Let’s not lie: when you’re stay-at-home-parent, you have to suck it up on lots of things. Our gig can look cushy to outsiders, but the social and psychological sacrifices are great. It’s an intense phase of life, and even though everyone and their great aunt will smugly instruct you to “enjoy this time” because “it goes so fast,” while it’s actually happening it can be really lonely. And tedious. Yeah, it can seriously suck. And that’s not because you have an attitude problem – it’s just the tragicomedy of life.
But there are a few tricks to feel less alienated from your beloved adult relationships. Because you do deserve to have them!
Rather than post your observations and witty quips on social media, text them to a specific friend or on a select group thread (the GroupMe app is a great choice, especially if you’re into making quicky memes). It may feel good to get 30 likes or a handful of retweets, but this form of social acknowledgment doesn’t actually build relationships.
Addressing someone directly means you’re investing your attention in them, which encourages them in turn to reciprocate theirs more fully. Actual conversations can grow out of a casual exchange if started in a private medium. Then at least if your schedules can’t line up, you’ll know what’s really going on in each other’s lives, not just what you’d like to project – and isn’t that the definition of real friendship?
Novelty can be a SAHP’s savior, but there’s something special about a place where everyone knows your name. Find somewhere convenient to your routine that’s relatively childproofed and chill with a wallet-friendly menu, and get to know the people who work there. No need to force them into idle chitchat, but introduce yourself, learn who’s who, and tip what you can afford. It goes a long way to have a grown-up spot where you don’t feel like a total asshole just taking up tables and plowing through napkins. You may even bond with other regulars enough to have them mind your mini-me while you go take your daily poop-cation. The luxury!
As much as you miss your out-of-the-house co-parent, they surely feel they’re missing out, too. Do what you can to include them in daily happenings by making little videos with the kids – goofy choreographed dances, what-we-did-this-week montages, faux commercials, and silly tutorials. It takes as little or as long as you want, and can really perk up the lunch break of a work-bound mom or dad. Be sure to work in some “thank you’s” for all the sacrifices they make. It may be different for them, but this time is trying for everyone.
I know you’ll feel tired just reading this, but the relative flexibility of a SAHP schedule means you have enviable opportunities to hustle for your cause of choice. Activist leaders are increasingly aware of the need to accommodate children at their meetings and in spaces of protest. Reach out ahead of time to inquire about family-friendly accommodations, and be honest about your needs. These are passionate people who share your values and want your participation. Tell them how to help you make your contribution. They need it, and so do you.
In my house we have a sacred object (actually a cheap broken bracelet, but it is sparkly) that we lay on the table to signify when capital-d Dinner has begun. No screens, no getting up unexcused, no whining. This is where we gather as a family and sometimes with guests, but adult conversation reigns. Anyone who can’t cooperate is welcome to wait it out in their room – without food.
Yes, you’re allowed to do this. No, it doesn’t have to be dinner. It’s good for kids know that some rituals are sacred, and that adult communication has an important place they should respect, if only for twenty minutes a night. All grown ups need to have dialogue that goes beyond, “How was your day" "Fine, yours?” While it may test the young ones’ patience, they will actually acquire great social skills from proximity to you and your dinnermates’ candor.
Before having a baby, my main hobbies were knitting, running, and reading, all of which I did alone. Now I go out and do stand-up comedy once a week because open mics are an easy way to mingle with a consistent group of interesting people. Getting involved with church or volunteer work and using sites like MeetUp.com make it easy to find folks who share your interests and the events plan themselves. If the support isn’t there at home, reach out to another parent for a weekly childcare trade off, but somehow, someway, get out of the house and make talky-talky with the other big kids before you lose all your words.
You know how key it is to have a regular date night, and how it helps to have that babysitter booked by default. Save money and deepen bonds by switching off childcare with another couple, taking turns to go out. Also go in together on a sitter for all the kids so you can have a scheduled double date. Don’t forget to pencil yourself a reoccurring anti-date, where you get a routine chunk of that sweet, sweet Alone Time. Or that Hang With Your Childfree Friends And Talk About Their Lives Time. Or, Lie In The Grass And Let Squirrels Wonder If You’re Dead Time. It’s really a human right!
You need recognition. Every day you do a dozen things that will get undone a dozen times before the mail comes. Without some validation, you might start to feel like a ghost, so don’t be bashful about demanding it. In our family debriefings, we designate some time to toot each other’s horns (i.e., give a grateful shout-out), but the holiest of toots is the self-toot. Toot your own horn to your partner or friends! Announce something you did (or attempted) that you’re proud of, which would otherwise get overlooked. It feels silly at first (this verbiage doesn’t help), but soon it will become second nature. You’ll see your own value, get the thanks you deserve, and fend off any latent resentment that may otherwise curdle into passive-aggression. Stay-at-home-parents live on food, water, hugs, and praise. Don’t deny yourself the essentials.
Despite their four children and religious abstinence from alcohol, my parents always hosted New Year's Eve parties when I was growing up. Did it make for a rough morning the next day? Probably. Did it ever flush a whole week of routine down the toilet? I don’t remember, but it’s possible. What I do remember is how proud I felt to see my charming stay-at-home mother all glammed up and laughing with her friends. I remember the thrill of refilling our guests’ cups with ice cubes on demand. For me it was a magical chance to spy from behind the couch, and for them it was likely a welcome relief to pretend they didn’t see.
I’m sure there were nights my parents sat us all in front of the basement TV while they entertained. Guess what? We were fine. It was more important that they have a cheerful and fulfilling life than to keep daily screen time to 90 minutes or less without fail. Kids need their parents to have fun, and sometimes you have to bring the fun to you. Don’t lament the loss of the village – be its chief, be a host, make your neighbors welcome. You won’t look back and remember the bedtime protests or the stained tablecloths. If you do, they'll probably just blend in with a haze of happy nostalgia.