shop), Tuesday-towels and sheets (change and launder), Wednesday-wash clothes, Thursday-the bills, etc. These tasks are of absolutely no interest to me, and I can not be trusted to do them routinely unless regularly prompted. Figure out an afternoon that works well for playdates and try to get the kids together with friends on that day. Schedules give our lives rhythm and mark time. The kids come to like it too.
  2. Have rituals and treat yourself. These are things you give yourself no matter how the day or week went. Unconditional rewards for just staying in the game. I love my morning coffee. I have gone through phases of trying to go to lower calorie creamer or decaf, but the truth is, that warm, delicious, sweet cup of coffee is a treat I look forward to and always enjoy. Drink a glass of wine while you are cooking dinner, peruse all of the new items in your favorite online store each Saturday morning. Treat yourself to a subscription of your favorite magazine and really read it when it comes (or pops up on Texture). These things remind you that what you like matters too.
  3. Start the bedtime routine with a full stomach and empty bladder. Nothing tries my patience like low blood sugar or bladder contents. And if your house is anything like mine, bedtime is already a monumental exercise in patience. So grab a bite and go potty before you start hearding the troops. Trust me. It’s major.
  4. Exercise. I know you’re too tired. Just hear me out. This is a brain chemistry and stamina thing. This isn’t about getting into your pre-baby bikini. I used to think if exercise wasn’t super hard core, it wasn’t worth it. I’m over that! To significantly improve your mood and stamina you don’t have to heave hundred pounds weights or train for a marathon. Take two laps around the periphery of the grocery store before you start filling your cart. Load the kids up in a jog stroller and take a walking lap around the block. Find a gym with good child care and a zumba class. A little is better than none. You’ll think more clearly and sleep better which makes everything easier. Oh! And please don’t plan exercise for nap time. Nap time is for diet coke and pop tarts and your iPad or favorite magazine. You need a break! Speaking of grocery carts, here is my favorite home video. I guess I had let her hold my phone and she inadvertently recorded this. It makes my heart explode.
  5. Keep in touch with friends from your profession. I still get together with one of my doctor girlfriends every week. We exercise or lunch or coffee every Thursday. We talk about everything, not just medicine, but she shares interesting cases with me and isn’t judgmental if I seem rusty on the subject. This combines adult friend time and a link to the old days all in one. And if we exercise, it’s a trifecta!
  6. Keep perspective. I believe this earth isn’t our final home but a place where we learn to love God and each other. When I am stressing out about plastic storage containers or high fructose corn syrup, remembering this takes the pressure off. I try always to do what’s best for my kids, but if I mess up I remember that our eternal life is what really matters and plastics and toxins don’t play into that. Also, remember that perfect is impossible. And anyway, if you’re perfect, none of the other moms will like you. Wear your imperfections with pride. That might be a beacon of hope or lifeline to another mom. Whenever I make a fool of myself in front of a group, I think, “You’re welcome!” Maybe someone needed to see that or know they aren’t the only fool.
  7. Find intellectual stimulation. When Bailey was 2, I was placed on 4 days of jury duty. I was surprised to realize that I really enjoyed it. I used my brain and interacted with other adults and dressed professionally for those 4 days. It’s not what I’d want full time or even more often than every 5 or so years, but it reminded me about parts of myself that get buried under diapers and dinners. My mom and I started a book club over 10 years ago. Every month we read and discuss a book with friends mostly from the neighborhood. The books and discussions always leave me refreshed and expanded. Skillshare and Youtube are great places to learn new skills. Anything you can imagine wanting to learn how to do has a how-to video just waiting for you.
  8. Find other moms to complain to. I’m serious! My sister regularly gets an earful. The thing is, it’s not a spiral into negativity. We encourage each other and trouble shoot. Sometimes just explaining your situation to someone makes you hear it differently and the solutions just pops right out of your mouth. I also joined MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) at our local church when Delaney was a baby. Just seeing that other moms are in the same boat is so life giving. I know a lady who is still best friends with ladies she met in her breastfeeding support group. Their kids are all teenagers now!
  9. Pair mundane tasks with something you love. I almost never do dishes or fold laundry without listening to a podcast. It helps pass the time, entertains me, and often I learn something new or at least something I want to tell Scott all about.
  10. Get earplugs. This is important! When you decide to sleep in and let someone else deal with the kids on a rare morning, plug your ears. You must. Scott and I actually had custom earplugs made at an audiologist, but the cone shaped foam earplugs you can buy at the drugstore are really good too.
  11. Figure out what you most miss about working and try to get a little of that. The thing I miss most about my job is that moment when I can alleviate a patient’s concern. That rush of relief and gratitude that crosses their face was so gratifying to me. That’s hard to come by these days, but the other thing I miss about work is dressing professionally. I love clothes. I look for events to dress for. Whether its a MOPS meeting, a charity event, or a date with my husband, the clothes make it feel all the more special. And they are all new. Nothing I wore working fits me anymore just in case you are wondering.
  12. Don’t forget the small joys. If you love to decorate, spruce up the main room of your house. If you love plants, have a window garden in your kitchen (small and manageable and right there for watering). If you love music, keep up on what’s new and set up your house or car so that you listen regularly. In contrast, forgive yourself if you don’t want to decorate or grow plants. I love houseplants, but I just didn’t think I could keep more than 4 beings alive when my kids were babies, so I didn’t have any for years. And if your oldest child is less than one and you don’t want to drag out the Christmas decorations, I give you permission to skip it. You are tired. Go take pictures in front of your mom’s tree and then take a nap.
  13. Laugh! I went through a period of listening to satellite radio stand up comedy any time I was driving in the car without my kids. The laughter was so rejuvenating! If you need a quick dose, read {this} blog post I wrote about things that make me laugh.
  14. Figure out your love language and tell your husband. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is not necessarily a book I’d recommend you read, but the concept is essential. We all have a specific way of receiving love that resonates most with us. To feel loved and appreciated and seen, we need certain affirmations. The five different forms are quality time, words of affirmation, gift giving, act of service, and physical touch. Here’s a {quick quiz}. If your husband knows where the target is, he’s more likely to hit it. Help him meet your needs. Find out his too and focus on what hits home for him.

Here’s the thing. Being a mom of young children is so, so hard. Hear me. What you are doing is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do. When I was in residency on my surgical month, we worked 36 hours on, 12 hours off for a month straight. I could hardly see straight. I was stretched so thin physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Being a mom of young children is harder. Bar none. Hang in there. Take care of yourself and do what you can to make it more tolerable. I’m not going to tell you to enjoy it because it’ll go by so fast. I’m too close to it. I know advice like that doesn’t help. Help helps.

What works for you that might help other moms get through?

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