If you’re a stay at home mom with young kids, it’s highly likely that you have felt slightly depressed or lonely at some point. I know I have. It’s natural to put your kids’ needs before your own, and necessary most of the time when they are babies and toddlers. Our to do list grows longer with each new baby, and keeping ourselves healthy mentally gets pushed to the back burner. We go into survival mode to make it through the day.
But what if there was a better way? A way to take care of ourselves in small ways without having to spend huge amounts of money and time?
I have (very) slowly learned to make a way to do the small things that make me feel human so I can be the best mom for my babies. Some people call it self care.
Let’s take a look at a few things that could change your demeanor as a stay at home mom.
“Self Care” as a stay at home mom is about finding rest and calm in the chaos.
We had our 1st 2 babies 18 months apart, and then had 3 kids under 4. I wouldn’t change a thing, except for taking better care of myself. Which 1st means defining what’s necessary to stay mentally healthy. To find daily moments of rest. I’d focus on:
- Feeding myself nutritious food
- Movement of some kind
- Finding quiet moments
It’s normal to go through a period of adjustment after you have a baby where you are scrambling
I remember after our third baby was born, it felt like there was no calm. No time. My husband was in residency and at the hospital all the time it seemed. He had to go back to work after 3 days…it was awful.
To say I was tired and delerious is VERY accurate. The baby and toddlers naps were opposite and I was up at night with the newborn. I can remember jumping into bed at 7 to try and get two hours of sleep before the long night.
I also remember going entire mornings forgetting to eat, because everyone woke up and needed me for everything. I remember thinking…this is nuts. When will things slow down?
I had to cut things out, and expect less of myself to make it through. Here’s 8 things I stopped doing to be less busy.
I also found myself doing my makeup in the 5 minute car ride on the way to church (while hubby drove). Until 3 kids, I’d always found time to do my makeup because it makes me feel awake, and put together.
There was just a period of adjustment going on where I wasn’t in a good routine…wasn’t taking care of myself…wasn’t eating well or drinking enough water…and was way behind on sleep.
Remember this isn’t going to last for months. If it does, you’ve got to find a way to tweak your life and take better care of yourself! That’s what this post is about, and what I want to help you do.
Self care doesn’t have to be expensive
There are ways to prioritize your mental health as a stay at home mom without spending money.
At this point in my life, money was tight. We didn’t have extra for fancy date nights, or babysitters, or to get my hair cut. We were a family of 5 with one small income, and had lived on loans for everything in medical school.
I wouldn’t have taken someone’s advice to “get a YMCA membership with 2 hours of free daycare” or “get a massage” because I saw dollar signs. Those were ideas for self care, but unrealistic for me then.
Here’s a few low cost ideas to help you avoid feeling depressed as a stay at home mom.
1. Take a shower at night when you are not rushed
I can’t tell you how sacred this has been to me almost every single night for 8 years now.
After the kids go down, I shower. Shave my legs if I want. Put on lotion. Do my skincare. No one needs me. It’s quiet.
At one point when my oldest was a baby, I tried exercising in the day and showering after that while the baby was in a lounger in my bathroom. I probably peeked out the shower once a minute. It was not relaxing at all.
Now if I exercise during the day, I call it good and wait to shower at night.
If you’re tied to morning showers to wake you up, of course do what works for you! But night showers have been the answer for me to feel clean every single day, with as much unhurried time to myself as I need.
2. Feed your body nutritious foods
You are going to feel 10,000 times better if you are fueling your body with fruits, vegetables, smoothies, protein, and healthier foods. I’m actually the worst at this, because I often just forget to eat.
That’s not a typical problem for most moms, but skipping meals on accident or eating your toddler’s goldfish for lunch isn’t going to make you feel good.
You’ll be more irritable, tired, and will probably feel more depressed about life.
I’ve actually told my kids it’s ok to remind mommy to have a snack if I’m starting to get grumpy!
Figure out what’s keeping you from eating healthier
It’s hard to make nutrition a priority. So what do you need to make it easier? Healthy pre made frozen lunches? Pre cut fruits and veggies? A new recipe you actually enjoy? Making something in bulk to nibble on all week? Snack foods with more protein?
