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Secrets of Stay-at-Home Moms

No, we’re not talking about gossipy storylines you’d see on old episodes of Desperate Housewives. We’re talking about the know-how they have for staying organized, keeping connected and just plain staying sane.

Photo: Erin McFarland Photography

Go with the flow in the beginning

You might consider yourself type-A but when you're home with a brand-new baby, give up everything you knew about structure and control. “When you have a newborn, there is no organizing your day. You sleep, feed, cuddle, change, and repeat,” says maggiesmom. For some women, that means a lot of letting go -- it's tricky at first but just remind yourself that this is temporary.

“I used to get bored when my daughter slept to the point that I'd go in and wake her up from her nap just so I would have something to do and I missed her," says TrishTex42. Don't do that! Instead, just take the day minute by minute -- enjoy a little nap of your own or call a friend to reconnect -- this time period is short-lived. "Now that she’s a walker, when she naps I collapse onto the couch and dare anyone to speak to me," adds TrishTex42.

… But then get organized

Stay-at-home-mom confessions

“I’m more tired from staying home than my husband is from working.” -- leighcreg4

“My husband has been raving about the cookies I made and is eating them by the handful. I haven’t told him that they’re lactation cookies.” -- mamatag

“My husband invited a friend over for drinks tonight, which I know is my cue to get the house clean. I haven't done a thing.” -- lucyloo

“I'm pro-pouch and pro-DVDs. Just feels good to admit. I'm lazy and proud!” -- floralmeadow

“I liked my job, but I wouldn't even break even if I sent my kids to day care.” -- simmyyo57

“If I had kept working, we'd be better off financially, but I'd be miserable.” -- francophileen

Our stay-at-home mom friends tell us that a loosey-goosey daily routine doesn't work forever. Eventually, you're going to have to plan out your day so that you manage to squeeze in baby-mommy playtime, naps, feedings, any chores and errands you've got to do and maybe some other stuff. Of course how you plan it is totally up to you. “I made myself a home binder with everything I need for home -- a cleaning schedule, financial information and more -- plus monthly calendar and places for to do list,” says kallysue. You don't have to be that organized; you might just need a mental plan.

Join something -- maybe more than once

We know it's a stereotype that stay-at-home moms are lonely, but feeling isolated can actually happen pretty easily, unless you make an effort to prevent it. The most popular way? Getting involved in a moms' group or some other activity. “I joined a play group through Meetup.com," says goldiealto. "It was seriously one of the best things I've ever done. We've made some really great friends and it helps us get out of the house and do fun things." Of course, it's not always a perfect solution -- you might find yourself in a group that's not right for your personality or that meets at a time you can never make because it's during baby's nap time. Adds goldiealto: "If you try out a group that's not the right fit for you, don't be discouraged from trying another one.” It's worth it to look hard for something you're really enthusiastic about. “I just joined my local Mom's Club chapter and so far I love it,” says frankiesjenny.

You really can’t do it all

Now that you're not working, you might be trying really hard not to spend any extra money, but there are certain times you really will need to give yourself a break -- set aside some money to make a splurge here and there when things get too hectic. And don't feel guilty about it. “I was home for about four years and hated it by the end. Definitely get someone to clean every once in a while, and make sure you get days off when your partner isn't working. Hang in there!” says ldtinagirls34.

Take vacation time by yourself

Family vacations are awesome, but you'll still be taking care of the baby, which is what you do day-in and day-out. Couldn't you use a little pampering, even if it's just once or twice a year? “I was in a serious rut over the winter -- combination of cabin fever and first-trimester exhaustion," suecarlyr. "I ended up taking an unplanned trip to see my mother and be taken care of -- and have someone else take care of my daughter.”

Not getting out of the house is a recipe for insanity

“I realized I had to just get out of the house for my sanity and theirs," says Gritchacha, who had trouble in the beginning days of "staying home." What helped was making sure she got out of the house every day. Don't freak out about it -- baby will get used to being out and about, and you'll get in the groove of what works for you both. Now, Gritchaha says, "my girls are my little entourage; they go with me everywhere, rain or shine, and I love it. We go to the gym almost every day, run errands, hang out at the mall, to the library, to a friend's house for a play date, whatever.”

