Dad wonders how to help his wife make "the transition."

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 12, 2011 06:00 AM

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My wife and I have two daughters, aged 4.5 and 10 months. Before my first was born, my wife intended to return to work after her leave. After time with the baby, we crunched the numbers and we were able to get by on my salary.

We recently had a second and now, on Tuesday/Thursdays, the off days of my older daughter's preschool schedule, my wife is having a very very hard time dealing with both children. She feels overwhelmed by the combination of both and gets into an "I can't do this anymore" mindset. Since we're far from both families, there's no grandma nearby to help. Recently, our quasi-grandma care provider injured herself and is out of commission for several weeks.

I'm completely supportive of a range of options from increasing care for our older child, or starting care for our younger one. I'm also supportive of her returning to work and reclaiming some of a non-mommy life.

Our budget is tight and, save for live-in or full-time nanny, I would still try to make one of several options feasible but we need help getting "from here to there." I am emailing you to get any tips you may have to suggest a transition plan. We talk about it and talk about it, but with the challenging schedule, it's been hard to move to the next step.

Can you help with pointers for an achievable transition for Mrs. West?

From: Go West, Holliston, MA

Dear Go West,

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "the transition;" there's no magic answer here and certainly no one-size-fits all. It's a struggle for all of us, myself included way back when.

One way to begin is through networking. I'm thinking specifically of support groups for moms. These are often organized by local community centers, HMO's even through your local school system. Sometimes there are independent organizations that sponsor them, and when there's nothing already organized in your area, take matters into your own hands and post a note on a church/school/library bulletin board: "Former-working mom of two (2 and 4 1/2 yr olds) looking to meet counterparts to form informal support/playgroup/sitter-sharing group." Nanny sharing and sitter sharing has become very popular in some communities.

One of the reasons I'm suggesting this kind of approach is because I think it's really helpful for any mom, overwhelmed or not, to surround herself with women who are in similar situations. That small network can lead to all kinds of surprising outcomes, from professional networking to emotional and logistical support.

Women out there who have been there/done that, what worked for you?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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14 comments so far...
  1. Good morning all! I am a little confused. If your budget is so tight why are you looking into a live-in or full time Nanny? seriously? I have 2 kids of my own we both work. my children are in a wonderful daycare with a great environment. That is very expensive as it is so I understand having a budget. Maybe the cost of Nanny is comparable to that of a daycare...But somehow think it would be way more expensive for a live-in nanny. just saying.............
    It can be done...People do this all the time. You are certainly not the only parents to have more than one child...Some even have 4 or more and do pretty well. Imagine that? Sounds like Mom needs a weekend with her friends or something. It is early in the morning....I need a coffee...

    Posted by jd May 12, 11 07:25 AM
  1. There are a lot of steps in between feeling like you can't do it all on your own as a mother and needing to outsource child care and get back to work. I am not sure what "Mrs. West" does to fill her days, but if she doesn't have a loose plan, the week can look long and ugly.

    Being an at-home Mom isn't for everyone, of course, but for those who do it happily, what you usually find when you look behind the curtain, is structure. Immediately following structure is a network of other Moms. Involvement in a MOMS Club usually breeds a regular playgroup. A good playgroup turns into making other plans with the Moms you click with best. Meeting up at the pool. Hosting an afternoon pj & a movie playdate where Moms can sit and have a cup of coffee and just connect with each other. Weekly attendance at storytime with a walk to the park or to the bagel shop afterward. A book club for the evening. A kid-or-allergy-friendly recipe exchange. Giving back to the community through volunteering in some way.

    This all takes time to build, and none of these suggestions will work if Mrs. West doesn't herself "work them," but the point I am making is that NO ONE does it alone.

    Posted by RH May 12, 11 08:07 AM
  1. I have a couple of thoughts to suggest first what about a mommy and me type of class that would pair your wife with other women in the same situation and maybe they could swap off babysitting and "me time". The other suggestion is maybe your wife could find a job as an independent consultant that way she could work off hours and when you are home, make a little extra money and also get in some socializing which it sounds like she is completely lacking here.

