Stress Relief for Stay-at-Home Moms

Stay-at-home mom with kids
Stay-at-home moms face considerable stress. Here's how to manage it. Creative RM/Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

 Stress is a common experience among stay-at-home moms, especially those with small children: heavy responsibility, little support, and lack of time for oneself. These stressors can be compounded with unrealistic expectations from ourselves, our partners and, all too often, other mothers. Interestingly, these particular stressors are similar to those that contribute to employee burnout: unclear requirements (it can be hard to gauge a small child's needs from moment to moment), heavy responsibility (the fate of their lives rests in your hands!), lack of support and resources, etc.

However, if mothers experience 'mother burnout', everyone suffers, and it's an even more challenging situation for a stressed mom to pull herself out of. Therefore, it's important to manage the stressors of motherhood as a stay-at-home mom so you're still able to keep up with what needs to be kept up; with mothers, self-care counts as caring for your family.  (The focus on stress and stay-at-home moms is not a claim that their stress is greater than that of working moms; all moms face significant stress.  These tips can help working moms as well, as can this article on working mothers and stress.)

So how can you take care of yourself? It sounds like you could benefit from less responsibility and more breaks. There are a few ways you can go about making this happen:

Cut Corners Where Possible.

Learn to live with a messier house. Clean once a day (I recommend doing so after they've gone to bed!) and let it get a little messier otherwise.

Cook easy meals. Wear slip-on shoes! Look for any way to create less work for yourself (within reason) and do it.
Here are some general ways to take shortcuts and simplify.

Cash In On Nap Time.

The advice to nap when they nap has been around for a long time because it's wise; small children move a lot, and need more sleep than adults do.

Can you rest when your youngest is napping? Can you go to sleep earlier? Whenever you find children sleeping and have that urge to get everything done, consider working less and resting more. Put less vital activities on hold, or just cut out whatever isn't absolutely necessary.
Here's more on naps and the importance of rest.

Ask for Help.

It may sound simple, but simply asking for help more often can be the best way to get it. Dads don't always know what needs to be done, but are often more helpful when asked and supplied with specific suggestions. (You may already be doing this, but if you aren't, start.) Friends and family will often help if asked. You can even trade-off with other moms. See if there is untapped help available, and ask for it.
Delegating isn't always easy; these tips can help.

Make Time For Self-Care.  

If you ask for help and find that it's difficult to come by, you may have to be a little more fiercely protective of your own well-being. Prioritize your own care the way you'd prioritize the care of your kids: schedule down time if you need it, the way you schedule enriching activities for your kids.  Don't let your own self-care be something that happens only if there's time left over at the end of the day, because time too rarely just appears when you have small children.

 Put on a video for the kids, or get take-out instead of cooking some nights if that's what you need to do to have some time for rest or a quiet bath.  Keeping your stress levels in check is not a luxury; it's a necessity. 
Try these time management tips for moms.

Know That I Will Get Easier. Soon.

When you have small children, there is a much greater physical requirement involved in parenting--you're running, chasing, moving all day. They seem to have limitless energy, so you need to have a comparable level of energy just to keep up. Because of this, days can seem long, demands can seem constant, and it's difficult to imagine all of this going away anytime soon.

But children grow up surprisingly quickly, and pretty soon they don't need so much hands-on parenting, and can actually start helping out around the house. You may know this intellectually, but it helps to remind yourself that when they're older, they'll be less work physically.

Savor Today.

When you're in the thick of it, try to savor the moments as they are happening--don't think about all the work ahead or of the frustrations of an hour ago. Think of the aspects of this age that you will miss when they are gone, as they all-too-quickly will be. When you experience they day from moment to moment, it's much easier to let stress roll off of your back.
Here's more on how to savor the moment to minimize stress.

Fichter, C. A research study of role conflict, role ambiguity, job satisfaction, and burnout among financial advisors. Lynn University, Oct. 2010.

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