Dora is great, but you need your own entertainment

One of the toughest things stay-at-home moms say they have to deal with is the lack of "grown-up" interaction throughout the day -- add that to the monotony of household tasks, and it's enough to make even the most passionate mama a little loopy. “Sometimes it feels like all I do is clean, cook and do dishes. It’s never ending!" says crolalupe. "One thing that helps me is listening to podcasts and audiobooks. It helps to keep my mind occupied while doing mundane chores. If I just use one side of the ear-buds for my iPod, I'm still able to keep tabs on what the kids are doing too. Podcasts are free on iTunes, and I find audiobooks through the library.”

Become a gym rat

This solves two different problems -- getting back into shape postpregnancy and getting a little bit of time to focus on you -- join the gym. “I felt completely isolated as a stay-at-home mom to twins. The best thing I’ve done for myself was join a gym with child care." Obviously, this helps with the getting out of the house thing, too. Who wants to waste the cost of a gym membership by not actually going? You'll have motivation.

Don’t even try to be super mom

Super Mom doesn't exist! So as much as you want to be able to keep the house spotless; have your baby in designer, stain-free clothes; and make the best chocolate chip brownies on the block; you might just stress yourself out in the process. Remember that part of the reason you're staying home is to enjoy your child's early years. Kristielee33 says it best: “I definitely understand the desire to have a clean house and gourmet dinner and the laundry all done. But where did those standards come from? There is something to say for just getting into the mess with them! Don’t worry about picking up, worry about making memories with them.”

Do a babysitting swap

Need a little break but don't want to hire a sitter? “Find a mommy buddy," says Krabapplechic. "Someone who can watch your kids one day every other week, and you can watch theirs, so you get a real full day off without any additional cost to you.”

Make being a stay-at-home mom look good

“Something that has always helped me is to shower, dress and do my hair every single day. Sounds silly but it makes me feel more human, and when I feel good about myself, I'm way more productive,” says Tessalatte. If you're wearing a pony tail and hanging out in yoga pants and an oversized tee-shirt every day, you might just start feeling like you're in a rut. But there are outfits that are comfy and can make you feel like a gazillion bucks. “I like a cotton dress. Something that doesn’t wrinkle and is easy to throw on,” says uppsydaizy65.

The structure of your day can make or break it

Experiment with what works for your family's daily routine. Some stay-at-home moms say that if they don't leave early and get things done, they never manage to get out of the house. Others like to take their time in the morning and run errands after baby has had a nap. Lizzy3448 explains her warm-weather routine: “It can be tough to get things done in the summer because there’s so much fun stuff to do. We go out early before it gets too hot, then we come home in the afternoon, and I get stuff done while the kids nap.” It might take a while to figure out what the right routine for you and baby is, but once you find it, remind yourself of it and try to stick to it.

“Our moms' group had a speaker that used this system, and it works for us: 45 minutes of chores -- everyone participates on some level; 45 minutes of play -- everyone, including mom," says Claudette98. "That way you are teaching them that there are responsibilities to be done and it can't be all fun and games but you also spend time with them, so they are a little more reasonable when you are busy.”

Teach your child to play by herself

Obviously, you're going to hover in the beginning, but eventually when your child is old enough, you'll probably have to wean her off of having your constant attention. “I refuse to give my daughter all of my undivided attention all day -- I would go nuts. Sometimes that means she walks in circles from her playroom to the kitchen, but it does create some time for me to get things done.” This will also be helpful at times when she'll be away from you, like when you hire a sitter or she goes to preschool -- the more she gets used to having some independent time, the easier separation may be later on.

Embrace meal planning

Chances are, you're the one in charge of meals, and that can actually be a lot of pressure. Not to mention, it's time consuming! But with a little extra forethought, you can take out some of the guesswork and maybe save yourself a few trips to the supermarket. “I plan two weeks' worth of meals in advance, so I can get all the grocery shopping done in one trip, and I don't have to figure it out every day. It can be tough!” says Bluebird72.

*Names have been changed.

Plus, more from The Bump:

What It's Really Like to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

Checklist: Working Mom vs. Stay-at-Home Mom

The Mommy Wars

-- Elena Donovan Mauer

See More: Mommy Life , Parenting Styles