Like many moms my age (37), I had a fulfilling career and a busy, rewarding life before having kids. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and worked for the international non-profit sector, had plenty of date nights out with my husband, slept in and read the paper on the weekends, and exercised and traveled regularly.
After having my daughter in 2009, and then her fraternal twin siblings less than two years later, all of that changed. I left my job and city, moved across the country to Providence, RI where my husband would be pursuing an advanced degree, and decided to become a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) for a while. Factoring in the tremendous expense of having three children in full-time childcare, and the fact that I was breastfeeding, I decided to put my career on the shelf for a while in order to focus on managing our household and being the primary caretaker for our three young children.
This fall, the kids will be 4.5 (my daughter) and 2.5 (the twins), I will be returning to professional work part-time for the first time in four years while my children attend preschool. As I reflect upon my time working as a SAHM, here are some things I’ve learned… a.k.a. things I wish people had told me!
This list may or may not be the same for you, as every mom’s reasons for staying home (or not) are different and every mom of multiples has her own ways of coping and doing right by herself and her kids. But it is my hope that at least some of the things on my list may resonate with you and that, at the very least, you will reconsider low-rise jeans and jersey knit (see #7, below).
1. Go outside every single day.
All three of my kids were born in February – not the best time of the year in New England for a quick walk around the block with the double stroller! However, I made it a priority to get outside every day, even if it was just a walk down the street to drop a bill into the mailbox. It did wonders for clearing my head and improving my mental health.
2. Don’t try to do everything yourself – you are smart, not a failure, if you ask for help!
Help is a hard thing to ask for (or pay for) when you’re used to being able to handle things yourself. I’ve learned so much humility as a SAHM, not least of which has been a big lesson in not being able to do everything myself, while still knowing that I am a smart, hard-working and very capable person. The myth that SAHMs to multiple children should be able to do this job entirely ourselves must be shattered.
Maybe you live close to a family member who can pitch in a couple evenings a week to help give you a break, or who can move in with you to help for the first 1-2 months after your multiples are born. Maybe you set up a schedule with your partner so that each of you gets a chance for a break each day. Maybe you hire a college student to help you with laundry and grocery shopping. Maybe you splurge for an overnight nurse for a few nights a week for the first three months of your babies’ lives (we did, it broke our bank, and it was worth every penny!). Which leads me to…
3. Dip into the emergency fund (if you have one).
My husband and I are fortunate that we had one to dip into – some money we’d originally intended to use for a down payment on a house someday. Living far away from both of our families, we decided to use this nest egg to pay for help. We still do not own a home (we rent half of a duplex), we only have one car (our rockin’ pre-owned swagger wagon), and this might not change for a long while. But I don’t regret spending our “emergency” money this way. Having three children in less than two years and no family nearby to help IS an emergency!
4. But don’t get too much help that you lose your own rhythm.
My friend Josephine (mom of twins + 1) wisely shared with me this advice: “In the beginning, and as you move into new stages, it can be really useful to be on your own with your kids for full days (as opposed to having daily help, which everyone tells you that you need) so that you can get a handle on each child’s individual needs and rhythms. I found that once my mom left and [my husband] went back to work, I was able to read them better and know when they were tired, etc., whereas before there was too much disruption to get a sense of individual rhythms and slip into a flow.”
This is so true! For me, I ultimately found that having more help for housework (laundry, cleaning, grocery delivery, etc.) so that I could do more of the child care work without having to also keep on top of everything else was most useful.
5. Formula won’t kill your babies.
There, I said it. And I’m a big fan of breastfeeding; I’m that crunchy natural VBAC twin birth mom who breastfed each of my children for at least a full year. But with the twins, I started supplementing one nightly feeding with formula when they were two months old, and then two-to-three nightly feedings when they were three months old. And guess what? They did just fine. And I didn’t die from sleep deprivation. Win-win.
