For the last nine years, I have been an at-home parent. I have changed over 12,000 diapers, issued at least a thousand time-outs, rocked fussy kids backs to sleep countless times and visited the emergency room five times. Sometimes I felt utterly alone. Sometimes I wished I could be alone. Most of the time, though, it has been a fun and rewarding experience.
Through the years I have learned, usually the hard way, what it takes to survive as an at-home parent. Those who think it’s easy either have never done it or don’t have enough kids. If you’re thinking about becoming an at-home parent or are one and feel like you’re going out of your mind, consider my five strategies for surviving.
1. Don’t Stay Home
One of the worst things you can do as an at-home parent is stay home. Sure, it’s easier to not have to make sure the diaper bag is packed or wrestle with coats, hats, gloves and, in the case of my kids, pants. But everyone needs a change of scenery at least once a day. We’ve cruised the aisles of the hardware store or gone outside to water the tree. It doesn’t matter where you go; just go!
2. Find a Group
When I started staying home, adult interaction became almost non-existent. But more than my need to socialize, I realized our kids needed friends too. I sought out an at-home dad group and joined them for playgroups at least once a week and a “dad’s night out” once a month. It made me and our kids a lot happier. (Find a playgroup in the Momaha forum or, if you’re an at-home dad, check out LinOma Dads)
3. Establish a Routine
Especially when your kids are babies and toddlers, a consistent schedule is a necessity. You should get up, eat, nap, do activities and go to bed all at about the same time every day. It helps keep your day from getting completely out of control and the consistency helps your kids know what to expect each day.
4. Take Time for Yourself
As an at-home parent, almost all of your time is spent making sure the kids and your spouse have what they need. But, you still need time for you. Go to the gym and leave the kids in the child care center. Let the kids watch a short TV show while you read one chapter of a book or take a shower. Turn the reins over to your spouse and go have some drinks with your friends. You need it and deserve it.
Being home offers you the opportunity to do things you might not be able to do if you worked. Volunteering is one of them. Take this opportunity to do something you’re passionate about, especially if it is something the kids can have some involvement. Remember, however, to not take on too many things. It’s okay to say “no” if you start to feel overwhelmed.
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These are the strategies I’ve used to survive nine years as an at-home parent. What has worked for you?
Al Watts is the President of Daddyshome, Inc. – The National At-Home Dad Network and an at-home dad of 4 children living in west Omaha. Read him Wednesdays on momaha.com.