    Just some suggestions for thought. Good luck

    Posted by Nicole May 12, 11 09:05 AM
  1. I am wondering how much of Mrs. West's struggle is due to post-partem depression, as well.

    Posted by Jenn May 12, 11 09:11 AM
  1. It strikes me that maybe childcare is not really the issue here. Maybe Mrs. West is just not entirely happy being solely an at-home parent, and, with a child under a year old, is daunted by the prospect of another 4 or 5 years of the same? I hope you will not think that I am being overly critical to point this out, but many people manage several young children at home quite happily, and we routinely expect childcare workers to care for two or more with ease. If the combination of a baby and a near-school-age child is overwhelming, there may be more to it than childcare arrangements.

    My children are also 4 years apart, and I stayed home with them, and cared for them with almost no extended family support. This spacing worked well for our family, but it does mean almost a decade home with the little ones. There were times when I would feel like my whole identity was fading away. I would echo Barbara’s advice to get involved with other parents in some way -- story hour at the local library, mom-baby swimming at the Y -- anything that may help make some connections. A “quasi-grandma” is great for back-up childcare, but a mom-buddy keeps you sane!

    For me it was also important to have some small part-time job, or to be taking a class or doing some volunteer work, even if only for a couple of evenings a month. (I found a surprising sense of community in on-line classes -- keep at it and you can be getting a master’s when the little one is “graduating” from kindergarten). It really it does help to some commitment to something that is separate from the kids. Maybe it is counterintuitive to add something new when she is already feeling overwhelmed, but a sense of focus and moving forward might help as much as tweaking childcare arrangements.

    Posted by gastrogal May 12, 11 09:57 AM
  1. Thanks Barbara and everyone for the comments. I appreciate the helpful feedback.

    I wanted to clarify something in my email that led to confusion in the first comment by JD:

    When I wrote: Our budget is tight and, save for live-in or full-time nanny, I would still try to make one of several options feasible but we need help getting "from here to there."

    "save for live-in or full-time nanny" means "_except_ for live-in or full-time nanny" -- sorry for the confusion. I was trying to say our budget is tight and those 2 options were definitely out of the question. We're not looking for either. :-)

    Posted by Go West May 12, 11 12:10 PM
  1. so i'm confused by the transition comment too. is the mom unhappy being a stay at home? is it having the two kids that is overwhelming? the work life or stay at home mom life? maybe its all of it.

    i think alot of times people have in their heads what "it" will be like. and then when their idea of 'it' isnt what they thought it would be like - it can be well, rather depressing.

    i love love love having my kids close together (they are 19months apart). yes it can be busy - but they love each other and play very well together. its works for us. after having my second i decided to work part time - 3 days a week. its perfect. the days i work i feel like i am contributing to my family and have some grown up time. the days i'm home, i feel refreshed and ready to hang with my kids.

    i think maybe mom would feel better if she had some support and structure. i have a loose schedule that i stick too. and i have ideas on what we will do when i'm home - afternoon at the park, craft ideas on a rainy day, etc etc.
    definately look around for a moms group or something - it would help break up the week and you may be get some support from the other moms or different ideas on things to do.
    there are lots of things to do in this area!

    i know some of my friends - they are nervous to go and do things with two kids. yes its more work - but you have to just make yourself do it - otherwise you go stir crazy sitting in the house. the older child is old enough to help out too and follow directions. you cant just sit in your house because youre too nervous - make yourself go and do things!

    or maybe mom needs a part time job? get out of hte house may make her feel better.

    i know my OB/GYN said that post partum depression can come out even after a year of delivering. maybe mom has a touch of the baby blues.
    good luck

    Posted by kiki May 12, 11 02:10 PM
  1. First, I want to assure Go West and Mrs. West -- I have been in your exact shoes, and it gets easier. It really, really does. Hang in there! Gradually, as my younger daughter became more independent, started walking, talking, feeding herself, things became manageable. And now that she's old enough to play with my older daughter, I actually have a chance to make dinner!