6. Pursue a grown-up interest that fits your SAHM life.
For me, this was blogging. I found that I enjoyed being a SAHM much more when I was thinking about how to document it and share it – a creative pursuit (writing, photography, web design) that also enabled me to reach out and make new social connections. It’s okay if spending every waking hour caring for multiple small needy people isn’t fulfillment enough to make you happy all the time. It’s okay if you need something more. Unless your passion is infant care and early childhood development (and if it is, kudos!), consider how you might do something creative or interesting for yourself that also fits with your SAHM gig. (There’s a reason there’s so many mommy bloggers!)
7. Don’t wear low-rise jeans with fitted jersey knit t-shirts for at least a year.
I think my twins were about 4 months old the first time I caught sight of myself in a full-length mirror wearing low-rise jeans and a comfy jersey knit t-shirt. It was a reality check, people. Unless you are closely related to Gisele and/or are shelling out for Jessica Alba’s personal trainer, you may want to consider investing in a few mid rise jeans and loose-fitting shirts for a while. Much more flattering attire while your ravaged mid-section mends itself.
8. You will be amazed by what you can handle.
The SAHM gig with multiple children is serious WORK. You are managing an entire household, running an in-home daycare business while also likely paying the bills, planning the meals, cooking three times a day, figuring out everyone’s scheduling needs, nursing babies around the clock, remembering to read a book with your older toddler… It’s an enormous job that comes without weekends or lunch breaks or over-time pay. And you can totally do it. Maybe, right now you ARE doing it! You are strong. You are a wicked brilliant multi-tasker. You got everyone fed, dressed, diaper bag packed, car loaded and out of the house for story time before 9am. You are totally killing this SAHM gig. Know it. Own it. Oh yeah!
9. Some days, you will cry as often as your babies do (but not every day).
I remember during my twins’ earliest months of life, I used to look forward to taking a shower because that’s where I would let myself really cry. A hot shower and a good cry helped me shake it out, recover and then feel better afterwards. But also know that if you do cry everyday, more than once, for a while, and it doesn’t make you feel any better, you may require Zoloft. Talk with your doctor if you are feeling overwhelmingly sad. No shame in it, people. No shame at all.
10. Take the long view
My brilliant friend Carla once wrote that being a SAHM was for her a “daily exercise in losing my sh*t, and starting over. Losing my sh*t, and starting over. Losing my sh*it and starting over.” Say it three times out loud. Make this your mantra, if it helps. Do what you need to do to breathe, to find gratitude in the small things, to simply love your children, to let go of unhelpful ideals and perfectionism, to take a walk or grab a shower. Take the long view. The days can be incredibly long, so long you won’t even believe me when I tell you: the years are short.
Are you a new twin parent? Check out Natalie Diaz’s new book “What To Do When You’re Having Two: The Twin Survival Guide From Pregnancy Through the First Year”, available in stores now!
The rate of twin births has risen 79 percent over the last three decades, and continues to increase. A mom of fraternal twins and a national guru on having two, Natalie Diaz launched Twiniversity, a supportive website with advice from the twin-trenches.
What to Do When You’re Having Two is the definitive how-to guide to parenting twins, covering how to make a Birth Plan checklist, sticking to one sleep schedule, managing double-duty breastfeeding, stocking up on all the necessary gear, building one-on-one relationships with each child, and more.
Accessible and informative, What to Do When You’re Having Two is the must-have manual for all parents of twins.
Join our FREE forums and connect with parents of multiples all over the WORLD! Visit http://www.twiniversity.com/join-
Whether you’re a twin parent in the big city surrounded by scores of resources, or a triplet parent out in the country with no one around for miles — our multiples parenting forums are for YOU! Sign up for FREE and connect with people who are just like you — parents of multiples looking for advice, parenting tips, or even just people to chat with who will understand what you’re going through. Our forums are open to people all over the world and we offer scads of specialty rooms to find others who are going through the exact same thing as you. Check it out today!
* * *