Sanity hacks for the tired parent

As demonstrated so, um, eloquently? Painstakingly honestly? in my post last week, I’m tired. I’m a tired, washed up old young mom, and I need all the help I can get.

I’m guessing, based upon the overwhelming response of solidarity, that there are a few of you out there, too. 
Jen Fulwiler wrote a great piece a couple years ago that examined the fundamental difficulty we face in modern motherhood, focusing on the way the breakdown of physical community – real community – like the kind that used to be found in neighborhoods (and maybe still is in yours, if you’re fortunate) has fundamentally altered our daily landscape.
It’s more or less necessary for mental health for most adults to have some human interaction on a daily basis. If it must be virtual, then so be it, and hence, the explosion of social media and the mommy blog movement.
But it’s so much better if it’s in person.
Even I, a dyed in the wool introvert if ever there was one, will cop to the truth that staying home all day alone with little kids is hard. Part of what makes it so is the isolation. 
Another large contributing factor? Being “it” in terms of entertainment, authority, empathy, etc. for a small army.  Or even for a single kiddo – some of my toughest days of SAHMing were with my firstborn in his infancy, when I, still fresh from a dynamic office environment, found myself suddenly and deafeningly alone all day long, all week long. It was a huge adjustment.
Of course, now I look back on that time and long for uninterrupted stretches of napping potential and housekeeping prowess (though, to be fair, at the time I was probably crouched over the packnplay making sure he was breathing if ever he did sleep), but, c’est la vie, hindsight is blinding.
I’m 5 years into the game now, which isn’t a lot of time, but it’s long enough to get through college (ahem, just barely, in my case) and so it’s long enough to pick up a few tips and tricks of the trade for surviving the eternal winter of staying at home with small children. Here are some of my favorite go-to’s:
1. You are not their entertainment (but sometimes Netflix is)
I had really high hopes of being a screen free, hands on Montessori style mother when my first two were very small. I set up little activity corners for them and filled them with objects to sort and stack, and I monitored their consumption of media carefully. 
I still do this, at least as far as piles of toys in the basement corners can be considered “curated content for exploration” and I’m still very careful about what they watch. See me painstakingly select “Netflix Kids” and pull the screen up, inviting them to thoughtfully choose between the Wild Kratts and Daniel Tiger. Watch me scrutinize the clock, calculating the time between now and dinner, and then make a generous dispensation for “just one more” episode. Notice me generously donating additional siblings to the dynamic to make playtime more interesting (and giving our sports teams a deeper depth on the roster, down the road.)
Y’all, this is survival mode. And a wise old mother once told me that the advent of television was God’s gift to mothers to offset the decline in childhood mortality in the industrial age. 
(Which is horrible, okay? And a joke! But definitely one that I’m still laughing at…)
Oh, and a painfully necessary addendum to the above paragraph? Nothing against screen free parenting, Montessori schools, or moms who like to craft with their kids. We’re all wired a little differently on the inside, aren’t we? And that’s ok.
2. DVD players are in cars now
When we bought our nothing too fancy 9 year old mini van, it might as well have been a spaceship for all the upgraded features it boasted over, say, a Roman city bus. One of those prominently emphasized by our enthusiastic salesman was the drop down DVD player. I scoffed, because surely my children could enjoy car rides around town in the MIRACLE OF A SINGLE FAMILY VEHICLE and not also be expecting onboard entertainment, but wouldn’t you know, the thing does come in handy at times. 
For example, during the 12th consecutive day of light snowfall and temperatures in the 8-11 degree Farenheit range. You know what those days are awesome for? Driving aimlessly around town blasting the Frozen: Sing along! edition for 50 or 60 minutes of choreographed boredom busting. And maybe hitting the drive through at the end. Boom, morning over.
3. Indoor wading pools

At our house, summer is for backyard water play. By 9 am we’ve got the slip n slide unrolled, the baby pool filled, and a sizable mud pit attracting diaper clad cousins fermenting in the side yard. In the winter when the mercury rises about 50, my poor native Coloradan children who were born without a sense of temperature or a knack for appropriate public attire (geographical disabilities) have been known to strip off their shirts, kick off their shoes and run hopeful into the backyard, searching for the hose. (No, kids, it’s rolled up for the season. Please put your Tevas on and curb your enthusiasm till May.)
But there’s always the bathtub. I know the trend this week is to breath a deep sigh of relief and admit that your child hasn’t been bathed in 2 weeks or longer, but when I read the articles that starting circulating last week on the importance of building up microbes or something, I laughed until the tears came, because not only have we had the most hideous winter of illness on recent record, but my kids take 2-3 baths per day. Yeah. Can’t believe they’re not immune to all sorts of ailments!
And you know what? I don’t care if it has destroyed their delicate immune systems (which I don’t believe for a second) because of two things: first, they’re just as wet all summer long because of the aforementioned wading pool fetish, and second, we don’t use soap. Because it was long ago emptied down the drain in a fit of toddler creativity.
Bam, microbes intact.
4. Costco is a wonderland 

You probably recall that Target and I are on a break right now (3 months strong, and the budget to show for it!) but you’d best believe that the biggest adjustment to life outside the Bullseye was what to do with the children on those frigid days when milk and diapers and morale were all running low. Well, now we go to Costco, the magical land of free samples, giant carts, and comfortable furniture to lounge about on. And maybe a salty hot dog at the end, if everyone behaves themselves.

