Reader question: Can I pursue my own interests after having a baby?

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.

I’m wondering:

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.

21 thoughts on “Reader question: Can I pursue my own interests after having a baby?

  1. Six to 12 months is a long time in the context of newborns! I definitely suspended any sort of self-improvement goals for several weeks when I had my son. But even 12 weeks is a long time for a baby, and by the time he was 3 months old I felt like I had more breathing room. Every baby (and every mother) is different; I’ve found this to be the foremost lesson of parenthood so far.

  2. Love this question and your response. My kids are 8.5 and 5 now, and with each one it took me until they were about 2 to come out of the fog of “baby zone.”

    I don’t think you have to stop everything and focus AT ALL, but with each baby (and full-time work outside the home) it just took me a while to recover my ambition. I did still make a point of getting out regularly on my own, both to force my partner to bond and “figure stuff out” with the baby and to help me keep my identity. Be gentle with yourself and pay attention to your priorities!

    If you are not sure you can take it all back on, or just exhausted, please know that there are lots of phases that will pass. It is so hard to remember in the moment that there WILL be time in the future when your little kid is off playing and you don’t have to supervise every minute… or that they will regularly sleep through the night!

    On sleeping – I thought “Bringing Up Bebe” was a fascinating read… how the French approach their babies (and therefore get them to sleep through the night pretty quickly) was so different! I wish I had read it when my kids were babies. 😉

  3. I would tell the reader that there is no wrong answer! For the first year after I returned to work, I didn’t have the mental or physical energy beyond making it to work, keeping our household running (with help from my husband of course) and spending time with my newborn. I did some of my hobbies as I had the inclination and energy, but I didn’t let it bother me. What I did do (and still try to do) is to make sure that I am content with how I am spending my time and being very intentional about it. It’s OK to go to bed early, or sit on the couch with a book if that’s what I intend to do. I have gotten better with streamlining and outsourcing things over time and definitely keep in mind that this phase is not forever! You will eventually sleep regularly, enjoy a cup of coffee (mostly) uninterrupted or have the time/energy/inclination to devote to your hobbies and interests. I let a couple things go the first year after my children were born, but now I’m back to many of the activities I did before I had kids. I’ve also noticed that some of the things I previously did I feel are not worth it now. I used to regularly have commitments Saturday mornings, but now my favorite part of the week is leisurely playtime and pancakes to start the weekend. There’s not much I feel is worth missing this on a regular basis!

  4. I have a 6 y/o, a 4 y/o and an 18 month old, and I returned to running after each one was born once I was cleared by the doctor. I remember before my first one was born my MIL made a comment about “when the baby comes and I can’t run anymore” but that honestly was never an option for me. It was/is just so much part of my identity there was no question that I was going to stop. And I did have to slow down in a major way while I was pregnant because I found pregnant running miserable.

    We’ve made it work because my husband takes the early morning shift while I exercise and I cover for him in the late afternoon/early evening so he can work out after work. I’ve also embrace short and hard workouts and unplanned rest days when DH is out of town.

    That said, there are other things that I’ve dropped because they just aren’t that important right now. I took some piano lessons for awhile, and I’d like to get back into that, but it’s just not a priority right now.

    Anyway, I just wanted to chime in on the side of of “yes, you can do it if you really want to”. But you don’t have to.

    Best wishes with your new baby. Such an exciting time!

  5. I’ll echo what everyone else has said and say that it’s so different from person to person. I have always been pretty career-driven and had a full social calendar and other hobbies/interests before having kids. But after having our son (who almost 15 months), I really changed the way I approached planning our calendar and the expectations I put upon myself. I work outside the home at a corporate job and am away from our son 10 hours a day. I know that is only 50 out of 168, but my time with him feels pretty limited, especially since he goes to bed at 6:30 (the kid barely sleeps at daycare so he is EXHAUSTED when we get home). So I get about 1.5-2 hours with him each day, depending on how early I can get out of work to pick him up from daycare. I’ve had to accept that this is a different stage of life, but it will be fleeting. So right now I’m kind of treading water in other areas of life because most my energy goes towards soaking up time with our son. I think this will change when we are out of the demanding infant/toddler years. Because he goes to bed so early, that gives me time with my husband or time to read, workout, do laundry, etc. So we make it work. But I’ve had to accept that now is not the time to work on a half marathon PR or learn to play the violin (something I’d love to do someday, maybe I can take violin lessons at the same time our son takes piano lessons or something like that?). Right before I had our baby, I was at a meeting of our women’s group at my company and the older moms told me to try to recognize that the early years are very labor intensive but that will change as the child goes to school and becomes more independent. So I try to remember that this is a very brief stage of my life and it’s worth it to take a step back in some areas of my life and to focus on maximizing my time with our son.

