Before I became a mother, I thought I knew how to multitask. I had managed a university student life department, worked jobs where I was on call 24 hours a day, managed a retail bookstore, and received excellent reviews in all workplaces because of this ability. When we became pregnant, I approached motherhood with the same enthusiasm and energy as I devoted to the workplace. I had researched all of the various sleep philosophies, read multiple volumes on breastfeeding and infant care, watched videos on how to calm a crying infant, and my husband and I went so far as to develop a “kid contract,” to help us define our expectations and wishes for when our child arrived. In our contract, we described the efforts we would make to give each other time alone, to make time for couplehood, and to create family traditions. We thought we had it all covered.
Then, one November night, 10 days past my due date, our daughter V, came into our lives. And everything changed. In addition to new parenthood, we also were smack dab in the middle of the holidays and a major cross country move. Our daughter would not sleep more than 10 minutes anywhere except on or adjacent to my body. She would not take a bottle, and spit up newborn formula. And I was weak from a rough labor experience. Back then, on a good day, I took a shower while V screamed the entire time, and my husband, helpless without the “nursing equipment” I possessed, waited through tortured howls for me to haul my tired self out of the bathroom. With V frequently crying for nursing, as I follow the feed on demand philosophy, I was often unable to tackle other household responsibilities as I wore a butt indentation on our couch, and went through our DVD collection while nursing my daughter.
Needless to say, I needed systems and strategies to get stuff done! As reading is my primary learning style, I wished I could just open a book and absorb all the tips that moms have used over the years to cope with the needs of a new baby and other responsibilities. Like most new moms, I learned through trial (and sometimes error) and occasionally when I got a good tip from a girlfriend. So, moms (and dads!), here are some of the crazy ways I have found to function through the first 19 months (that’s all I’ve got people!).
*Wear a baby sling to do everything. That’s right, I mixed and chopped food (keep it safe away from stove tops, folks), washed dishes, vacuumed, scrubbed the floor, wiped down mirrors and sinks, folded laundry, and yes, even went to the bathroom wearing the baby sling. (Hey, you gotta do, what you gotta do!) If you have a fussy little one that wants to be near, you can soothe them, sometimes to sleep, and still go about your business.
*I use nursing time to catch up on movies, books, pay bills, nap, write, catch up with friends, etc. Not all the time, and this won’t work for all babies, but as mine needed to eat and sleep on me, I was able to take a little time for myself while I had her snuggled on my lap. Not ideal, but it works!
*Once my daughter was old enough to sit up safely and unassisted in the bathtub, I would clean the bathroom while she played within arms range in the bath. Never leave your child in water more than an arm’s length away, but if you have a small bathroom, you can get your kid and your counters sparkling at the same time!
*Teach your kid to clean. Yes, I am serious. My daughter, V, loves to help wipe counters, spills, glass doors, floors, load clothes into the dryer, and pick up toys, and has “helped” since before age one. She watched me; I made it fun, and taught her too! This way, you can spend time together while doing household chores and you might even get a little help along the way.
*Walk your baby to sleep; a stroller ride, a little nap time and a little exercise leave everyone feeling refreshed. If he/she falls asleep in the stroller, you can make a few phone calls while walking and even wheel it in your house so they can finish their nap while you clean, sleep, or hobby.
*When you put away clothes, assemble outfits in a drawer ahead of time, so you don’t have to find matching items when in a hurry; just grab an outfit for your kiddo and go!
*Leave an extra set of clothes, diapers, and wipes in the car for your baby in case of emergency (we didn’t do this, as I am a pack-o-holic, but I heard it from a friend and thought it was a GREAT idea). Also, have plastic grocery bags (or a washable cloth diaper bag with a vinyl liner) on hand ALWAYS for soiled diapers or clothes.
*Bring a book or small notebook in the car for reading and writing (or bring your bills or meal planning materials) in case your child falls asleep while you are on the go (once they get past the car carrier stage where you can carry them inside). While I would never leave my child in the car unattended, I have sat, engine off, in the driveway, with windows all the way down, in cool weather, to avoid waking my baby up from a nap. Within safety parameters, it gave me some time to catch up on my reading/writing and also give my fussy sleeper her full nap. Cause, she gets CRANKY if she wakes up without her full nap, and DOES NOT go back to sleep once woken up from a car nap.
*Keep a toothbrush or hairbrush for your child in every bathroom so you do not have to waste time going back and forth if you need one. Keep extra hair ties/clips in your diaper bag.
*Take a bag of toys/books EVERYWHERE. You never know when you will need them, and an entertained infant/toddler is a happier one. We often have my 19 month old pack her own toy bag with the books/toys she wants to bring in the car.
*Plan frequent “time-in” periods with your child. I have found that when I give my daughter my full attention doing an activity of her choice or one that she enjoys (art, cooking, time outside), she is better able to entertain herself through play while I accomplish the next household task.
I could go on, but I am minimizing multitasking tonight, only eating dinner and writing during an agreed upon break (something else from our kid contract that I recommend!) before rejoining my family for a relaxing evening together. I’ll leave you with one last reminiscence: I remember one time when my daughter was probably about 9 months old, making baby food in bulk from scratch, cleaning the kitchen, while simultaneously singing and dancing and feeding V to keep her from squalling. Although I’m glad there was no one else present to witness my antics, it was a proud moment for me; it was a moment where I realized I was finding my own way to cope. And the giggles coming from my daughter made me feel like a success during a time when I felt like I was constantly flailing. I hope some of these tips are helpful to any of the new moms who are reading this post, and I welcome any ideas you have to contribute as we can all benefit!