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The SAHM Gig: What Am I Supposed To DO All Day?

May11

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play_with_baby.jpg
Illustration by Secret Agent Josephine

Hi, Amy,

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.

-Spazzy Mommy

This:
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.

Ahem.

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.

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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16 Responses to “The SAHM Gig: What Am I Supposed To DO All Day?”

  1. Erika May 11 at 12:18 pm Reply Reply

    Oh my. I could have written this exactly after my first baby. I was so bored by my newborn and so stressed that there was something wrong with me for not being able to “interact” and that it would brain damage my baby. I just had no concept of how long it takes babies to come out of that newborn cocoon. And of course, once the second boy came along, it was so much easier to enjoy his babyhood because I had a better idea of how things go, and how quickly. Thank you for posting this!!

  2. RookieMom Heather May 11 at 12:23 pm Reply Reply

    Amen to all that. Before I knew you were going to mention our book — and thank you thank you!! — I was going to suggest it or rookiemoms.com with hundreds of ideas for what to do when you’re tired of just staring at each other. And, did I say thank you?!

  3. Blythe May 11 at 12:28 pm Reply Reply

    Another useful book – “Baby Play” published by Gymboree. Most of the games in it are pretty simple, but not necessarily things I would have dreamed up on my own in my sleep-deprived state when my child was small.
    Our local library storytimes were great too. The program for the smallest babies (in our area, at least) is mainly singing and gnawing on toys and flipping through board books together. I learned a bunch of fun songs and games there that my son loves.

  4. Beth May 11 at 1:14 pm Reply Reply

    Oh HELL yes. When I brought my Bruno home from the hospital in January, I was all, “When do I have to start teaching him stuff? Does he need toys yet? If I don’t talk to him constantly is he going to become a mute?”
    I subscribed to about 4 of the emails you’re talking about and am now weeding them out cause I can only take so much! And some of them! Still give advice about pregnancy! It’s like, I have a 4 month old. When I need that mess again, I’ll ask for it, sheesh.
    I own the rookie mom’s handbook and did a lot of the early stuff in there while on my 8 week maternity leave but have since gone back to work and now when I’m home with my babe, we mostly listen to Harry Potter audio books (’cause i’m a geek). Even still when he’s laying around on the blanket and trying to fit his toys inside his mouth I sometimes feel guilty when if I’m not looking at him enough (i.e. every second).
    He smiles, he laughs, he rolls over and back and from time to time he grunts and coos, spits at me all whether or not I am having an ambitious parenting day (where I manage to actually shake off the blanket so he doesn’t get too much cat hair in his mouth) or a bad parenting day (where I, you know, don’t).

  5. Jean May 11 at 2:22 pm Reply Reply

    This made me laugh. I remember one time holding my son in his sling and detailing the emptying of the dishwasher to him….”now we take out the dishes and put them in the closet. The little ones go in this pile and the big ones in this pile.” All he cared about was the sound of my voice and being near me. Now, at age five, he wants to play and make up games and to chase me around the house. The baby days were easy!
    PS…would never trade my son or his age for the world, five is truly awesome!

  6. Kari Weber May 11 at 3:22 pm Reply Reply

    I remember with my first son, we lived in a REALLY small house… think like, 690 square feet… anyway… I would put him in the crib, or hold him, or bounce him, or rock him… and then one day when he was about a week and a half old, maybe two, he was crying a TON, and I couldn’t get him to stop, and I… put. him. in. the. swing. I know! And you know what? He stopped crying. He fell asleep! And do you know what I did? I felt horrible! I felt like a bad mommy that puts her child in an electronic babysitter. Then I got over it. I realized that me obsessing over him every second of the day was more detrimental! This time, with my second son, we had the swing set up before he was even born. sometimes he takes LONG naps in it! Sometimes I don’t even turn it on! And you know what I think this time? I think I am a damn good mom!

  7. Amy May 11 at 11:03 pm Reply Reply

    If you want to help that baby develop, READ! She’s not too young. My 3.5 year old is a great reader, now, because that’s about all we did for her first year.
    Otherwise, cut yourself some slack and follow the rest of Amy’s advice.
    If you’re reading to your baby every day, several times a day, you are giving him a WONDERFUL start on everything. Plus it’s fun for both of you.
    I also played music and danced with the baby a lot. And we folded laundry. She really liked to lay in the warm clothes (not hot!) out of the dryer while I folded them. I’d throw everything in a heap on the bed and let her roll around and chew on shirts while I folded everything.

