Motherhood is the greatest job in the world.
Or so we’re told.
But I’ll be honest: sometimes, it’s hard to remember. After all, there are days when being a stay-at-home mom feels like being a professional chauffeur who also happens to fold underwear, or a short-order cook whose patrons won’t eat the macaroni because I put it in the wrong color bowl.
Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of “greatness.”
Look, I believe—I really do—that motherhood is a blessing. But sometimes, it seems like motherhood is just something I have to get through in order to discover life on the other side. I’m at war, in the trenches, and I’m not trying to win a Medal of Honor or anything; I’m just trying to survive.
But is that really all stay-at-home moms should aim for: survival? Is the goal just to keep everyone fed and bathed and clothed and alive? Is that the bar we’re setting for ourselves?
The truth is, stay-at-home moms deserve more. We deserve a happiness that goes even deeper than the feeling when your kids are finally (finally!) in bed for the night. Deeper than the feeling of everyone getting a clean bill of health at the dentist (a joy I’ve yet to experience, by the way).
Stay-at-home moms don’t deserve to just survive; we deserve to thrive.
Thrive vs. survive
We all want to survive. Our bodies and minds are programmed for it, just by nature of being human. At an instinctual level, we all want to do what is necessary to stay alive for as long as possible. In terms of motherhood, “survival” will look a little different for every mom, but ultimately, life in survival mode is going to be about the basics: keeping everyone fed, clothed, bathed, healthy, and (relatively) sane.
But survival isn’t exactly a recipe for joyful living. Survival is only concerned with the fact that you’re getting by. It has nothing to do with how you’re living. Thriving, on the other hand, means living a life that makes you feel truly happy and fulfilled.
Surviving is scarcity. Thriving is abundance.
Surviving is about the bare minimum. When you’re surviving, you have just enough to get by. In stay-at-home motherhood, this often manifests itself in different ways: barely enough time, barely enough energy, barely enough motivation, and so on.
Thriving is about having everything you need, and then some. When you’re thriving, you recognize that you have enough, you are able to wisely use what you have, and it feels like abundance. You feel energized and on top of things; you have more of yourself to give.
Surviving is reactionary. Thriving is proactive.
In survival mode, you’re constantly putting out fires. You’re doing what has to be done in order to prevent everything from burning to the ground. Often, this means that you aren’t able to tackle problems until they’re right in front of you: cooking, cleaning, laundry, homework, self-care, and more are done in desperation, because you don’t have a choice. It’s a stressful way to live (and yes, I am speaking from experience).
When you’re thriving, however, you’re ahead of the game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a home organization/meal planning/time management bada$$, but it does mean that your life isn’t stressing you out on a regular basis. You’ve got a grasp on the important things, and generally speaking, you’re ready for what your daily life has to offer.
Surviving is stagnant. Thriving is growth.
“Failure to thrive” is a medical condition when an infant or child isn’t growing and/or gaining weight at a fast enough rate. For stay-at-home moms, failing to thrive often means a similar lack of growth.
If you’re just surviving, you don’t have the time or energy to learn and progress. You’re barely getting by! But when you’re thriving, you’re deliberately giving yourself the chance to grow and learn in ways that are meaningful to you.
While most of us are pretty good at survival (after all, we’ve all survived everything in our lives up to this point, right?), thriving is a different story.
When was the last time you felt like you were thriving? Not just getting by, not stretched thin, not burned out, but really relishing your life? Maybe you go back and forth between surviving and thriving. Maybe you haven’t really thrived since before you became a mom. Whatever your answer, it’s time to stop surviving and start thriving.
How to thrive as a stay-at-home mom
Stay-at-home moms don’t need to resign themselves to a life of survival. Here are some things stay-at-home moms can do to thrive, even while in the trenches of motherhood.
Find what fills you
The phrase “self-care” gets thrown around a lot these days, especially by people talking to moms (who, let’s face it, desperately need a break). But sometimes, the image of what “self-care” really is—or should be—gets distorted.
It’s easy to think of self-care as going to get a pedicure, taking a bubble bath with a face mask on, or going window shopping. But the truth of self-care is summed up beautifully in this quote from this article by Brianna Wiest:
“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”
When you’re truly caring for yourself, you don’t feel the need to escape from your life. If you’re continuously filling your cup with things that truly bring you peace and joy, you’ll have a life that you love living.
To be clear: pedicures, face masks, and certainly chocolate cake might all be contenders for things that actually fill you. The point is, it’s important to deliberately identify those things so that you can make sure they are regular parts of your life.
To help you find the things that really fill you, ask yourself these questions:
- What am I doing when I feel most at peace?
- What would a perfect day look like?
- Does this activity bring me more of what I want?
- Does this activity make me feel full, or numb?
- Is this activity pushing me toward something I want (in a proactive way), or pushing me away from something I don’t want (in a reactive way).
- What did I enjoy doing the last time I was in a period of thriving?
