Staying sane as a stay-at-home mum

A mother of three shares tips on how she juggles her many roles

 Since our third child came along in January this year, I've been struggling to find a new equilibrium as a stay-at-home mum.

Some mums love the infant stage, but I'm not one of them. With the older two, I took maternity leave, a couple of months of no-pay leave, and was ready to go back to work.

I enjoyed my job and had help at home with the kids. I preferred the stimulation that came with my job to being 24/7 with an infant.

Still, there's a season for everything. As the children grew older, I felt a greater need to be at home with them. But by the time I plucked up the courage to leave my job 21/2 years ago, my children were full-fledged schoolgoing kids with somewhat busy schedules.

So even though I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mum, I was able to keep busy with freelance work while they were in school and be with them the moment they were done with school.

This arrangement worked for two years, until now. This is by no means a gripe because baby Sarah is a huge blessing to us and we wouldn't have it any other way.


ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

But it is an adjustment period for all of us, myself especially.

I still don't have it all figured out, but having to juggle an infant and two older children in the last six months made me realise that there were some things I needed to do for myself, before I could take care of my family. So these are some things that I have been doing, and need to keep doing, to stay sane as a stay-at-home mum:

Finding time for myself

My husband came home one day to bickering kids, a crying baby and a frustrated wife. I handed the baby to him and told him I needed to go out on my own. I didn't have a plan. I ended up driving to a nearby mall to pick up some groceries, but the 90 minutes alone did wonders for a frazzled mum. I came home feeling recharged. These days, one of the sweetest things my husband can say to me is: "Why don't you head out on your own?"

Finding my tribe

No one else would be interested to discuss at length a baby's feeding, pooing and sleeping patterns, apart from a fellow mum going through the same situation. I'm thankful to have had T, whose three kids are just months apart from mine in ages, share my joy and woes in the last 10 years.

Doing something not child-related

It is the reason I continue to do some freelance work, even though it means having to do so while the baby is napping or having to work in the wee hours.

The mental stimulation, adult conversation and work satisfaction that comes from doing so keep me balanced as a person.

It is a reminder that apart from being a mum, I should continue to have other interests. Anything that makes me a happier person, makes me a better mum.   

My kids are different

I found out, belatedly, that the motivating factors that got 10-year-old Jason to be an avid reader do not work for seven-year-old Shannon. I thought I had infant sleep all figured out when Shannon slept through the night at four months, but baby Sarah threw me off course with a "four-month sleep regression" - I had never even heard of such a thing until she came along.

She is now six months old and has not moved beyond the regression.

To say they keep me on my toes is an understatement. But accepting their differences, and trying to find a method that works for each, keeps me going.

No one option is better than another. Transitioning from a full-time working mum to a freelancing stay-at-home mum was a matter of catering to the needs of my family at different points in our lives. So I've learnt to ignore naysayers and do what works best for my family.

School results are not my KPI

I remind the older two that the name on the test paper is theirs, as is the score that they get.

I can provide the support and help needed but, at the end of the day, they need to take ownership of their schoolwork. So come exam period, they have to plan their own study schedule and try their best.

This is the case even with the seven-year-old who has only mini tests. I tell her the chapters to be tested and leave her to plan when to revise each one.

This ownership over their work minimises grumbles and, hopefully, teaches them independence. And I remind them often that their papa and I love them no matter their results.

Recognise that I can't do it all

This is possibly the toughest to carry out because it means having to cut back on things I usually enjoy doing. For instance, store-bought cakes have replaced homemade ones for a birthday party because this season of my life is not one for time-consuming activities.

Learning to cut back on commitments, activities and things I take on makes for a more relaxed schedule for everyone. It also means enlisting the help of family members when needed.

Don't compare

Because comparison takes away the joy of parenting. This means I sometimes avoid social media and forums, and just enjoy my kids, warts and all. When all else fails...

I go back to the root of why I chose to be a stay-at-home mum: to spend time with my kids, bring them up with values I want them to have and bond with them.

Sure, the grass is always greener on the other side, but it helps that I have been on both sides, and so no longer look at the other option with rose-tinted glasses.

While I remind myself not to lose sight of this ultimate reason, I have also realised that no one option is better than another. Transitioning from a full-time working mum to a freelancing stay-at-home mum was a matter of catering to the needs of my family at different points in our lives. So I've learnt to ignore naysayers and do what works best for my family.

 Being a stay-at-home mum who does freelance work is still a balancing act in many ways. But focusing on why I'm doing so reminds me that I'm blessed to be able to juggle both and not have to choose between work and kids.

•Jane Ng, a former education journalist, is now a freelance writer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Staying sane as a stay-at-home mum'. Print Edition | Subscribe