When the first child is born to a family, your world is turned upside down. Finding time to balance current relationships, household chores and personal needs with a new baby can leave mothers feeling frayed, frazzled and frustrated. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little patience, prioritizing and flexibility, new moms can navigate this time and emerge confident and content in their new role.
This was Tonjia Coverdale’s experience. “Before I had Benjamin, I was a typical type ‘A’ personality. I had a plan and carried it out flawlessly,” says the mother of her now 18-month-old. “When he was born prematurely, I had a big adjustment to make. Now I was on his schedule – his plan. I learned early on it was OK to have a tentative agenda but I had to remain flexible for him.”
“Having a new baby is a definite rebalancing act,” says Rebecca Levin, coordinator for Postpartum Support International. “Just getting used to having a newborn around is hard. Trying to figure out how to integrate him into your existing life – that’s a huge challenge.”
For Christine Bart, the biggest challenge was maintaining her current social life. “Before Kailin was born, we had a lot of childless friends and were used to going out and taking weekend trips,” says the mother of her now 16-month-old. “Afterwards things changed. Our friends would come over, but it wasn’t like it used to be,” she says.
Experts agree the dynamic of friendships often changes after the first baby is born.
“Relationships are birthed out of common interests, so it may be difficult for childless friends to understand the time and energy a newborn requires, let alone the limitations you now have,” says Gracie Mirolli, a postpartum doula.
But that doesn’t mean the friendships can’t continue. Look for commonalities you still share and plan times to get together for lunch, coffee or at the park. Take the baby with you or ask someone to baby-sit so you can go alone. Talk about what is going on in your life and stay tuned in to your friends’ interests. Even if those friendships fizzle, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of loneliness.
“We still have friends who are childless, but I have a whole new set of friends with kids that I’ve met through playgroups, at story time, even on the internet,” says Bart.
More important is to schedule time alone with your spouse. If date nights won’t work, try a creative approach. When the baby is asleep, order in Chinese and put out a tablecloth and candles, watch a movie together and give each other foot or back rubs. Make this a priority from the beginning to keep your marriage healthy and strong.
Another challenge most new mother’s face is finding time for household chores. Levin’s advice is simple.
“Set small goals,” she says. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to clean the whole house today,’ start with one or two rooms. That way it’s more manageable and you won’t get frustrated if it doesn’t all get done.”
Even then flexibility is key.
“I break up the work and do different chores throughout the week so it’s finished for the weekends,” says Bart. “One day I’ll do vacuuming and dusting. The next I’ll do bathrooms and laundry. But I’m not super rigid. Some days I don’t get it all finished, but I have a happy child.”
Coverdale makes housework a matter of multitasking. “I didn’t have a formal fitness program in the beginning so I combined it with housework,” she says. “I wore Benjamin in a sling or mei tai while I did my chores. Now that he’s older I involve him in some of the simpler tasks like unloading the dryer and helping pick up toys. We make it into a game.”
Other mothers combine fitness, friendships and infant time by participating in parent exercise programs, such as Stroller Strides and Stroller Fit, which include baby and buggy in the routine.
Incorporating activities is, in fact, the best way to find time for the things you want and need to do. Of course, it may take a bit of ingenuity.
“The biggest adjustment I had to make when Benjamin was born was changing from a working woman to a stay-at-home mom,” Coverdale recalls. “I loved being home with him, but I had a huge void and wanted some personal enrichment.”
Coverdale combined her love for technology with family and fashion, and created an online mother and baby clothing line.
“It’s my creative outlet, but it doesn’t take time away from the baby,” she says. “I work on it at night, after Ben and my husband go to bed. It’s my recharge time.”
Bart wanted personal fulfillment too, but waited until Kailin settled into a routine before starting to work on her master’s degree online.
Mirolli thinks waiting is wise. “The baby dictates so much of the mother’s time at the beginning. The best thing she can do is rest so her energy returns,” she says. “In time her baby’s routine will emerge and life will become more predictable.”
Then you can do those things you deem important, as long as you stay flexible.
“I always want to have time for my daughter,” says Bart. “Even if it means some days I put things on the back burner to read books, sing songs or just pick up and go to the playground.”