From Dynamic Duo to Solo Day Parent: Coping Strategies for A Busy Mother
I’ll be the first to say I am astonishingly lucky. My fiancé is heavily involved in our daughter's everyday care and we were fortunate enough to have him home with Mia and me for four weeks during paid paternity leave. I’ve talked about newborn life in a previous post; I owe a lot to the man who plunged headfirst into parenthood with me. He has shown no signs of disinclination whatsoever. He opted to take most night feeds in the first week so that I could recover from childbirth. He changed more than his fair share of dirty nappies, cooked meals, and helped with the daily house duties. It’s because of this support that the first four weeks of newborn life felt quite manageable. Even though we were (and still are) exhausted out of our minds; tag-teaming newborn responsibilities have united us as parents and as a couple. It has not been smooth-sailing, we’ve both had a few trivial meltdowns along the way, but it's been a lot easier with each-others assistance and direction, and some days it feels like we are thriving in our new, terrifying roles.
Four weeks came and went, and we were suddenly staring right down the barrel of that much anticipated week when hubby would return to work. I had personally been dreading it. I knew that soon I’d lose my partner in crime to the workforce and essentially need to adopt a new routine as a solo day parent. I think we are slowly finding our feet now, but the most prominent distinction I have noticed is how much longer it takes to do things. There is no quick effort because I have a tiny human to think about, who is the dictator of my time and my schedule. Don’t get me wrong I would not have it any other way, but altering your plans around a newborn requires a lot of preparation and dedication.
This week, in particular, our little one is right in the swing of her first 'leap' or 'wonder week'. If you haven’t heard of this, it might be worth taking some time to read about it. It’s described as milestone weeks throughout a baby’s first year of life, where they undergo intensive transitions and physical and mental developments. The first leap is said to occur at week five, which is where our baby is at now. As a byproduct of all these changes, a baby is more likely to have trouble sleeping, be irritable, and difficult to soothe. We have noticed Mias increased fussiness over the last few days, which has been hard to deal with overnight especially when hubby needs to be up early for work the next morning. If you're in the same spot right now, I am sending mental hugs to you as you read this. It is arduous.
Over the past week, I have found myself reinventing the wheel, if you will, which seemed like such a daunting task originally. Bath time has become a bit of a mess; I’m talking newborn arm-flailing, high-pitched “you’ve left me undressed too long” type wails as I’m fumbling around the bathroom trying to shower us both. I've left the hooded towel on the bed one too many times, having to make a mad dash in the cold to retrieve it. Three meters has never felt so damn far, let me tell you. The trials and tribulations of being a first-time mum are endless. To all the busy, tired, and emotional mothers (like myself) out there who are finding themselves a little lost without their partner at home, I’ve compiled a list of coping strategies below. Take a read.
Book appointments after lunchtime. This might sound like a strange one. I was never a morning person before having a baby but found myself needing to adapt to an early morning lifestyle when I started work as a doctor just a few years back. Those surgical ward rounds weren't going to run themselves, you know? It's not so much the early wakes that are difficult with a newborn, it's the constant disruptions to your sleep overnight that make the mornings tough. So, I recommend booking all appointments after lunchtime so that you have time to organize yourself, eat and settle bub before heading out to run your errands. This has worked magic for me and you'll thank me for it.
Say yes to help. We all want to be the world's best super mum, and whether we feel like it or not, we actually are. Even superheroes need a side-kick. Saying yes to those in your life who are willing to take on baby duties can be such an emotional decision. You want to provide for your baby alone, and not require anyone's assistance to do so (at least this is how I felt at the start). But I have learned that accepting help is not a form of weakness, but instead a strength. You are only going to be a better mother and partner for your family when you take care of yourself first. If help is what you need some days, take the plunge and don't look back.
Lower your expectations. My perfectionism meter is off the charts. I cannot stand a messy house; and by messy, I mean if there is even one speck of food or grease in the kitchen then I am just not alright. You'll find me at 11 pm furiously scrubbing rather than sleeping, which turns out, isn't super sustainable for your sanity or your poor benchtop. Letting go of my expectations is the biggest change I have needed to make as a new mother, and it has been the hardest for me by far. This is still a work in progress, but if you can relax a little and adopt the mentality "the washing will be there tomorrow", then I highly suggest that you do.
Choose delivery, every time. This might be a no-brainer; but getting yourself down to the shops for a full grocery haul while wheeling a pram, is not that simple. You need to time the shop almost perfectly to avoid milk-meltdown o'clock and you need to be okay with using the basket of your pram as a trolley. You can avoid all these issues by opting for delivery if that's feasible for you and your family.
Take turns hitting REM in another room. Before having a baby, I did not realize the host of random and sometimes truly entertaining grunts and groans that a little person can produce. If your baby is a very vociferous sleeper like ours is, it can destroy all hope of a good night's sleep. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is a form of torture. We have found that taking turns catching REM sleep in another room overnight, is a literal game-changer.
Connect with your partner. Do you remember the last time you and your partner shared a moment that didn't involve a poo explosion or emergency feeding session? I didn't, until recently. I worried that we would be "bad parents" (god I dislike that statement) to Mia if we took any time to ourselves, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Taking time out to reconnect with your partner is so critical. You made this little life from the love between the two of you, right? It would be a shame to lose sight of that once the baby is here. So, we have made an intentional effort to set aside an hour each day, purely dedicated to spending time together. Whether that involves watching an episode of The Falcon and The Winter Solider on Binge, playing some video games, or just laying in bed cuddling - do what makes you feel closer. We have also scheduled a date night fortnightly and are fortunate enough to have family who is willing to babysit for a few hours. Whatever you choose to do just know that you'll be a more loving, compassionate, and gracious parent for your baby if you nurture yourself and your relationships too.
Don't be hard on yourself, there is always tomorrow. Parenthood is a crazed, exhausting, and beautiful experience that's similar to a choose your own adventure game; except the game resets itself, daily, forever. You are a strong woman who is always doing her best; never forget that. Today might suck. Take a deep breath, brew yourself a hot drink or confide in someone you love. Just know that it will get better and that tomorrow is a new day.
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