Laura’s note: I love receiving questions from readers! If you have a question you’d like answered on the blog, feel free to send it to me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com. If you’d like it read on the BOBW (or BB!) podcast instead, please let me know that as well. Today’s question comes from a new mom in Australia.
Hi Laura: I’m writing from Brisbane, Australia. Last year I read your books, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast and 168 Hours, and loved them both — I found them at once inspiring and pragmatic.
I’m wondering if it’s possible to get some of your advice as a time management expert?
I have just had my first (and, most likely, only) baby and am still settling in to a routine as a new Mum. While there are always numerous challenges that come with having a newborn, I’m also wanting to accomplish some of my other goals, such as writing, reading, general self-improvement, learning a new language, etc. at the same time — only trouble is I’m finding it difficult to balance my role as a mother with these other interests.
1. What your routine was like when you had your first baby?
2. How did you deal with sleep deprivation? Did you get extra help?
3. How can I achieve my goals without feeling as though I’m compromising this special time with my newborn?
4. Should I pause my other goals for 6-12 months and focus solely on baby?
5. At what stage did you return (as much as possible) to your previous schedule, before baby?
— Reader in Brisbane
Dear Brisbane Reader: Congratulations on your new arrival! Since my eldest just turned 12, I’ve been reminiscing a lot lately about those early days. We just looked at some old photos (spoiler alert: I looked younger. My husband had more hair.). However, I was not officially a “time management expert” at that time. So I wasn’t tracking my time or really thinking much about the official schedule beyond what a reasonably organized civilian would do.
I would also say that while I like routines, I don’t like the idea of being wedded to them. My first baby wasn’t all that big on them either. I’ve written in the past of my shocked discovery that other babies went to bed at times like 6:30 p.m. This has never happened in my household. While my kid didn’t exactly sleep much, though, he ate well and neither he nor I had any health issues — which can definitely be a barrier for some people returning to “normal” life. What worked for me wouldn’t work for everyone.
In any case, while having a baby changes a lot, I remember that I certainly didn’t feel, upon giving birth, that “everything” had changed, as some dramatic literature would put it. Indeed, I felt like I was the same person, living a life I had built and really liked. I also had a really cool kid along for the ride.
So I continued with my various activities. I went to a choir rehearsal the next week and sang in a concert two weeks later. (My husband brought our baby to see me! The baby won a prize in the raffle we held too: a massage. He gave it to me — who knows if willingly.) I resumed running about two weeks after birth. I remember a night going to various bars/parties with a friend of mine in early fall, and some other young lady who was with us heard my friend mention my baby and she was shocked. “WHAT? YOU HAVE A SIX MONTH OLD?” Yes, life doesn’t end at parenthood. Mothers of babies are allowed to wear cute clothes and go out from time to time. I really wish people could see that.
How my various activities happened: trading off with my husband, and hiring sitters. We had a part-time sitter for that summer and then when my eldest started daycare, we had a rotation of a few folks for rehearsals, date nights, etc. It wasn’t long after our son joined us that I first ran the numbers and realized that there were 168 hours in a week. Even if I worked a reasonable number of hours and enjoyed my hobbies I was still seeing my kid A TON. So there wasn’t much of a sense of compromising that newborn time. I’d stare lovingly at my dozing baby, but after a few minutes of this, it was fine to read a book. (Seriously, newborn time is cool, but kids are cool at all stages. I took my 12-year-old on a short trail hike yesterday and he was definitely a better companion now than he was at 12 weeks!)
To answer the reader’s question: If you want to pause everything in your life for 6-12 months, feel free to do so. Especially if this is your only baby, it really isn’t that big a chunk of time. In the grand scheme of things you won’t notice the pause (I have definitely had 6 month slumps in my reading life, for instance!)
But you also don’t have to pause everything if you don’t want to. I’m not sure exactly how new our reader’s newborn is, but I was sensing at least a few months old from the note. At the beginning, sleep and feeding schedules are somewhat continuous, but at some point, a night and day begin to emerge. At that point, if your baby does go to bed at very early times, this solves the problem of when you write, read, do general self-improvement, learn a language, etc. You just do this from 7 p.m. on. Maybe 7-8:30 p.m. each night is project time, and then after that you can crash and hence conquer the sleep problem by going to bed very very early yourself. (I always found that the early hours of sleep were the most restful. Once I could sleep 4 hours at a stretch, it was doable if the others were interrupted).
If your baby does not sleep early, you can enlist help: partner, family, sitters, etc. Having at least a few hours a week for your own stuff can make life feel full and wonderful. In the span of 168 hours a week, why should a few hours be a cause for angst? You have a beautiful baby and your own great life too. That’s the best of both worlds!
Readers: Did you take a pause or continue with your hobbies when you were a new parent?
Photo: So, so cute! Very handsome now, 12 years later, too.