Figure out ways to overcome whatever is keeping you from eating food to fuel your body. Especially if you are breastfeeding!
At one point, I recognized that neglecting to feed my body what it needed was keeping me from being healthy or happy with my body. I would get jittery by 9 from not having breakfast, and cranky too.
I had to literally set timers and buy foods that required little prep time for last minute snacks if needed.
I also take shortcuts. Like buying pre-washed salad mixes… or baby carrots instead of carrots I have to peel. (Yes, that one step is sometimes enough to keep me from eating them…I know I know).
At one point I even started buying these quinoa, kale, & chicken frozen meals to eliminate the “I don’t know what to eat when I’m hungry” excuse.
I also keep shelled pistachios in my purse and some kind of quick sugar, like dried mango or these really yummy peanut butter Cliff Bars.
To this day I love making a huge pasta salad for myself to eat for a few days. I combine:
- steamed broccoli
- feta cheese
- cherry tomatoes
- Olive Garden Italian Dressing
Breastfeeding moms need extra nutrition
Your body is incredible at making sure your baby gets everything they need…even if it means pulling calcium from your bones and other nutrients from your body to make it happen.
It’s a good idea to continue taking a multivitamin while you are still nursing, and to make sure you are getting enough calcium.
3. Get some fresh air
Getting a daily dose of fresh air with a short walk is one of the best things you can do to combat depression.
My husband used to send me on a walk when he got home from the hospital (he’s a doctor) because he knew it was the best thing to improve my mood.
Sometime’s I’d try and convince him I didn’t want to go, and yet when I’d get home…my whole demeanor was happier. I’d stretched my legs and breathed fresh air…nature is so therapeutic!
Nature is just different than a treadmill! The scenery change, the wind, the smell of the air, it refreshes you!
If you can’t go on a walk, you can also sit in your backyard while your kids play. Fresh air just works wonders.
Exercise a little, starting with 10-15 minutes.
If you can’t walk outdoors, move your body indoors! Too tired to do that? Start with 5 minutes of daily stretching.
Exercise is magical when it comes to feeling better about life. No, you don’t need to commit to 30 minutes and buy an expensive program. You can start with 10 pushups, 10 lunges, and 10 squats. Then, if you can, do that again until you can get up to 30 minutes a few days per week.
Here’s the program I’m doing now made for moms to strengthen their pelvic floor. It’s really been the answer for me to stop peeing when I sneeze, as well as gain muscle strength.
There are seasons where you can’t or don’t want to exercise, and I’ve been there. But as far as my mood, the happiest days for me are ones where I get outside or move my body. I don’t feel sluggish after, and somehow if nothing else gets done in the day I still feel good about life.
The YMCA has free childcare and discounted rates for low income families
There are also gyms with childcare built in, like the YMCA. And I recently learned they do discounted rates for low income families! Just call and ask. I think you just need to provide a pay stub.
So that may be an option you can look into. Some moms I know even use the childcare there while they shower and just relax.
4. Get sleep when you can
Try to prioritize sleep. If you have a newborn it may look like running to bed at 7 after the baby goes down to catch a couple hours before they wake at 9 or 10.
If your kids are sleeping through the night, try to get however many hours will keep you from being super grumpy at your kids the next day for no reason….guilty here.
I wish I took my own advice here more often! It’s really hard for me to go to bed by 9! Even if I’m tired…my brain is like “freedom”!
It’s also my most creative time. Sometimes I need that little bit of late night freedom, but it’s not the regular anymore because my kids get the worst of me the next day.
5. Finding a stay at home mom friend
This is a big one.
Loneliness can be so real as a stay at home mom. I don’t think I’m the only one that has experienced this.
It’s a huge trigger for depression! One of the mistakes I made was assuming that everyone had a mom friend and didn’t need me.
Honestly sometimes it seems a lot like dating…and you gotta get past the awkward talking about kids to be real friends.
What does she enjoy? What did she do before kids? How did she meet her husband? Do they seem to parent similarly to you? Does she ask you questions back or is it one sided every time?
You can only be good friends with someone who’s equally interested in getting to know you too.