Connect with your kids
Spending time around your kids might be the last thing you think of when you’re trying to figure out how to thrive, but here’s the thing: you are choosing to be a stay-at-home mom—for them. They are the reason you’re living the life you’re living. Let them into that life in a heartfelt way!
Connecting with your kids can look however you want it to look, as long as there’s real connection there. Put down your phone, look them in the eye, and just be with them.
And listen: you don’t have to connect with your kids every moment you’re around them. Creating meaningful moments of true connection is going to be more powerful that being around them constantly, but only being halfway present.
Some ideas for connecting with your kids:
- Play a board game
- Go for a walk
- Talk in the car
- Do a craft
- Watch a movie
- Go out for ice cream
- Read a book
As you connect with your kids, you’ll reconnect with your purpose for becoming a stay-at-home mom. You’ll realize that the time you’re choosing to spend with them is precious and powerful. You’ll feel more like you’re thriving, and less like you’re just surviving.
Connect with people who aren’t your kids
As important as it is to spend time with your kids, it’s also important to spend time with people who are not your kids.
Whether it’s a spouse, partner, or group of friends, it’s vital that you spend time with other grownups. Adult conversation can make you feel like a person again. Plus, close relationships are good for your body and mind, as they’re correlated with increased purpose, greater happiness, reduced stress, increased self-confidence, and better ability to cope with challenges.
Remember: thriving is proactive, not reactive, so don’t wait until you’re going crazy to schedule that date night or girls’ night out. Set up a regular schedule that allows you to count on this time, and stick to it!
Find a schedule that works for you
Speaking of schedules, they can be extremely helpful when it comes to learning how to thrive as a stay-at-home mom.
If you’re anything like me, you might be hesitant to commit to a hard and fast schedule. After all, motherhood is nothing if not unpredictable. (Don’t even get me started on what one sick kid can do to your day!) The problem is that without some sort of schedule, it’s really easy for your days or weeks to get away from you.
The point of a schedule, if you think about it, is to manage your time in such a way that you have time to do the things that matter to you. If you’ve had a hard time in the past creating a schedule that feels realistic for you, start simple! Try these steps to create a simple schedule that works for you:
- Start with the set, unmovable calendar items: school, dance class, etc.
- Think about the things you currently don’t ever seem to have time for, but want to have time for. Pick one that is particularly important to you.
- Find a place to fit it in around your calendar items.
- Boom, you’re done.
With even this super simple schedule, you’re prioritizing something that’s important to you. You’re being deliberate and allowing yourself the opportunity to do something that matters.
That’s just an example of how scheduling could benefit your life. But again, the important thing is to find what works for you. Maybe you want to schedule a certain time of your day that is particularly hectic and always seems to be stressful or rushed. Maybe you want to have a weekly cleaning schedule to help you stay on top of the housework. If there’s an area of your life that seems to be getting lost in the shuffle or is causing you problems on a regular basis, a schedule could help.
Ask for help
Stay-at-home moms are superwomen, no doubt about that. But even so, part of thriving means recognizing the things you alone can do, and the things you could potentially delegate or ask for help with.
If you feel like you’re in survival mode, try to identify some of the tasks that are keeping you there. Laundry? Cooking? Cleaning? Grocery shopping? Then, take an honest look at how you could get help getting those things done.
Maybe you could start using a grocery delivery service. Maybe one of your older kids (or hey, your husband!) could start helping with the laundry. You could try finding a house cleaner (within your budget, of course) to do a deeper clean of your house once a month. Whatever you can reasonably delegate to get it off your plate, do it!
Shift your mentality
Sometimes, survival mode is all about making sure physical needs are met. But there is something to be said for the mental weight of surviving versus thriving as well. Surviving weighs on you mentally and emotionally. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help shift your mentality from survival mode to thriving.
Pick your battles
Fighting with your kids constantly is going to start to feel like trying to survive in a warzone. Stick to your guns when you need to, but don’t be afraid to let things go if they’re not truly important. Try to be consistent with this to create a smoother-running household where the kids know the rules and are able to follow them.
Recognize your contribution
Do you know how important your role is in your home? Make a list of the things you do on a daily basis. Ask your kids and/or partner what they see you doing for them. As you start to understand how needed you are, you’ll feel less like you’re just trying to get through motherhood, and more like you’re killing it.
Deliberately recognize that this is what you want to be doing
Remind yourself of all the reasons why being a stay-at-home mom is important to you. Why do you enjoy it? What benefit do you get from it? Is there something else you’d rather be doing instead? Deliberately remembering why you’re doing this is a great way to avoid the mental burnout so you can start to thrive.
Try therapy or coaching
You can ask for help with your mindset, too. Therapy can be a great way to shift your mindset, develop gratitude, and start moving forward instead of feeling stuck. Or, try Design.org’s free coaching service. Once you take the assessment, you’re sent personalized coaching messages that help you discover the purposeful, meaningful life you’re meant to have.
Stay-at-home moms are strong, hardworking women who deserve more than just the feeling of “getting by” on a daily basis. Give yourself the opportunity to break free of the drudgery of surviving and to witness the joy of thriving.
You go, mama.
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