    With that said, I agree that having structure helps, so if Mrs. West hasn't already she should check out mommy & me classes, baby music classes, stroller exercise groups, etc. Having a schedule helps a lot, and Mrs. West will make great friends through those activities, which also eases the stress. Those friends will also be great resources for finding part-time care providers.

    I'd also suggest trying sittercity.com or care.com, to find part-time help.

    The last thing I want to say is that it's great that you are being so supportive of whatever Mrs. West decides to do, and proactive in helping her make those decisions. My husband always expressed his appreciation for me and continually noted that he would support whatever I wanted to do -- that helped enormously.

    Posted by Sympathetic May 12, 11 03:25 PM
  1. Go West! Thanks! I do feel for you and Mrs West. It is an adjustment. I feared how I was going to handle 2 kids as well. All of these comments and advice from Barbara too.

    If you have a tiny extra set aside, maybe sending mom to a day spa or something nice for her will help her. I think there is a lot of good advise here! I wish I had actual advise here. Maybe part time daycare can help whether she stays home or not...but it sounds like she really needs some "me time".
    I since had 2 cups of coffee...I am functioning way more now!!!

    Posted by jd May 12, 11 05:40 PM
  1. Could you hire a nanny for 2-3 hours on tue and thurs. Your wife can go to yoga, gym or any other hobby she might enjoy by herself. I am a sitter for a stay at home mom of two young kids and I go over so mom can go to yoga. A couple a times her class has been cancelled and she still asks me to come so she can just do something by herself (groceries, coffee, running, etc..). I am not a mother but she could just need time away from the kids to do something for herself. Also if she tends to do bedtime routines all weekdays by herself, once you have had a sitter the kids are comfortable with you can have her come later in the day, spend 1 hour with the kids then put them to bed (your wife can go to dinner with friends, etc...) I know baths and bedtime can be very hard, especially if you have been taking care of the kids all day. I have also been a full time nanny and at the end of the day I go home and unwind but moms don't get time to unwind. Most important, make sure you dont make her feel guilty for taking time for herself.

    Posted by Isabella May 12, 11 07:48 PM
  1. I think the answer to your question is simple. What does Mrs. West want to do? There are loads of options out there and the two of you need to pick the one that is best.

    Sit down and write out the options you are considering. List the pros and cons of each option. It would be more helpful to know exactly what the issues your wife is having are. What does she do when she is home with both of them?

    I've never been a full time stay at home mom, but agree that you do need some sort of plan each day. Everyone thrives on routine.

    If your wife can not discuss this with you or seems overwhelmed at every suggestion and can not seem to make a decision, counseling is in order.

    Posted by ash May 13, 11 08:45 AM
  1. I definitely recommend some type of "mommy and me" class" as well. I stayed home with two very active boys, who are 23 months apart. From day one we were out and about all the time. The days we stayed home all day were the ones where I felt like I would lose it and beg my husband to try not to be home late. I did lots of things alone with the boys, but I met 7 other mothers at a music class when my oldest was a baby. For years we'd all meet at the zoo, playground, someone's house, etc. I sometimes forget how lucky I was to meet such a great group of people with kids the same age, as I know I would have felt much more alone and stressed without those outings and conversations with people in the same boat, and the kids all had a great time as well. Now my kids are both in elementary school and I miss those crazy, hectic days SO much!

    Posted by mom2boys May 13, 11 01:12 PM
  1. Been there, done that! Even with support, it was a tough time...

    The biggest problem is that the kids' needs are mismatched. The 4.5 year old needs activities and social play. The 10 month old still spends most of his time eating, sleeping, and making messes in his diaper. It is simpler if they are only a couple years apart.