Finding friends when you move with kids
We have moved twice for medical school and residency, and have 1-2 more moves ahead of us for a fellowship and job. It’s hard knowing you need friends but won’t be around long.
And a new challenge for me (since we are homeschooling) is finding friends that have kids with similar ages as mine.
The very first thing I recommend is to pray for a good friend. Then, throw some glue on there and see who sticks.
I’ve had very unexpected friendships become my deepest ones. And I’ve experienced the opposite where some of my “friend crushes” don’t work out because the other gal doesn’t try to get to know me or invite me into her life.
Remember nothing substitutes inviting someone into your space no matter how small or imperfect. You might be in a group together…but lasting friendship happens outside of scheduled kid activities. I’m always SO thankful when someone invites me over.
I’ve met other stay at home moms through my husband’s co-workers, at church, at parks, and at Bible Study Fellowship (a national organization you should check out!).
I promise you another stay at home mom near you is hoping for someone to reach out and invite her.
6. Explore something you enjoy
After becoming a mom, my hobbies changed. That’s ok! New obstacles, new desires, and sometimes I still feel like I’m figuring out what I “enjoy”.
Of course, it’s normal to have no time for this postpartum. Remember, I couldn’t even find 5 minutes to put on my make-up. However, when you get rested up a bit, give yourself permission to explore a hobby!
If you want to learn how to make bread, watch some YouTube! Or if you’d like to learn some cool survival skills but feel way out of your lane, watch some Bear Grylls for fun!
When we were broke, I kind of made it my hobby to “start a blog”. That’s a long term game if you want to do it to make money, but it was a hobby for me none the less. I enjoyed it, and it wasn’t a chore like cleaning dishes.
Main thing here: Give yourself permission to not know what you like anymore, and to explore new things.
You can be happy as a stay at home mom. You may just need to adjust your expectations.
In order to be a happy stay at home mom, you are going to have to find purpose in the menial tasks.
You are going to need to believe no one else can provide the love and stability that you can to your children.
You are going to have to stop feeling resentful of other moms that have it “easier” than you.
Lastly, you are going to start doing a few things from this post to take care of yourself.
When you feel guilty that you are failing as a stay at home mom
Here’s a great article you should read about “7 Should’s that feed stay at home mom depression“.
Do you ever feel guilty about not loving every day of mom life? That you “should” feel grateful to be home but find it so hard?
Do you feel like you “don’t work” so you should have time to do more?
That you should be a more fun mom but instead let your kids go savage or watch too much T.V? (We’ve had to do plenty of screen time resets here).
Or maybe your house “should” be more clean but you can’t muster the energy to do it? I’ve been there, you can read how I worked on a realistic house cleaning routine here.
I find mom guilt often reveals my unrealistic expectations.
For example, it’s ok to not play toys with your kids. I like to ask my kids questions about their toys, and admire things they bring to me. I will play games or show them how to build a train track. But I don’t typically “play” with them. Play is THEIR job!
I know many moms who feel guilty about not “playing” toys with their kids and you just don’t need to feel that way.
Here are a few tips for when you feel you “should” be more:
- Be gentle with yourself.
- Think about why you are a stay at home mom.
- Try to connect with your kids. This does wonders for me. Things like snuggling on the couch while watching a show, playing Candyland, reading to them on my lap…these all “count”.
- Don’t compare your duties, activities, or free time to other moms. They may be in a different situation, they may have a house cleaner, a more chill personality, etc.
As a Christian, I try to remind myself that my worth is not what my kids or my husband think of me. It’s not even what I think of myself. My value comes from being a daughter of God, because he loves me and created me. I find rest and peace in knowing that.
Keep a journal of the good little things you want to remember
Also, I highly recommend my one line a day journal. At the end of each day I write a couple sentences down. Cute things my kids did or said, and small things I want to remember.
After journaling like this for a couple years, it’s super rewarding to compare the same day over multiple years to see how times have changed. It really helps me to be grateful and enjoy the little things. Here’s how I keep a one line a day journal.
If today’s been a bad day, tomorrow is a new day. Now remember to take a shower tonight, put on some lotion, make yourself a hot cup of tea, and get some rest. 🙂