  8. My Baby's Mommy May 12 at 8:58 am Reply Reply

    Thank you so much for this advice! I often worry that I’m not doing enough.
    I’m going to now not feel guilty that my Princess is learning her colors through our many aimless walks around Anthropolgie (See? Um-ber! over there? Co-ral, very in this season!)

  9. Catherine S May 12 at 9:48 am Reply Reply

    Yep, everything that Amy said is just about right. Although some babies are a bit higher maintenance than others and need more stimulation. My son is of that flavor, not at all content with the ceiling fan.
    For him walks, outside in the yard, playing with the water hose, pool, etc. He won’t sit still for books unless it is bedtime, for him music is better as he can move around and still enjoy the stimulation as opposed to sitting still for the book reading. I take him in the shower with me, have him “help” put on my makeup, put away dishes, etc,anything that I am doing, but just make it fun for him. It is easier now that he is sitting and crawling on his own, since he HATES the sling.
    Just keep trying until you find things that you both enjoy. Don’t force yourself to do things that you hate just because you think you should do them. You will find things that you both enjoy and it will make for a more fun time for both of you. As they get older, they are more interactive and the play time will be more fun and adventurous.

  10. Missie May 12 at 2:58 pm Reply Reply

    What Amy said.
    And what the other commenters said.
    I remember putting my son in his baby hammock thing at a few weeks old and sitting him on the kitchen counter while I cooked and cleaned. I kept up a running commentary: See Mommy empty the dishwasher? See how much fun Mommy is having? See Mommy wish for a maid? All babies care about is being around you at this stage. I can also remember one time being so sick it wasn’t funny when my son was about four months old. He again was in his baby hammock thingie on the bathroom floor while Mommy was um…having some difficulties…and every time I groaned or threw up, he would laugh. Thanks, kid, anything to please you, because that’s the kind of mom I am.
    Anyway, don’t stress. It is so easy to say, but hard to imagine when you are a new mom at home by yourself. Just enjoy. Do what you need to do around the house, feel productive, and just bring little guy with you. And don’t forget to do a little something each week or two without baby. Like head to the grocery store on your own while Dad has baby duty. Or go get a coffee or something small, just to expand your horizons a bit beyond your four walls. It is very important.

  11. Mel May 13 at 10:20 am Reply Reply

    Yeah, I didn’t do any of those things with my son while on maternity leave and at 2.5 yrs, he is probably one of the most verbal and social kids in his class. As Amy said, enjoy your time now when they are like (as my brother-in-law puts it) “potted plants.” The toddler phase is really so much more demanding and you are expected to go OUT and DO something every day, woman. And then be ready for hysterics when you come home, after having been out ALL day.

  12. schoolofmom May 13 at 3:12 pm Reply Reply

    I read historical fiction to my son lying down while he nursed. I was under no illusions that this would help him but it helped me keep my sanity. He was one of those high-maintenance types so that was the only time he’d let me sit still long enough to actually read to him. I’m pretty sure he thought that books were supposed to be read out of the corner of the eye until he was, like, two.

  13. class factotum May 13 at 4:11 pm Reply Reply

    Rumor has it that babies like watching “What Not To Wear” while their mothers sip gin and tonics. I’ve just heard.

  14. Photomom May 13 at 10:33 pm Reply Reply

    My first baby totally LOVED the weather channel. Must have been the colors and talking. The second baby used to hang out in the bouncy chair, and would bounce himself to sleep by wiggling his leg. I didn’t even bother with storytime, etc. until the oldest was 18 months or so, and we went to the nursing support group a lot with the second baby, but seriously, nothing like baby gym or toddler tae kwan do or anything is really necessary. Read a lot, go for walks, that kind of thing.

  15. Sherry Artemenko May 17 at 4:33 pm Reply Reply

    I like your suggestions. Yes, babies are easy but there are lots of things you can do as a mom to encourage their learning and development within your everyday experience, not making it a”to do” list.
    I am a speech language expert and work with new moms and dads, showing them how to talk, read and play with their children to encourage language development. On my website, http://www.playonwords.com I have a blog, toy and book reviews and lots of suggestions for how to play with your baby to build language and learning.I include videos on how to use toys and books to stimulate your baby through play.
    http://playonwords.com/reviews/2008/03/16/3-months-old-best-developmental-toys-and-books-to-encourage-language/

  16. charlotte May 18 at 3:18 pm Reply Reply

    I just checked out Sherry’s website and was relieved that we do have a Freddie the Firefly and a peekaboo book. One thing our baby likes, too, is a picture book that came with a little electronic piano built in–with a real, functional keyboard. We sing her the songs, show her the notes and describe the pictures, and we play the songs on the little piano for her. Then we take her fingers and show her that she can make sounds on the keys, too. She loves it.

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