One of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, has this expression she often uses: “The days are long, but the years are short.” This idea has always resonated with me, but after six months as a new parent, it holds new meaning.
Just a month ago my days began at 2 a.m. for a feeding and diaper change, followed by a 4:30 a.m. feeding and a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call. (These were preceded by an 8 p.m. bedtime for my little one, followed by an 11 p.m. feeding.) All in all, that’s a lot of time spent nursing and not much sleeping.
Days spent caring for baby are indeed long–longer, certainly, than life before baby and pregnancy, which I sometimes miss (I’m looking at you, eight hours of unbroken sleep). Yet when I look back on these past six months with our son Jack, I still find myself in awe of how fast they flew by and how much I wish time would slow down.
When I meet other mothers and we get to talking about how fast children grow, they look at Jack and say to me, “Enjoy!” And I’ll tell you what I tell them: I am. I am enjoying every moment. Jack’s presence in our lives is an incredible gift.
Each month has had its ups and downs but I think this new stage–six months and counting, I’ll call it–is my favorite thus far. Now Jack is entering the sweet spot between baby and boy. He’s sitting up with ease, eager to interact and noticing so much more of the world around him. He’s trying out solids, on the verge of crawling (but thankfully not there yet) and still loves to cuddle. Every time I hold him close I count it as a blessing from God. This feeling of being loved and needed, of loving deeply and holding my son close while knowing I need to be held just as much–it’s life-giving. I’ve never felt more content than when I’m holding this little boy in my arms.
Of course there have also been tears. More tears than I’d like to admit, or that I ever expected–tears of sadness after dropping Jack off at daycare for the first time, tears of worry after we started sleep training, tears of utter exhaustion in my office cubicle … The truth is, nothing can properly prepare you for the way becoming a parent will test you, stretch you and shine light on all the flaws and insecurities you harbor. As a mother, I’ve surprised myself in the ways I’ve become more flexible and easygoing or stepped up to the plate when the occasion called for it. (And I’ve also crashed and burned and needed to call for backup. See this post.)
So after six months, what have I learned?
In the face of conflict, seek connection.
Unfortunately, going back to work and Jack starting daycare was a trigger for me for postpartum anxiety. Up until that point, I had experienced ups and downs on maternity leave, but it paled in comparison to the heartache I felt leaving my son for the day those first few days (actually, that first month) of daycare. I wasn’t terribly confident in my decision to go back to work full-time–and if I’m really honest, I still struggle with it on occasion–but I need to work to provide for our family’s wellbeing, so it’s not really up for debate. I was lucky to come back to a job I love and an incredibly supportive supervisor. Even so, I had a hard time adjusting to my new normal.
So did my son. In his first few weeks, Jack struggled to take bottles at daycare and started waking up regularly at night to nurse after months of sleeping well. Because of this I worried about him often, and the frequent night-waking started taking a toll on my body. I constantly felt run down and on the verge of tears. If weren’t for my fellow working mamas who listened to me vent or helped me troubleshoot problems and assured me I wasn’t crazy via text, I’m not sure I would have made it through. They are goddesses who have done it all before and are eager to offer support whenever I’m facing a conflict–and let’s face it, there’s a lot of conflict in parenting–so we’re pretty well connected these days. They are a true Godsend, a lifesaver that lifts up my heart whenever I feel it sinking.
New and veteran mamas out there, remember this: you are not alone. Your village of fellow mamas is here for you.
Give yourself permission to slow down, simplify and shift some responsibilities.
Earlier this year we had a series of trips and family obligations that filled up our weekends so much that we weren’t even having fun anymore. As a result of these busy-bee weekends, my husband and I would enter the work week unprepared and unhinged … and without groceries or clean clothes.
After three weeks of last-minute takeout and laundry fiascos, we came up with a solution–we instituted a family travel ban. This meant no more back to back outings without downtime. We needed rest, we needed Sabbath, we needed time to get organized and importantly, catch up on chores.
When you’re juggling work and caring for a little one, keeping up with regular housework is
hard nearly impossible. Life gets so harried. But you’ve gotta eat, and wear clothes, and be able to find your keys so you’ve gotta make room for cleaning.