  6. I read loads when on maternity leave but I had a baby who nursed for ages and only napped on me or in the buggy which helped. But I think be easy on yourself with projects – only take on things that will make a measurable difference to your life (project manage a handyman fixing all those niggling projects, meal plan, etc) or things which you find fulfilling. Don’t slog through duolingo when you can be reading an amazing novel or going to an event you really enjoy. And sleep trumps all!

  7. I have an eight-month-old baby. I think reading and writing actually work pretty well with a baby–I read more in little spurts than I used, but it’s really not that bad and it adds up. If you keep a notebook and pen handy you can write as well, and there are lots of great apps for learning a language (and maybe if you speak out loud, your baby will pick up on the new language, too :). At a few months old you can start putting them in a jumper or table type thing, and you can also lay them on a blanket on the floor or sit them up when they’re able to let them play on their own. This might not work for all kids and sometimes it’s only for 10-20 minutes, but it’s still nice to have it. I also read during feeding times, both when I was nursing and now with formula in a bottle.

    I think “focusing solely on baby” can lead to some worries about your baby, and I personally felt much more like myself when I made time for the things I like to do.

    I’m also a big fan of going to bed early–I’m very lucky to have a good sleeper, but if I do need to get up it’s not as bad, as Laura said, and it also allows me to get up early and have some time for myself. My daughter is an early riser so I can’t usually sleep in much, and it feels like a better use of my time to get up early. Sleep is my number one priority, because for me pretty much nothing else is possible.

    I think regularly talking through schedules with your partner can help a lot, even small things to divvy up tasks–now I’ll change the baby while you make the bottle, etc. Yesterday my husband had to work from home quite a bit but he didn’t have a set time frame, and I was feeling a bit panicky and overwhelmed until I clarified that with him. We also try to discuss our expectations for the weekend, both for chores and time for ourselves, so we can plan and manage that, and I think this helps a lot, too.

  8. Love this! You know I feel similarly 🙂 Maybe we will have to share this one on the pod as well with the wise answers above this 🙂

    I will say babies did make me re=evaluate my priorities – took me off of autopilot. I don’t really run super long distances anymore, but I absolutely still could if I wanted to! I just decided that I’d rather do other things (run shorter, do other workouts, and have more time for other fun things). The relative scarcity of time post kids has actually, if anything, helped me use it better in many cases!

  9. Just to echo everyone else: do what works for you, but you absolutely do NOT have to give up all your personal interests once you become a mom, including (and perhaps especially) during the infant period. If you’re tired and just want a break, please give yourself grace, but if you want to pursue your own interests, please give also give yourself grace.

    When my first was born, I stayed home for 5 months but did not devote every minute to staring at the baby. YMMV, but I found that total focus a good route to angst and anxiety, and pretty quickly I said “nope, not playing that game.” I remember going out Christmas shopping when he was 4 days old, and leaving him with my husband. They were both fine! When he was 3 months old, I drove up the East coast (pumping along I-95!) to go to a friend’s 30th birthday party, where we danced all night to Journey in smelly bars, just as we had 10 years earlier in college. I also read a ton while nursing, painted the bathroom cabinets while he napped, and did plenty of other fun, non-baby things. I needed to do adult things to feel sane; others may need to take a pass and just rest to feel sane.

    Now, two kids and close to a decade into this motherhood journey, I can tell you that motherhood can be an excellent vehicle for making you a better steward of time. I accomplish way more now in a single day than I ever did as a Type A childless 20-something.

    So to wrap it up: please see this as an opportunity to explore and reevaluate! It’s not a trap, it’s a fantastic new adventure.

  10. This blog post and comments came at a great time. I’m around two weeks away from my due date for my first baby. The attitude towards goals and interests post-baby can be very negative at times and in some ways patronizing, as if I’m being told “oh you naive first time mother, you have no idea how hard your life is about to be.” These comments can become disheartening, especially because I am excited to return to running post-baby and continue the reading, writing, researching that are important to me. I’m really grateful to read this post and its comments. It gives me a lot of hope! Thank you!

    1. Ugh, I hate those comments! They aren’t helpful. As others have mentioned, it depends on your baby, and sometimes on your physical recovery after birth. While there are moments in the first few weeks that are hard, it’s not necessarily the apocalyptic pit of despair that some people would have you believe.

