10 years ago, for the first time, I grappled with the seemingly impossible task of trying to soothe an inconsolable baby. I had spent 12 hours in labour before being wheeled into the operating theatre for an emergency caesarean. 2 hours later, I was handed the most beautiful being. I had been waiting for that moment and had read all that was to be read in “What to Expect When You Are Expecting”. My husband and I had diligently practised what was being taught in the prenatal class. Yet we were totally unprepared for what was to come.
I remember not being able to sleep the first night when I had the baby with me despite being totally exhausted. I remember seeing all my friends who were parents with new eyes. How could my ex-boss with 3 kids still come to work everyday?! During my stay in the hospital, my baby cried all the time but the instant I passed him to the nurse, he stopped crying. I asked the nurse what she did and she told me all she did was feed him milk.
Last month, my elder boy celebrated his 10th birthday and I told my husband I deserved a long service award for being a full time mom. A job that comes with no training manual where much of the training is on the job. I call it a profession because so much knowledge is required. However, no institution will offer a course on mothering as SAHMs do not contribute directly to a country’s economic output. For a country like Singapore, the economy would be in dire straits if half the population decides to quit the workforce and stay at home.
However, after being in this job for a decade, I thought I could offer some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
1. You are given a weapon, use it
And I mean boobs. I breastfed my elder boy for 2 years and my younger boy for 3. In the beginning, because I wasn’t really blessed with an abundant supply of milk, I had to express my milk each time after I nursed to keep up the supply. I would nurse them, burp them, put them in their cot before expressing. By the time I was ready to lie down to sleep, it’s time for the next feed. It was totally exhausting.
After a month, I gave up. I let my body decide how much milk to produce based on the amount the baby drank. I didn’t even bother to put them back into their cots. I did what was a taboo in most parenting books, nurse them to sleep. I got to sleep, baby got fed. Everyone was happy.
We traveled quite a bit when the kids were little. While others packed tins of milk powder, we just packed me, myself and I. My husband called it the ‘secret weapon’, best for food and for comfort.
2. Understand your child’s language
It is good to listen to what other parents have to say and it’s good to pore through parenting books to search for answers, but as cliche as it may sound, every child is different. Ultimately it is important to understand your child’s language. A cry, a glare, a hug or a kiss could convey what you want to say to each other.
I was at the restaurant with my friend the other day. She had stayed home with her 3 year and 18 month old for the last 1 year. At one point, her 18 month old who was sitting next to her husband started fussing. My friend stood up, walked over, whispered something and smothered him with kisses. He calmed down instantly and continued sitting in his high chair till we finished dinner.
Spending a copious amount of time with the kids means creating that kind of bond where they could understand each other without words
3. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime
In short, it means teaching the kids to be independent and that includes feeding themselves and cleaning after themselves. You will be amazed how much these little people enjoy doing what the adults do. However be prepared that they will create a mess. I remember having to lay newspapers underneath my toddler’s seat when he first started feeding himself at the dining table when he was 12 month old.
The kids like to play with water when they bath so they were tasked to brush the bathroom tiles while bathing. It was fun and the bathroom got cleaned. They learned to aim, shoot and pee into the toilet bowl. If they missed, they knew that they need to clean up the mess. They learned that being part of the family means sharing the responsibility of keeping the house clean.
I have no qualms if my kids can’t read and write at 4 years old. I will be worried if they can’t sit through a meal or don’t know how to clean after themselves. Being able to do things themselves gives them a great sense of achievement and knowing that they have control over things helps build confidence.
4. Porridge is over rated.
I came from a generation where porridge is the staple for kids. I got nagged at when I didn’t cook porridge for my kids when we ate out. The truth is, my kids never like eating mushy bland porridge. So between racking my brains to figure out how to make my kids eat my nutrient packed broccoli cod fish porridge and the longer term solution of letting them eat what we eat, I chose the latter. In fact, my Scottish friend feeds her 18 month old everything, from smoked salmon to raw cherry tomatoes to pita bread. These days, when I cook curry, everyone, including my 4 year old, eats it.
Have a few simple recipes that your kids love and you can whip out in a wink. My friend with 3 kids would make meat patties and freeze them. She would make mini burgers on days when she’s too busy to cook. I make sure I never run out of mushrooms, minced meat and tomato sauce. I used them to cook noodles (not the instant kind) or noodles and I make pizza using naan bread. Spread on the tomato sauce, sprinkle on the chopped mushrooms, onions and shredded cheese, and then pop it into the oven for 20 minutes. I learned them from my new friends here. The kids love them.
5. Live simply
The biggest revelation after being a mom for a decade is that you don’t need most of the kid stuff in order to make them learn. Industry has a way to make parents believe that their products make lives easier when in actual fact, they complicate lives.
Kids don’t need a tricycle to learn how to cycle. Kids don’t need a singing or talking potty to learn how to do their business. Kids don’t need fanciful toys to enjoy pretend play. Old cardboard, your old pots and pans, and the 5 dollars garden tools you bought from the convenience stores are as fun and more usable than those that cost 50 dollars from Toys’r us.
6. A clean house is a sign of a wasted life
Here in the States, we live in a 4 bedroom house with a big yard that cost a fraction of what we pay back in Singapore. It’s an experience to stay in such a big house and it would be foolish not to do so. Living in a big house could also mean becoming enslaved to it. Back home, apart from the cleaning, we would probably take a lifetime to pay off the mortgage.
Since we moved here, cleaning the house has been sitting at the low end of my priority list. It is just too hard to be cleaning a 4 bedroom house everyday. Thankfully, the weather is drier here and things dry up fast before they start turning mushy and mouldy. The kids run in and out the house barefoot and we have also somehow inherited the American habit of walking around in the house with our shoes on. On a good month, I vacuum and mop the floor twice, on a bad month, it gets done every 2 months. The consolation is, if you are doing (2) and (5), there would be less clutter and everyone plays an active role in keeping the house clean. My rule of thumb is that my house should be clean enough to be healthy but dirty enough to be happy.
7. Be happy
Happy mom equals happy kids. My 10 year old could tell me point blank that to be happy means doing something you like.
I have to admit that it’s hard to find time doing something I like when the kids are with me 24/7. For the last 10 years, I’ve been keeping it really simple and that is to steal some time to exercise. Between finding a gym with childcare service and investing in a jogger. I chose the latter. I could brisk walk, roller blade or jog with my toddler strapped in. I get a dose of the happy drug and it helps build up stamina which is so essential to keep me on my feet all day.
I get asked often whether I would go back to work. Just the other day, my friend with a double masters popped that question. She had stayed home with her 2 kids for the past 1 year but will head back to work when she returns to her country. She needs to get her money’s worth for her masters and it also helps to have an extra pay check living in an expensive city. My friend is very clear why she chooses to work.
And I think to be happy, one has to come to terms with their choice, be it staying at home or going back to work. I lamented to her how education can be a double edged sword to women these days. To dwell into this would render another long post by itself. For now, I hope the above tips would not just help you survive but flourish as a stay at home mom.
This post is part of a blog train hosted by Gingerbreadmum where 31 stay-at-home mums share their survival tips. We hope that you’ll find our tips useful and remember that you’re not alone!
Introducing next mom in this series Zhenzhu. Zhenzhu has been a stay-at-home-mum since her first child was born. Now she has three kids and is homeschooling them with lots of fun hands-on activities, on top of managing all the housework without any helper! Check out her blog at Stay At Home Mum Of Three tomorrow for more survival tips.