Maybe there is nothing more “magical” than a first baby in a military family. There is also nothing more challenging than those first few weeks, either.
If you are trading in your career for life as a Stay At Home Mom (or Dad) married to someone in uniform, those obstacles can feel even more daunting.
They don’t have to be. With experts like Heidi Murkoff of What to Expect fame and life coach Rachele Parente weighing in, real military moms share their secrets for SAHM survival.
Be Careful What You Wish For
“My husband goes back to work in three days and I’m honestly a little terrified,” Blair, an Army wife in Texas, admits.
Blair and her husband know they are lucky. They live in a place they love, surrounded by their military family, and they are in a financial position in which Blair gets to be a stay-at-home mom.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted,” she says. “But now that I’m here, it’s really scary.”
Navigating the transition from working professional to stay-at-home mom can be just that: Scary.
“Really, really nerve-racking,” reports one military wife.
“I’m covered with spit-up and an emotional mess,” confesses another. “I felt completely lost for four weeks,” adds a third.
“They should tell you in childbirth class that you’re going to feel like you’re doing everything wrong, and you’ll be more emotionally exhausted and physically wornout than you would think,” Blair adds.
“Your husband will come home from work, where he knows who he is and has a uniform that says so, and you might actually be jealous. You are a cow, a laundress, a baby-minder and a sleep-walker. On good days, you’re close to disaster.”
Or you are simply a stay-at-home mom getting used to the new role.
Every new mom has been there, and when it comes to the first-born, they all understand. Life as a new stay-at-home mom is hard, but it doesn’t have to be.
Step One: Do something every day that means something to you. No matter how small.
A shower. A few minutes to blow dry your hair or put on your makeup. “Definitely take time for yourself,” urges life coach Rachele Parente, who also happens to be a stay-at-home mom and Marine Corps wife.
Rachele helps women navigate the ups and downs of relationships, family and careers. The importance of doing something for herself every day is something she’s had to learn first hand as a stay-at-home mom.
“It took me a while to understand this principle, honor it and not feel guilty,” she says. “It makes you a better person, partner and mother."
“Start small," says Navy wife Chastity.
Chastity left a job in dentistry to be a stay-at-home mom for her daughter. “I found that a small thing was all I needed to get through the early days. Giving her to my husband for 10 minutes so I could shower. Take that few minutes every day to feel like you.”
Step Two: Connect to other new moms.
Many military hospitals now gather women who are due around the same time into groups called “centering groups,” where they do a group meeting and activity while holding everyone’s individual appointments.
These groups and other pregnancy classes can be a great place to make friends who are also in your position, because as soon as your baby gets here, you’ll want them on speed dial.
They’ll be doing the same things you are: staring at diapers, overcoming the sometimes monumental challenges of feedings, navigating the ups and downs of post-partum life, and trying to keep their heads screwed on tight.
“The truth is that no one gets a mom like another mom -- and no one gets a military mom like another military mom,” says Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and What to Expect in the First Year. Heidi, who has teamed up with the USO to host baby showers for new military moms, has gotten to see the challenges new military moms face head on.
“It’s easy to feel isolated, but so important to realize that you’re not alone in feeling alone, and that other moms need as much support from you as you need from them,” Heidi says.
Step Three: Stay connected to your pre-mom life.
No matter how easy it is to forget that life actually existed before your baby, it’s important to stay in touch with the people that made up your pre-mom life.
“Was there life before her? Through the haze of not sleeping, I can’t tell,” jokes Marine wife Jasmine.
This is especially true for military wives, Murkoff says. “Being so far from family and friends at a time when you need that network the most, [military wives] actually need that support -- and deserve it -- more than anyone.”
“I keep my phone nearby when I’m nursing,” Jasmine says. “When she falls asleep, I’m able to send a few quick texts to friends. It’s little, but it’s something. They remind me that the world kept moving without me. Sometimes that’s hard to hear when I’m covered in spit-up; it’s nice to be reminded that they’re still there.”
Jasmine, who worked as a paralegal in San Diego before giving birth, says that she also finds a way to email her old professional network once every few weeks. “I’ll find just one person, and get in touch,” she says. “I’m going to be home with my princess for at least five years, but one day I’ll want to go back. So I have to stay in touch.”
With emails, instant messaging, text messages and social networks, that’s never been easier. It is both a great way to remind your pre-baby world you are still around and also to remind you that your life post-baby will one day return to normal.
Step Four: Find a new family balance.
Many SAHMs report that half the work in the early days is balancing what they feel like are their domestic responsibilities now that they are home with the baby.
“I feel pressured to do them, although I think I’m putting it on myself,” admits Kate, an Army wife. “I’m home. I feel like it’s just supposed to all get done.”
On her tenth day home alone, she told her husband she needed help. “It’s not just the post-partum thing,” she says. “It’s the whole new mom thing. Adjusting to this has taken some time, and I feel all this added pressure that I’m probably inventing, but I still feel it.”
Kate and her husband sat down and made a list of all the things that had to be done around the house in addition to all the baby care. Her husband decided to take on more of the household chores than before.
“Once I looked at what I was really doing all day, I didn’t feel so bad asking for help. And for admitting I need it. And he realized we can’t add a third person to our family without him taking on more of the weight himself,” Kate says.
If you find that the conversation is hard to get started, try keeping track of your day. The feedings, the diaper changes, the songs and activities. You’ll see how little time you have, and be straightforward with your partner about it.
“The baby changed so much,” Kate adds. “We just needed some time and some honesty for it to all settle into a routine.”
Step Five: Give yourself some time to settle into your identity, too.
No one starts a new job and excels at it right away. The same is true as a Stay At Home Mom (or Dad). Being a domestic CEO doesn’t happen automatically, and for many new moms, adjusting from life as a professional to feedings and Raffi can take some time.
For life coach Rachele, becoming a SAHM meant saying goodbye to her own job in the Corps. With that, she found herself saying goodbye to a large part of her identity. “Being in the military, I had a title, status. If someone asked me what I did, I could just say ‘I’m a Marine,’ and I had instant credibility. After leaving active duty, when someone asked what I did and I said I stayed at home, it was met with an ‘Oh, that’s nice.' ”
And it was. She loves being able to be there for her kids -- which she still is, balancing her working hours while they are in school. But hearing other professionals write her off with an “Oh that’s nice” was the equivalent of hearing the often dreaded question, What do you do?”
“There it is, down the drain,” she remembers feeling. “My education, my years in service felt like they meant nothing. I was just another mom.”
But motherhood is something you grow into, as every new mom soon realizes. “You settle into it,” says Yasmine, adding that she got the hang of it after three months. “By four months, so many friends had to go back to work and I was like, yeah, this was the right choice. I’m here for everything. The first laugh, the first step. It’s priceless.”