The SAHM Gig: What Am I Supposed To DO All Day?
Finding the balance between bilingual baby flash cards and SpongeBob marathons.
Illustration by Secret Agent Josephine
You’re smart and wonderful and nice and pretty and you have two kids. That last part is why I think you’re particularly qualified to answer my question!
I am a stay-at-home mom to a wonderful four-month-old little boy. He’s sweet, hardly cries, is a good eater, sleeps like a pro. Sounds great, right? You’re right! it is!
The only thing is…what do I do with him during the day? His dad is awesome at making up silly stories and songs. Talks to him really well and on and on. I try it and I feel like the biggest idiot ever. I worry, probably unnecessarily, about his development and find myself really focused on working on things instead of just playing and having fun with him. I know I’m making a Big Deal out of this stuff but I really don’t know what to do. What did you do with your boys when they were wee babes? Please help. I’m wasting precious time with him and I hate it.
I worry, probably unnecessarily, about his development and find myself really focused on working on things instead of just playing and having fun with him.
Leave out that “probably” and you’ve pretty much summed it all up perfectly.
Let me guess! When you were pregnant you subscribed to one of those week-by-week email newsletter things, that automatically converted into a “Your Baby” week-by-week newsletter, and this newsletter is always chock-full of milestones! And skills your baby should have! And ways to help your baby learn! Walk around the house with your two-week-old and describe things to him! Talk about shapes! Label colors! And now! En Espanol!
I probably did a lot of that stuff with Noah, simply because I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do. Like you, I felt awkward and weird talking baby talk or singing songs to this little person (not to mention I would always blank on song lyrics and end up Googling lullabies like a moron because oh noes! I can’t sing him the WRONG WORDS!). I was all about those milestone charts and fretting about his toy-batting skills. I felt guilty if, at the end of the day, our main source of amusement had been the ceiling fan.
But you know what? Babies love ceiling fans! Babies love nonsense songs and listening to you narrate five years’ worth of Days of Our Lives plotlines. Babies love getting in the stroller and taking an aimless walk around the block, or chilling in a sling or carrier while you balance the checkbook. Or laying next to you on the couch, playing with their toes and a Taggies blanket while you type out an advice column, pausing in between each sentence to make a funny face at them or tickle their belly.
In other words, babies are EASY. One day he’ll be a toddler and will demand constant chasing and supervision and will wake up every morning and ask for “Shoes? Car? Bye?” over and over because he wants to GO somewhere and DO something and you’ll long for the days when all he wanted was a cozy blanket on the floor with a prime view of the ceiling fan.
Of course, it usually takes you until the second baby to really figure this out, this idea that little babies need warmth and food and sleep and the natural sponge-like nature of their brains take care of almost everything else. So here are some hopefully more practical ideas for Chilling Out & Enjoying Your Baby:
1) The Rookie Mom’s Handbook. I’ve recommended this book in the past, and trust me, it’s full of EXACTLY the sort of things you’re looking for — activities that balance not wasting these precious early months with ENJOYING these precious early months.
2) Establish your own parenting style. Your husband is good at the silly stories and singing songs? Awesome. Let him be the silly-stories-and-songs guy. You can be the lady who sings Beatles songs, or the Empire Direct commercial jingle, or the lady who just narrates her day. “And now Mama is letting the woof-woof outside for the millionth time so she doesn’t poop on your rug again, yay!” Don’t feel like there’s a right way and a wrong way to interact with your baby. (You know, unless we’re talking third-world-orphanage levels of interaction. That would be wrong, but I somehow REALLY DOUBT that’s an issue here.) Read Goodnight Moon, play peekaboo, blow raspberries, munch on his toes. It’s all pretty good stuff, in the end.
3) Encourage independent play. There’s no need to be up in your baby’s face all day. For a baby just discovering the world, EVERYTHING is stimulating and exciting. Some alone time on a blanket with toys is good for both of you.
4) Help your baby fit into your world, not always the other way around. Yes, you will live and die by the nap schedule for years to come, you will cut outings short because of an explosive poop and a lack of a spare outfit, you will sit in Gymboree and fantasize about punching that stupid clown puppet while cheerfully singing about him. You also need to go to the grocery store, or hang out with a friend, or shop for pants that fit. You’re (hopefully) past that new-parent stage where Taking The Baby Outside The House is terrifying — both from a germs and a logistical standpoint. Learn to leave the house, run errands, meet people for lunch, anything. New people and places are good for him! Car trips are fun! The stroller is non-stop adventure!
5) Document his babyhood. Do it on a blog, in a scrapbook, a journal, a private Word doc on your computer or just a long list tacked up on your fridge. Take advantage of your role as his primary observer during the day and celebrate every little milestone — regardless of whether it’s on the list from that email newsletter, or whether you “worked” on it with him.
This is something I’ve heard OVER and OVER from mothers who read my blog: they wish they had taken the time to step BACK and document the little moments, to stop worrying about the dishes or the baby music class or getting to library story time on TIME HURRY GO GO GO! They wish they’d taken a picture of the dog licking the baby’s face instead of shooing her away and immediately disinfecting the child. Or written down that one song their husband used to sing every night, or all the little mispronounced words that get self-corrected before you know it. Your memory betrays you SO quickly — I don’t remember exactly when my boys first rolled over, I have a vague idea of when Noah first started crawling, I wish I had a photo of Ezra’s surprised face when he managed to pull his sock off this morning. Babies grow up in spite of you, in spite of whether you really felt like you knew what you were doing, so rather than always pushing for the next stage, the next accomplishment, make sure you’re taking the time to document the millions of little moments that are happening RIGHT NOW.
Have you heard of P&G’s Thank You Mom campaign? Alphamom contributors are sharing motherhood advice on how moms (like your mom) can be helpful at particularly stressful times (ahem, postpartum) times and encouraging you all to tell your moms how much you appreciate them. Submit your story and you could win $1,000 for a special visit with your mom! Each month there are 15 winners. The contest runs through November 30.