    Find a good preschool for the older child? You can afford to be flexible with the schedule, as long as your wife isn't working.

    Posted by TF May 13, 11 09:26 PM
  1. As a mom of two little ones I wanted to add that there are a couple of things that are so difficult with this transition. Even if she wants to go back to work, for her to think about leaving the children with another caregiver might be daunting especially since she's always done it. Also, with kids at this age, I am sure she does not have much free time--having the time to find a job, which is a job in itself, or even think seriously about what steps she might want to take is so difficult when there is no down time. I would recommend taking small steps with small reasonable weekly goals. For example, a goal might be just to make a decision about whether she wants to be full time, part time, stay at home. Then after that decision, another small step—if part time, how many days per week, what hours—then a decision about how childcare might happen, then a job search, etc. When the second child is born is sometimes seems to be 100X the work rather than double—the already small amount of free time is completely taken up so I understand! Also, it might be helpful to explore whether working will solve the problem-- while it is great to get of the house, working creates all kinds of different challenges.

    Posted by also sympathetic May 16, 11 08:00 AM
 
14 comments so far...
  1. Good morning all! I am a little confused. If your budget is so tight why are you looking into a live-in or full time Nanny? seriously? I have 2 kids of my own we both work. my children are in a wonderful daycare with a great environment. That is very expensive as it is so I understand having a budget. Maybe the cost of Nanny is comparable to that of a daycare...But somehow think it would be way more expensive for a live-in nanny. just saying.............
    It can be done...People do this all the time. You are certainly not the only parents to have more than one child...Some even have 4 or more and do pretty well. Imagine that? Sounds like Mom needs a weekend with her friends or something. It is early in the morning....I need a coffee...

    Posted by jd May 12, 11 07:25 AM
  1. There are a lot of steps in between feeling like you can't do it all on your own as a mother and needing to outsource child care and get back to work. I am not sure what "Mrs. West" does to fill her days, but if she doesn't have a loose plan, the week can look long and ugly.

    Being an at-home Mom isn't for everyone, of course, but for those who do it happily, what you usually find when you look behind the curtain, is structure. Immediately following structure is a network of other Moms. Involvement in a MOMS Club usually breeds a regular playgroup. A good playgroup turns into making other plans with the Moms you click with best. Meeting up at the pool. Hosting an afternoon pj & a movie playdate where Moms can sit and have a cup of coffee and just connect with each other. Weekly attendance at storytime with a walk to the park or to the bagel shop afterward. A book club for the evening. A kid-or-allergy-friendly recipe exchange. Giving back to the community through volunteering in some way.

    This all takes time to build, and none of these suggestions will work if Mrs. West doesn't herself "work them," but the point I am making is that NO ONE does it alone.

    Posted by RH May 12, 11 08:07 AM
  1. I have a couple of thoughts to suggest first what about a mommy and me type of class that would pair your wife with other women in the same situation and maybe they could swap off babysitting and "me time". The other suggestion is maybe your wife could find a job as an independent consultant that way she could work off hours and when you are home, make a little extra money and also get in some socializing which it sounds like she is completely lacking here.

    Just some suggestions for thought. Good luck

    Posted by Nicole May 12, 11 09:05 AM
  1. I am wondering how much of Mrs. West's struggle is due to post-partem depression, as well.

    Posted by Jenn May 12, 11 09:11 AM
  1. It strikes me that maybe childcare is not really the issue here. Maybe Mrs. West is just not entirely happy being solely an at-home parent, and, with a child under a year old, is daunted by the prospect of another 4 or 5 years of the same? I hope you will not think that I am being overly critical to point this out, but many people manage several young children at home quite happily, and we routinely expect childcare workers to care for two or more with ease. If the combination of a baby and a near-school-age child is overwhelming, there may be more to it than childcare arrangements.