So, we gave ourselves permission to slow down, and we simplified our weekends. Gone were the days of trying to cram workouts and church and brunch plans and errands into one day. Instead, I focus in on one or two things that really matter to us–like visiting my folks in the suburbs–and stay close to home the rest of the weekend so we can tackle the backlog of household chores.
My mom, who worked full-time since I was in first grade, did the same thing. She used to joke about the maid not having made an appearance at our house in a while (meaning herself), when things got really busy during the week. She’d catch up on the weekends, and I’ve followed in her footsteps, well, with one tiny exception:
I. Don’t. Do. It. All.
That’s right, I don’t do ALL the cleaning, nor does my husband. We hired housecleaner to help us twice a month and I can’t tell you how much that helps.
Friends! (Especially parents!) If you haven’t experienced the life-changing magic of hiring a housecleaner, please give it a try. Life is too short to spend all your precious free time cleaning. Note: I absolutely recognize it is a privilege to be able to hire help, and we do budget for it over other things–such as eating out–because it makes a big difference in our sanity.
Ever since we did these three things, it’s helped us to enjoy the weekends again while feeling less overwhelmed during the workweek. It’s easier for me to revel in small moments with Jack, whether it’s a long walk in our neighborhood with Gus or just playing together in our living room floor on a lazy Saturday morning.
Above all, treat yourself with grace and loving-kindness.
Recently one of the writers I work with published a blog that really spoke to me. It’s as if she had written it for me, a tired new parent, and I was so grateful to have that message that week. Pastor Janelle Hooper says,
We often think we need to be experts in it from our newborn’s first cry. Don’t get me wrong—do all you can to be ready for parenting with prenatal classes, books and babysitting. … No matter how much or little you prepare, there will always be ways in which your children and God surprise you.
If we can give ourselves a measure of grace knowing that we want what is best for our kids, and we promise to provide the basics of food, shelter and love—beyond that, is there room enough to say we are practicing all the other aspects of parenthood?
What would it look like if I approached parenting with the same mindset as I do yoga? Yoga, for me, is play. It’s something I look forward to every day. Importantly, it’s a form of exercise and self-expression I am continually working on. There is no end goal, but each time I step onto the four corners of my mat I strive to be a little better than before.
There are so many “shoulds” floating around parenting blogs and articles–you should breastfeed your baby, you should only use organic products, you should never let your baby cry it out, you should do sleep-training--many of which are contradictory. What these differing opinions indicate to me is that there is no one right way to parent. So why do we keep pretending that there is? What if becoming comfortable with parenthood is as simple as recognizing at the end of the day we’re all just doing our best and we may feel like we’ve messed something up but at least we tried?
As of late I’ve been working on a personal paradigm shift to replace the negative thoughts I’ve been having about parenting (I’m petrified of messing something up and ruining my son’s life) and instead giving myself the same grace I would extend to a friend (Just keep going. You’re doing great, mama!).
There are no perfect people and no perfect parents. If I can enter my role as mother each morning with the same mindset I have when I step on my yoga mat–the idea that I am always practicing, never perfect–I can begin to let go of the insecurities and doubts that cause me stress and just enjoy the fun of parenting. Because for all I’ve said about how hard it is, being Jack’s mama sure is FUN! Some of my best memories have come from these six months in life, whether it’s the Christmas-morning anticipation I get every day driving to pick up Jack from daycare or the way his smiles and laughter make my heart melt.
I’m still struggling with sleep.
Sleep loss is incredibly debilitating to your spirit (not to mention your mind and body) and this has been our family’s Achilles heel/biggest parenting challenge since I went back to work. Jack’s lack of sleep (and our own) has been a major source of anxiety and we can’t seem to figure it out. I have wanted to write about this so many times but it’s hard to put it into words.
I will say this: We have been trying to get Jack to sleep better. Key word here is trying. And lately it seems like it *might* be getting better. I’m praying hard for that. 🙂
Phew! Thanks for sticking with me through this long-winded post. It’s been a while since I wrote and I hope you enjoyed this family update!
Tell me: What are you celebrating today? What are your current struggles? I’d love to hear from you.