Before the birth of my first child, Ramona, I had spent all of my adult life working in order to pay the bills. I liked my jobs (barista, personal assistant, copy editor), but I hadn’t yet picked a career path, so I didn’t struggle with the decision to stop working in order to become a stay-at-home mom. The problem arose when I realized how many demands and how little structure came with my new parenting position. There was so much I had to get done, but I did very little because I was overwhelmed with being my own boss. Ramona and I got into a routine eventually, but it wasn’t until I had my second child, Oscar, that I sat myself down and came up with a detailed daily schedule, which was, and still is, a lifesaver.
Now I don’t have to determine my priorities on an hour-to-hour basis. I have built them into my itinerary and I feel like a normal person again—and a productive one to boot.
Here’s what my stay-at-home-mom schedule looks like. Have a peek, and please don’t judge the size of my wine pours.
7:00 A.m.: Wake Up
I don’t get up before the kids because I’m never well rested enough to be an eager beaver. Besides, I can usually count on them to wake me before my real alarm goes off. Some mornings, my husband heads into work early. Others, he’s home with me getting the kids ready, and it’s vastly easier when there’s an equal number of adults and children.
I usually do frozen waffles or yogurt, along with fresh fruit. Once a week I make steel-cut oatmeal at night—too time-consuming for our frenzied mornings—and give them that for a couple days with different toppings to change things up.
*If I sleep through my phone alarm and my human alarm clocks don’t come through, breakfast is a high-stakes game of “Who can eat Frosted Mini Wheats fastest?” hosted by a desperate drill sergeant. (Er, just kidding. I never oversleep, my kids never eat crappy sugar cubes for breakfast and I always discourage speed eating!)
My 4-year-old is pretty self-sufficient on this front, so I point her in the direction of the outfit we picked out the previous night while I take a seven-minute shower. I keep the bathroom door open so I can continue to issue commands from behind the shower curtain.
Once I’ve confirmed Ramona isn’t wearing a bathing suit and/or old Halloween costume, I pull out her shoes and socks, and she puts them on while I return to the bathroom for a super speedy makeup application. To keep the toddler from taking an interest in my foundation, I usually come up with a few different places in the apartment where there’s a pretend fire raging and he scoots away on his bike (fire engine) to extinguish it.
The hardest part of the morning is when I have to get Oscar dressed. I start by trying to redirect the rescue narrative so he can hang up his firefighter hat with a sense of closure...but sometimes I have to resort to a wrestling match. (If my husband is home, this is all much easier, because Oscar can stay in his pajamas and one parent can take Ramona to pre-K.) Then it’s into winter gear and out the door.
We take the city bus together (if Oscar is in tow, I wear him in the carrier) and then I drop Ramona off at her classroom and cross my fingers she isn’t late. (Goodbyes are much harder when walking into a roomful of kids who have been there, done that.)
After Ramona’s preschool drop-off, Oscar and I head straight back to home base. I give him some fruit to snack on and let him watch a show—something not too stimulating because everyone feels better when screen time ends without a crazed and desperate struggle. After one episode, I turn off the TV and Oscar moves on to free play. He’s independent enough that I don’t have to actually play, as long as I am verbally engaged. So I serve as a narrator (sometimes a sports announcer) while I do some basic housework. I sort the laundry, wash the breakfast dishes and collect random crap from every corner of our apartment—including but not limited to the dozen pairs of socks that Ramona sent flying as she dressed herself with manic pride. I save vacuuming for last because Oscar will drop everything to “help” with that.
After Oscar has had an hour of indoor playtime, he’s a little restless. And after I’ve spent the same amount of time attending to small tasks around the home, I’m a little more relaxed—enough to venture out again. Fortunately, we are both already dressed.
I throw in a load of laundry on our way out the door and we head to the playground, since I need him good and tired for nap time later. He runs himself ragged there for 45 minutes and then we hit up the neighboring grocery store.*
*Truth: I avoid major shopping with my kids at all costs and try to do the big grocery runs when my husband is home, even if it means going late at night. My daily shopping is quick and consists of only a few items, like produce I want fresh and random recipe ingredients I don’t have on hand.
On our way in, I throw the laundry in the dryer and make a really easy lunch for both of us. Sometimes it’s more of a brunch of scrambled eggs and sausage, or maybe it’s a hot lunch, like a turkey and cheese quesadilla with avocado slices. Quite often it’s a cold snack platter of deli turkey, pretzels, hummus and apple slices ’cause I ran out of time to cook...and as any mom knows, naps are sacred.
Oscar’s midday nap spans roughly two hours. I devote one hour to being human (i.e., not measuring myself by my productivity). I’m not able to take naps myself, but I would if I could. Instead, I flop onto the couch and look at my phone—or I might spring for something really novel, like putting on a face mask or picking up a book (!).
The second half of nap time I devote to washing lunch dishes and setting my dinner mise en place. OK, I never use the term mise en place with a straight face, and I only do something complicated enough to warrant it maybe twice a week. More often than not, my dinner menu is healthy, simple and remarkably unambitious. When I don’t have mealtime prep on my plate, I proceed to folding laundry until...
I try to let Oscar nap until the very last minute because it’s easier to get his shoes on when he’s disoriented. I grab a granola bar for him to eat en route, and then we’re off to pick up his sister.
3:10 P.m.: After-school Wind Down
Ramona doesn’t nap at her preschool, so when she gets home she’s pretty tired. I make a light snack and let them watch one episode of a quiet show while I put away the laundry. After the brief TV break, I join the kids for some quality playtime—puzzles, block towers, train tracks and art are a few of my favorites.
Around this time, I slip out of the room to make dinner (and pour myself a Tony Soprano–sized glass of wine). Some of my go-to recipes are chicken cutlets and spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, and lentils with Italian sausage.
Sometimes my husband is home in time for dinner and the bedtime routine, and other nights he works until after the kids have zonked out. (I reserve the extra complicated dinners for nights when another adult will be there to enjoy them.) Either way, everybody who is home sits down to eat together. We talk about our day and the grave offense of food touching other food. Unlike my children, I’m an efficient eater, so when I’m done, I excuse myself to run their bath while they continue to push stuff around on their plates. After their bath, we brush teeth and put on pajamas.
I let both kids play a little more before making them help put the toys away. Some nights they are really helpful; other nights they each make a single gesture and I settle for it. We finish up with stories and everybody hops into bed for lullabies. (Ramona usually goes to bed with the help of a 15-minute meditation I play for her on my phone.)
Now that both kids are asleep, I wash the dinner dishes and clean the kitchen floor. Once that’s taken care of, it’s time to prepare for tomorrow. I pack Ramona’s school snack and move protein from the freezer to the fridge, where it thaws for our next dinner.
On top of my SAHM duties, I’m also a freelancer writer, so I reserve evenings for working. But on nights I’m not on deadline, I indulge in a couple hours of rest and relaxation with my husband before putting myself to bed…and waking up to do it all again in the morning.