By the time my babies were each four months old I felt myself slipping into despair, I was deeply fatigued and knew that I was slowly slipping into an all-round funk. Being a parent is such a physical experience, whether you’re breastfeeding on-demand and giving all your very best nutrients to your ever-growing small human, or sterilising bottles and mixing formula in the wee hours of the morning and all day long. I was simply exhausted.
If you (or someone you know) are a sleep-deprived parent it is likely that your new baby is keeping you up at night. No surprises there, that’s what babies do. There’s a reason why sleep is such a hot topic among mother’s groups, and between parents and carers, forever and always, here and everywhere. It is perennial.
Whether you co-sleep, bed-share, have a nursery or not, a cot or a Moses basket, how much rest you get has a massive effect on your experience as a parent. And sometimes it can feel like your beautiful baby never really sleeps.
Sleep when the baby sleeps, they say. Nap whenever you can, they say. I mean, who does that in real life? Reality is, it always feels like there is something better to do, right?
And yet we know that it is crucial to take rest whenever and wherever we can, for our own wellbeing and that of everyone else around us. The whole ecosystem of your family in fact depends on you being all right. Truth is, though, it is not always possible to put yourself first, particularly if you have other young children, work commitments or other people relying on you.
So what’s the solution? Short answer, there are many. You have to work out what’s right for you and yours. So I’m going to give you a head start by offering a few options.
Here are three sure-fire ways that you can feel better and maximise the time you do have available and then maybe even squeeze in a bit of precious, rejuvenating downtime.
Streamline Your Life… PRIORITISE
Modern western society puts a lot of pressure on parents and carers to be perfect. It often feels like failure if your home is not magazine-ready, your children not picture perfect, your hair and make-up not done. Here in the real world, however, some of us are prioritising our happiness and wellbeing above social pressures.
By letting go of the small stuff, and prioritising myself above the cleaning, the washing, or prep-heavy meals, I am making choices that help my life run smoothly. Easy is good; especially in the early days of parenthood. A ready meal here, a skipped hair-wash there… no-one’s the wiser, but you’ll have more time for sitting down and putting your feet up. This makes you happy. And that makes everyone around you happy, including your baby.
I’m not suggesting you let everything go to pot. Not by any means. I’m suggesting you do whatever it takes to make things easier for yourself and gives you more time to chill.
A wonderful rule to have is “…first we eat, and then everything else”. Having good food on hand so you can eat a healthy and simple meal makes everything better.
So one of my favourite tricks is to use a basic meal plan. I use this system to make sure I have easy and nutritious, substantial meals on tap. Even better, I plan for food I can easily prepare with one hand, while the baby is in the other. I use a shopping list generated from the meal plan to order online (try a free App called Spoonacular). The shopping is delivered direct to my kitchen, often at no extra cost. My husband can cook using the recipes in the meal planner App too.
This all saves me the time and frustration of wrestling toddlers out of the sweet-stuff aisle at the supermarket. I don’t have to park the car. I don’t have to carry shopping bags whilst trying to hold hands with young kids and push a stroller at the same time through a busy car park. It takes me less than an hour a week, and then sometimes just five or ten minutes to make a tasty, wholesome meal. It’s easy. This give me more time to NOT clean my house, and put my feet up whilst my older kids are in childcare or at school.
A Little Bit Of Prep Goes A Long Way… ORGANISE
Spend a small amount of time on strategic tasks to make all the rest work more smoothly. Put the scooter by the door the night before the school run. Put the uniforms out at night ready to be thrown on in the morning. Have some lunch food chopped and in containers for the whole week rather than doing it every day. These are what I like to call “mum-moves”. These are the things that save a huge amount of faffing about and avoid so many snag-points that can arise and pressurise your day. A little bit of strategy goes a long way and saves you stress and time.
Value Yourself And Your Time… REWARD YOURSELF
No matter what small win you have in your home, on your way to dropping the kids or during the kids’ bath time, celebrate it! Reward yourself in whatever way is meaningful for you. Me, I am not a great house-cleaner, I put it off and get annoyed with how long it takes to get to it. So recently I thought about getting a cleaner. But then I realised that the cleaner would cost so much, and that actually I could use the money to reward myself for my efforts as a parent and in the home. So now, I pay myself. I spend three hours a week cleaning the house and put the money away that I would otherwise pay a cleaner. Once a month, I get a massage.
Just a tiny bit of extra self-nurture helps me feel so much better. And you know how it goes, a happy “me” is a happy “we”.