Tricks on surviving life with children from former career women who have made the switch.

Take naps . "When they go down, I go down," says a mother of three. "I have to fight myself to relax - the floor is cruddy and the washing is unfolded, but I need the nap more than cleanliness."

Delegate as much work as possible . Motherhood is a full-time, all-the-time job in the beginning, and trying to do anything else -- rinse a cup, pull a weed, wash a sock -- is like trying to do your personal work at the office. If you can, hire a maid: Even once-a-month service will help unearth you from undone chores.

Take breaks . No one can keep up an 18-hour day, seven days a week without reaching their limit. With a sitter assigned to ride herd on the kids, an hour in the tub or a walk with your husband can seem like a languid eternity. Look for sitters in your neighborhood, through your church or synagogue. Or post an ad in such places as Marymount College (524-2500), George Washington University (676-6495) or the University of Maryland's job referral service (454-2490).

Boost your skills with a parenting class . The Red Cross (call your local chapter) sponsors a course on children from birth to 2 years, teaching parents to stimulate their child, develop their language ability, care for their emotional well-being and get them started on social adjustment.

Volunteer . Working with local citzens or your professional association keeps your intellectual side from smothering under the diapers. Three possibilities: Homemakers Clubs (call your county's Extension Office) discuss canning, gardening, crafts, child care, and careers. The League of Women Voters (call 296-1770 for the number of your area's group) goes to bat for Metro, battered spouses, the ERA and other government-related issues. The American Association of University Women (call 424-9917 for the number of your chapter) requires a degree, sponsors conferences, fellowships and travel seminars.

Maintain your former career skills . "Keep up your contacts -- you'll need those old-friends if you go back to the job market," says career counselor Pat Warner. "Also, use your volunteer work to fill the gap left in that resume by mothering. If you've worked with budgets at your old office, say, take on the budget of your kid's playschool or at your church." Warner also advises taking night courses, reading the trade publications, and doing everything you can to keep "current on your field's lastest developments."

Network with other mothers . "I couldn't get through this without my friends," says psychiatric nurse Joy Baxt. "Just knowing I'm not alone in this makes all the difference." Most mothers rely on an extended non-family of other full-time caretakers for advice, babysitting swaps, extra clothes, toys, equipment, and "extensive hand-holding."