    My children are also 4 years apart, and I stayed home with them, and cared for them with almost no extended family support. This spacing worked well for our family, but it does mean almost a decade home with the little ones. There were times when I would feel like my whole identity was fading away. I would echo Barbara’s advice to get involved with other parents in some way -- story hour at the local library, mom-baby swimming at the Y -- anything that may help make some connections. A “quasi-grandma” is great for back-up childcare, but a mom-buddy keeps you sane!

    For me it was also important to have some small part-time job, or to be taking a class or doing some volunteer work, even if only for a couple of evenings a month. (I found a surprising sense of community in on-line classes -- keep at it and you can be getting a master’s when the little one is “graduating” from kindergarten). It really it does help to some commitment to something that is separate from the kids. Maybe it is counterintuitive to add something new when she is already feeling overwhelmed, but a sense of focus and moving forward might help as much as tweaking childcare arrangements.

    Posted by gastrogal May 12, 11 09:57 AM
  1. Thanks Barbara and everyone for the comments. I appreciate the helpful feedback.

    I wanted to clarify something in my email that led to confusion in the first comment by JD:

    When I wrote: Our budget is tight and, save for live-in or full-time nanny, I would still try to make one of several options feasible but we need help getting "from here to there."

    "save for live-in or full-time nanny" means "_except_ for live-in or full-time nanny" -- sorry for the confusion. I was trying to say our budget is tight and those 2 options were definitely out of the question. We're not looking for either. :-)

    Posted by Go West May 12, 11 12:10 PM
  1. so i'm confused by the transition comment too. is the mom unhappy being a stay at home? is it having the two kids that is overwhelming? the work life or stay at home mom life? maybe its all of it.

    i think alot of times people have in their heads what "it" will be like. and then when their idea of 'it' isnt what they thought it would be like - it can be well, rather depressing.

    i love love love having my kids close together (they are 19months apart). yes it can be busy - but they love each other and play very well together. its works for us. after having my second i decided to work part time - 3 days a week. its perfect. the days i work i feel like i am contributing to my family and have some grown up time. the days i'm home, i feel refreshed and ready to hang with my kids.

    i think maybe mom would feel better if she had some support and structure. i have a loose schedule that i stick too. and i have ideas on what we will do when i'm home - afternoon at the park, craft ideas on a rainy day, etc etc.
    definately look around for a moms group or something - it would help break up the week and you may be get some support from the other moms or different ideas on things to do.
    there are lots of things to do in this area!

    i know some of my friends - they are nervous to go and do things with two kids. yes its more work - but you have to just make yourself do it - otherwise you go stir crazy sitting in the house. the older child is old enough to help out too and follow directions. you cant just sit in your house because youre too nervous - make yourself go and do things!

    or maybe mom needs a part time job? get out of hte house may make her feel better.

    i know my OB/GYN said that post partum depression can come out even after a year of delivering. maybe mom has a touch of the baby blues.
    good luck

    Posted by kiki May 12, 11 02:10 PM
  1. First, I want to assure Go West and Mrs. West -- I have been in your exact shoes, and it gets easier. It really, really does. Hang in there! Gradually, as my younger daughter became more independent, started walking, talking, feeding herself, things became manageable. And now that she's old enough to play with my older daughter, I actually have a chance to make dinner!

    With that said, I agree that having structure helps, so if Mrs. West hasn't already she should check out mommy & me classes, baby music classes, stroller exercise groups, etc. Having a schedule helps a lot, and Mrs. West will make great friends through those activities, which also eases the stress. Those friends will also be great resources for finding part-time care providers.

    I'd also suggest trying sittercity.com or care.com, to find part-time help.

    The last thing I want to say is that it's great that you are being so supportive of whatever Mrs. West decides to do, and proactive in helping her make those decisions. My husband always expressed his appreciation for me and continually noted that he would support whatever I wanted to do -- that helped enormously.

    Posted by Sympathetic May 12, 11 03:25 PM
  1. Go West! Thanks! I do feel for you and Mrs West. It is an adjustment. I feared how I was going to handle 2 kids as well. All of these comments and advice from Barbara too.