    2. @Ali- I’m so glad this post gave you hope! That’s my goal here. Yes, the “just you wait” sort of comments are ridiculous. People bring their own hang-ups to these conversations and try to project them on others. You’ll be fine.

  11. As a mother to a 15-month-old, I am living through this now! And another voice saying it really, really depends on you and your support situation and your baby. I say do what works for you, what makes you feel replenished and happy.

    I have always balanced a lot of hobbies and keeping that up when I had my baby contributed to a smooth transition to motherhood. Once I got through the first two months and we got onto somewhat of a schedule, I started working out again, took an online class and read a ton of books during nap time. A highlight from my first months back at work was taking a class in product management that met twice a week 8-10 pm. My baby was *usually* asleep by 7:30 at that point and my partner covered bedtime those nights.

    The most critical thing for me in balancing my interests and my baby is truly sharing baby care with my partner. We both have things we want to pursue and during down time, take turns being fully responsible for the baby so the other can exercise, write, study, etc. We live somewhat close to family so we also enjoy when a family member can take over so we can do things together. We both miss long lazy days together at our local coffee shop or running outside together so it’s nice when we can still make that happen.

    That said, it’s also fun to just enjoy time with your baby and new family! So don’t feel like you have to *do* anything outside of that right now!!

  12. This is such a great topic!

    I now have a 6 month old and a 2.5 year old. I finished my PhD when my first was 9 months old, and have had a full-time job since before I was pregnant with him. So I definitely didn’t push pause on any of my most important goals when I had a baby.

    That said, I HAVE pressed pause on some things that aren’t as high on my priority list. My only hobbies right now are reading and writing; my husband and I stopped homebrewing and doing elaborate cooking projects for now. I exercise regularly, but I’m not “training” for anything or following any very specific workout plans. I also chose not to take a couple of job offers that, while they would have been “career advancements,” would have required long commutes and less flexibility. I decided to pause my career advancement in favor of spending more time with my kids while they’re really little.

    I think it’s all about your personal priorities! Someone else may have chosen to get back in great shape while taking a semester off from their doctorate, for instance.

    1. Can you talk a little bit more about how you worked full time, had a baby and finished a PhD? I’m writing my dissertation, working full time and have a 6 and 3 year old. I work during the day, come home get the kids dinner and to bed, then sit down and work for 2 to 3 hours on Ph.D. stuff – but I don’t feel like I’m making the progress I need. Any tips or tricks that you used?

  13. Is it ok to pursue your own interests when you have a baby? Sure! Can you? Well that all depends on how much help you have and how impaired you are by sleep deprivation. I was able to accomplish all of my professional goals after having a baby during MD PhD. A lot went by the wayside (exercise, reading for pleasure, going out with friends, HAVING friends, travel) until she got to be 4 or so. But we don’t have family around to help (the helpful ones live on another continent, so no, we couldn’t move to them either). I hear it’s much easier to carry in with your old life when you have that option.

    1. I am so jealous of people with family nearby. We have no relatives within 1000 miles! We are actually moving in August and while it’s going to be a huge pain, it will take us closer to helpful grandparents.

  14. I absolutely maintained my separate interests after having children and so did my husband. We each get one night a week out to ourselves, and a monthly date night. I even went to dinner with my book club, baby in tow, one week after my second baby was born. Don’t give up on yourself!

  15. While I think I am a very adventurous, go-getter in general, based on the comments above, I was on the slower side of jumping back into things after the birth of both my daughters. Can hormonal changes make you more introverted? I really think that happens to me for the first few weeks at least! I did return to work at 4 and 5 months, respectively, and focused a great deal of energy on that transition and had positive experiences. Both times after getting past the first birthday, I found everything seemed way way easier, including finding time for my high priority interests beyond work and family, and I was always glad I hadn’t pressured myself too much in the earlier months. Regardless, it truly is such a short phase when things are extra hard, as other commenters have noted! Do what feels right for you – you’ve got this!

  16. I have a 6 year old and a newborn. Newborns get more and more independent every week. My 2 month old is already so much easier than she was as a 2 week old. So, this is a very fleeting time and putting a pause on other, non-baby things can be very temporary.
    One thing I was going to mention is that after I had baby #1, I felt very overwhelmed with information about things I “should” be doing – baby yoga classes, baby music classes, baby swim classes, post-natal work outs, baby massage — you name it! Keep in mind that the vast majority of these things is OPTIONAL. Parenting is a lot like housekeeping as it can take up every single minute of every single day if you let it.

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