And you know what else? There are no dollar bins at Costco. Nobody has ever “accidentally” spent $13 dollars on crap at Costco. You know why that is? Because no single thing there costs less than $13 to begin with, so you tend to think through those purchases.

I’m never excited to go, but I’m always glad we went. Because everybody’s tummies are full and 2 hours have mysteriously ticked by and I have 48 cans of crisp cold La Croix to stock my fridge for preggie happy hours.
5. Phone a friend

Some days are just beyond redemption. So why not throw reason to the wind and welcome another 2-4 dirty children into your home for some good old fashioned team parenting with a friend or sister? 3 whining kids of your own might feel overwhelming, but when there are 7 of them all clamoring for snacks and thundering through the kitchen in superhero capes, it usually feels more comical than anything else. Some of my most successful “playdates” have resulted from 3 pm phone calls to a desperate friend in a similar situation, only to find us 40 minutes later sipping wine in relative chaos while our beautiful babies trash one or the other of our basements. If you can’t beat ’em, multiply ’em … and pour yourself a drink.
6. The one-hour recharge 

For some days there is simply no other remedy than escape. And so, with dinner made (or not) and kids handed off to daddy, I flee the house at the bedtime hour. This accomplishes the twofold purpose of preserving my mental health for another sunrise, and allowing daddy some wonderful bonding time when the children are at their absolute most precious. Wink. 
Sometimes it’s a hot tea at the coffee shop down the road, sometimes it’s a solo trip to the grocery store, and sometimes it’s a half hour in Adoration, but I swear by these little escape trips that leave me exponentially refreshed and recharged and able to kiss sweet sleeping foreheads and mean it when I return by 8 pm.
So there you have it, some of my most effective trade secrets (and admissions that would have shamed me 5 years ago. You live, you learn.)
What helps you keep your nurturing neurons firing?


  • SarahG

    Love this! I am six years into being a SAHM. I love every one of these! I am glad I am not then only one counts aimlessly driving around town as entertainment for kids!

  • diana

    This is awesome! I’m only about 2 years into the SAHM thing and with only one kid…but I still found this hilarious. I especially love the Frozen sing alongs when driving around town. That is awesome.

  • Betsy

    This is a great list! I try to plan at least one outing every day around here. Even if it’s as simple as a trip to the grocery store. It really helps pass the day and keep me sane. Play dates with friends and time at the gym (for me with the kids in the kids club) are must-dos for me each week – even better if I can fit both into one day! We also go to Chick-fil-a every week or two – it’s great on cold winter days and particularly hot summer days. The food is delish and the people who work there are SOO helpful.
    If we end up being stuck at home alone all day I usually bake something and may even let the boys help if I’m feeling especially desperate/crazy/nice.

  • Ellen Johnson

    #6 has been my sanity saver this winter. And amen on #1. Gosh, everything in moderation, right? I admit it, sometimes Netflix just buys me time to waste, but this morning I actually used it effectively. While Sara watched Curious George Swing into Spring, I did the dishes and then ran for a half hour on the treadmill. Thank you, Netflix!

  • Colleen

    I would have to say that when I got a gym membership that provided childcare (while pregnant with my 3rd child) it was my lifesaver. It broke up the morning, gave me a break from the kids, allowed me to get healthy and relieve stress through exercise. Then we would come home, and it would be time for lunch and a nap and the day was more than halfway over – heavenly! I know this is a luxury for a lot of people, but I found a gym that cost !0 a month to be a member and then $10 a month for unlimited childcare. Plus my health insurance paid me back $150 a year for having a gym membership, so it was well worth the $90/year price tag!!

  • Kate

    McDonalds. Yup. I’m that mom who drives to McDonalds, orders the cheapest thing on the menu (1 fruit and yogurt parfait for 3 kids to split) and turns them loose in the indoor play place. They usually get about an hour of fun. Bonus points for building up immunity, right? 😊

  • Francine

    I’m wishing again that I had a Costco nearby, but I can give a resounding yes to pretty much everything else on your list! I especially big-puffy-heart the hour recharge–my usual go-to is the library. It’s free, open late, and QUIET.

  • Elizabeth

    Once a friend and I attempted to take our 3 (all under 3) kids to Adoration in the afternoon. After about 20 minutes of trying to make them be quiet/pray/think about Jesus, we threw in the towel, went to my place and made Manhattans. It was exactly what we needed.

  • Kris

    Definitely the Phone A Friend. Lifesaver. And the Chik-Fil-A or McDonald’s indoor playground, where I exposed my kids to all sorts of microbes!! But contained play space, french fries, and 30 minutes to sit and read my book while I ignored all the happily screeching children? Priceless. And Costco. Who doesn’t love Costco?

  • Heather Woyak

    OH my gosh… are you my twin?? Target and I are on a Lent Hiatus, too… And, YES!! Costco IS the wonderland for all!! It is so true.. I tell mine that if they are nice, then they can get their “big boy” drinks at the end. It is magical. And cheaper than a Starbucks cookie or cake pop… By A LOT!!

    On another note…is La Croix good?? I’m not finding much I am enjoying these days.. I though the 2nd trimester was supposed the be magical. The other 3 times it was… Hmmm…must be a girl…

    Loving these ideas 🙂

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