    If you have a tiny extra set aside, maybe sending mom to a day spa or something nice for her will help her. I think there is a lot of good advise here! I wish I had actual advise here. Maybe part time daycare can help whether she stays home or not...but it sounds like she really needs some "me time".
    I since had 2 cups of coffee...I am functioning way more now!!!

    Posted by jd May 12, 11 05:40 PM
  1. Could you hire a nanny for 2-3 hours on tue and thurs. Your wife can go to yoga, gym or any other hobby she might enjoy by herself. I am a sitter for a stay at home mom of two young kids and I go over so mom can go to yoga. A couple a times her class has been cancelled and she still asks me to come so she can just do something by herself (groceries, coffee, running, etc..). I am not a mother but she could just need time away from the kids to do something for herself. Also if she tends to do bedtime routines all weekdays by herself, once you have had a sitter the kids are comfortable with you can have her come later in the day, spend 1 hour with the kids then put them to bed (your wife can go to dinner with friends, etc...) I know baths and bedtime can be very hard, especially if you have been taking care of the kids all day. I have also been a full time nanny and at the end of the day I go home and unwind but moms don't get time to unwind. Most important, make sure you dont make her feel guilty for taking time for herself.

    Posted by Isabella May 12, 11 07:48 PM
  1. I think the answer to your question is simple. What does Mrs. West want to do? There are loads of options out there and the two of you need to pick the one that is best.

    Sit down and write out the options you are considering. List the pros and cons of each option. It would be more helpful to know exactly what the issues your wife is having are. What does she do when she is home with both of them?

    I've never been a full time stay at home mom, but agree that you do need some sort of plan each day. Everyone thrives on routine.

    If your wife can not discuss this with you or seems overwhelmed at every suggestion and can not seem to make a decision, counseling is in order.

    Posted by ash May 13, 11 08:45 AM
  1. I definitely recommend some type of "mommy and me" class" as well. I stayed home with two very active boys, who are 23 months apart. From day one we were out and about all the time. The days we stayed home all day were the ones where I felt like I would lose it and beg my husband to try not to be home late. I did lots of things alone with the boys, but I met 7 other mothers at a music class when my oldest was a baby. For years we'd all meet at the zoo, playground, someone's house, etc. I sometimes forget how lucky I was to meet such a great group of people with kids the same age, as I know I would have felt much more alone and stressed without those outings and conversations with people in the same boat, and the kids all had a great time as well. Now my kids are both in elementary school and I miss those crazy, hectic days SO much!

    Posted by mom2boys May 13, 11 01:12 PM
  1. Been there, done that! Even with support, it was a tough time...

    The biggest problem is that the kids' needs are mismatched. The 4.5 year old needs activities and social play. The 10 month old still spends most of his time eating, sleeping, and making messes in his diaper. It is simpler if they are only a couple years apart.

    Find a good preschool for the older child? You can afford to be flexible with the schedule, as long as your wife isn't working.

    Posted by TF May 13, 11 09:26 PM
  1. As a mom of two little ones I wanted to add that there are a couple of things that are so difficult with this transition. Even if she wants to go back to work, for her to think about leaving the children with another caregiver might be daunting especially since she's always done it. Also, with kids at this age, I am sure she does not have much free time--having the time to find a job, which is a job in itself, or even think seriously about what steps she might want to take is so difficult when there is no down time. I would recommend taking small steps with small reasonable weekly goals. For example, a goal might be just to make a decision about whether she wants to be full time, part time, stay at home. Then after that decision, another small step—if part time, how many days per week, what hours—then a decision about how childcare might happen, then a job search, etc. When the second child is born is sometimes seems to be 100X the work rather than double—the already small amount of free time is completely taken up so I understand! Also, it might be helpful to explore whether working will solve the problem-- while it is great to get of the house, working creates all kinds of different challenges.

    Posted by also sympathetic May 16, 11 08:00 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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