Bad days are just life, right? So why does having a bad day as a stay-at-home mom too often lead to an existential crisis?
Before I was a mom, when I was having a hard day at work, I didn’t immediately start questioning everything. I didn’t doubt all my choices, think I must be doing the wrong thing with my life and start scheming about quitting my job. It was just a bad day.
It should be ok for a stay-at-home parent to have a bad day without regretting the decision to be at home with the kids. And we should be able to tell other people we’re having a bad day without feeling like we’re being judged for not being happy every second of every day.
No matter how much you love what you’re doing, some days are just bad. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep (a huge trigger for me!). Maybe you’re taking care of a sick kid. Or maybe you’re sick and taking care of a sick kid—or worse, sick and taking care of a kid who isn’t sick. Maybe your baby won’t stop crying and you have no idea why or you’re toddler is in constant tantrum mode. Or maybe you’re just yelling too much and feeling awful for yelling and still can’t snap out of it.
Existential crises aside—you just have to get through the day. Here’s my how-to guide for parents who just need to get through a bad day:
1. Dress your kid in her cutest outfit
Start the day out on the best foot possible. When my daughter was a baby and I was exhausted and struggling, I would put her in ridiculously adorable outfits. The kind you’re supposed to save for a special occasion that never comes before they grow out of that size. It just helps to look at an extra cute kid when things are tough. And if you’re out and about, your baby will get tons of attention and compliments that will help to perk up your mood. If your kid is older, a fun hairstyle can also work.
2. Be as lazy as you can
If your baby is still in their first few months, you’re in your prime for falling asleep on the couch with the baby on your belly in the middle of the day. Later, if your little one is an early riser, follow in the footsteps of the many parents who have gone before—turn on the tv, offer an easy breakfast and fall asleep on the couch. A quick nap might be the extra help you need. Anything you can do to sleep a little more on a day like this is a good idea. And while I don’t believe you should always sleep when your baby sleeps (you need awake alone time too!), there are days when it’s essential.
3. Take all the shortcuts you know
All parents have their secret shortcuts. It’s just not possible to do the perfect right thing all the time. Figure out how you can cut corners to make your day an easier place to be. Skip bath. Let your kid wear a crazy costume all day and not get dressed. Don’t brush their hair. Send out your laundry. Order your groceries to be delivered. Have an early bedtime. Find things that make it just a little easier. My favorite shortcut? When naptime feels like too much work, I put the kids in the car and drive for naptime. Once they’re asleep, I can park the car and borrow the local coffeshop’s wifi or check email (ok, Facebook) on my phone. We even have one of those horrible car tv’s, so my older kid can put on headphones and be in her own world if she won’t nap.
4. Get sympathy
When your day sucks, sometime it just helps to unload about it or find someone who will feel a little sorry for you (but not too much). So, call your mom or your best friend or whoever else you know will lend a sympathetic ear. Talking to another parent can really help. Or go to Facebook and post about your crappy mood. Unless your friends are awful people, you’ll have a few words of encouragement in a matter of minutes at almost any hour.
5. Get out of the house
Lots of parents get stuck inside on bad days. Don’t do it! Take a walk around the block, go to a store you don’t really need to go to, whatever it takes for an easy outing. This is one of the only times when my parenting advice is “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps.” Just get outside. By any means necessary. You will feel better.
6. Eat easy food
There was a week when my first baby was sick when I ate almost nothing but oatmeal. After that, I learned to always have microwaveable or otherwise easy meals in the house at all time. You never know when someone’s going to be sick all of a sudden and for days. Or when you just couldn’t possibly make another meal. Or when you just need a meal the kids really want so that no one yells about dinner. Take-out, cereal for dinner, peanut butter sandwiches… whatever is the easiest possible way to get food into your offspring or into your own body. One day off from eating well will do no permanent damage. You can go back to high-energy, nutrient-rich food as soon as you have a little extra to put back into taking good care of yourself and your family. This is a guilt-free day off.
7. Do something indulgent
Ice cream is my bad day treat. But it certainly doesn’t have to be food. Sometimes I’ll order cute clothes for the kids (see #1). Or take a bath and shave my legs. Or have an end-of-day glass of wine at 4:00. Find something that’s guaranteed to make you just a little happier. And do it. And then maybe do one or two more things from that list. If you do good-day things, it won’t be such a complete total 100% awful bad day.
8. Dig deeper
You may think you have nothing left. No energy, no patience, nothing else to give. You do. You are stronger than you think. If there’s no one else and no way out, you have to find more within yourself. You just do. It’s why parenting is so hard. But there’s always more. Look inside, take a breath and think, “Ok, I can do this. One step, one minute, one second at a time.” Digging deeper is my personal code for this. It’s a marathon. One you can’t quit. (Unless it’s a psychological emergency, in which case, call anyone you can to take over immediately, even if it’s 911.)
9. Enjoy your kid
Your baby is gorgeous, wonderful, amazing. You love him. Put everything else aside. Everything else can wait. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is you and your baby. Try to focus on being grateful for all of the amazing things that being a parent has meant for your life. Get down on the floor. Look your kiddo straight in their beautiful little eyes. Recapture the wonder of being a parent. If you can do this for even a moment, you can shift your perspective enough to make getting through a bad day seem like no big thing. It’s just a day.
10. Make a plan & look for the light at the end
How are you going to make it from morning to night? Break it down into blocks of time. Morning, naps, afternoon, evening, bedtime. Make a plan for each one. Invite a friend to join you for a bit if that will make the time pass more quickly. Or have lunch out. Decide that you won’t fight over anything unessential. Just figure out how you can get from start to finish. Take the easiest path. And then make a plan for something to look forward to when the day is done. Can you call a babysitter to schedule a date night? Tell your spouse you need an afternoon “off” as soon as possible? Take a time out as soon as your partner is home from work for the day? Or plan a moms night out with other people who know just how much you need it? The plan may be for later, but the relief will be immediate.
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