Anyone who has ever cared for a newborn knows that maternity leave is far from a vacation. When you are a stay-at-home mom, those early months, which are supposed to be full of rest, recovery, and relationship-building, can end up simply being stressful. Adding a newborn on top of other household responsibilities (primarily that of caring for older children) can make for a hectic few months.

When my first son was born, I had little to do while on my maternity leave other than take care of him. We could survive on take-out and frozen pizzas for a few months, and there wasn’t much mess to clean up. But by the time I had my second, life was another story.

 

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We couldn’t afford to keep my oldest in daycare those first few months because our income had dropped significantly. Frozen pizzas weren’t an option with a dairy-allergic toddler who needed more variety in his diet. And the mess had multiplied 10-fold. Caring for a newborn wasn’t difficult – the hard part was caring for a toddler while caring for a newborn.

I decided I would take things as easy as I could those first few months to give myself a “maternity leave” from household obligations. When your work is caring for your family, there is only so much you can outsource. But everything you can, you should.

Here are some tips on how to take a maternity leave, even as a stay-at-home mom:

1 | Get help, and space it out

My mom had planned to fly out as soon as my second son was born. But because he was born a month early, she had prior obligations and couldn’t come for three more weeks. In the meantime, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law came to stay with us a few days at a time.

Having help caring for my older son in those first four weeks was invaluable. The first time around, all the family had piled in for the first few days and then headed home right as my husband was going back to work. Spreading out family visits over several weeks gave me a better chance to focus on my newborn.

2 | Don’t clean your house

Sure, pick up some toys occasionally. You probably want to load the dishwasher once a day and take out the trash when needed. Do laundry when you are out of clean underwear and out of the mesh stuff as well. That’s it.

Don’t scrub the baseboards, dust ceiling fans, mop the floor, vacuum cobwebs. If the windows get so sticky with fingerprints they start to look like frosted glass, draw the curtains. Let the grass grow long. It’s supposed to be better for your lawn, anyway.

If anyone asks you what you want for the new baby, tell them a visit from a housecleaner. If you’ve got all the baby gear already, this will do you far more good than another set of onesies.

3 | Don’t cook either

Here’s a recipe for you: a few chicken breasts (or thighs), a jar of salsa, some salt. Add in a can of black beans and a cup of frozen corn if you’re feeling fancy and your kids aren’t screaming yet. Dump in your slow cooker and cook on low for six to eight hours. Serve over rice, on salad, or in tortillas.

That’s about the only thing I cooked for the first few months of my “maternity leave,” unless you count frozen fish sticks and chicken nuggets. I didn’t want to chop, stir, or sauté until I could do so without holding at least one or two children. If you order take out, don’t feel guilty. Just get something that leaves you with lots of leftovers.

4 | Put those tax dollars to work

Did you know that for $1.35 a year, you can get hours of babysitting in exchange? It’s a heck of a deal. For less than two dollars per person in taxes, PBS will teach your children about anything from emotions to elephants. Nursing a preemie required at least two hands, and thus my oldest son repeatedly decided to take advantage of my preoccupation by repeatedly diving off the couch.

So I turned on Daniel Tiger. Every time baby went to breast, he went to the screen. Eventually, he started trying to convince me that baby was hungry even when he wasn’t just so he could watch some more of his favorite show.

I felt guilty at first, but more and more, we started to use the jingles Daniel Tiger sang to help himself through difficult situations. Research shows that children who watch shows like Daniel Tiger learn empathy and other school readiness skills.

So let go of the guilt, and know that a little high quality, educational television won’t hurt them. After a few months, he watched less TV, and we had gained several new coping skills.

5 | Be clear about what you can and can’t do

Maybe you can take the baby to her doctor appointment one day. But that doesn’t mean you can go grocery shopping, get an oil change, and swing by the pharmacy the next. Be sure to talk with your partner about how you plan on taking a few weeks or months to focus on the baby and will be happy to help with non-essential tasks – when you’re ready.

Your own mental and physical recovery is important, so set boundaries and expectations. If you volunteer or have other obligations, step back from those as well until you figure out how much time you can commit.

There’s no need – and really, no benefit – to try to be a supermom. You will eventually fall into a new rhythm and figure out how to balance taking care of a new life along with everything else that you do. Take a few months to recover and enjoy before diving back into caring for an entire household. You’ll be glad you did.