Book Excerpt from Baby’s First Year
by Jen Singer of mommasaid.net
Just a Few More Minutes: Balancing Baby with “Me Time”
The first time I left my baby with my mother-in-law for a weekend, I cried the whole way home. He was eight-months-old, and we hadn’t been apart since I left him in the NICU when my insurance company kicked me out of the hospital two days after giving birth. My husband and I were going to tour the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, for the weekend. But on our first trip as parents, we pretty much ate and slept the entire weekend. After all, we were tired.
While we were gone, I missed my baby and I probably called my mother-in-law too often. I wanted to hear about his every move. What did he eat? Did he play with his favorite toy moon? Is he sleeping at night? Is he smiling? Does he miss me? She humored me by giving me the full run-down each and every time I checked in.
In time, though, I learned how to let go a little and give myself a break. A real break. I learned how to turn off my internal Mommy Monitor (or at least to put it on Snooze) and to give myself some time off from motherhood. And it did me – and my baby – some good.
If this is your first baby, you’re probably thinking I am a bad mommy. What kind of a mother leaves her baby and goes away? Or maybe you’re secretly jealous that I could even pull off a weekend sans baby in the first place. If it’s your second or third baby, you might be thinking, Where can I sign up?
This chapter is all about balancing your baby’s needs with your desire for a nap and, perhaps, some hands-free eating. You can do it. It just takes some planning and protecting your “me” time.
It’s all about the baby.
You will change, on average, about 2,700 diapers in your baby’s first year. You will lose up to – brace yourself – 750 hours of sleep, or about a month. You will have less sex, more worries and a whole lotta guilt. You will be all about the baby, just the way nature intended it. Or did it?
Long before airplanes, the Internet and branch offices, families lived together so that several generations could help new parents raise their babies. I remember watching an Oprah show about how moms were not intended to go it alone when it comes to raising children. The expert on the show claimed that mothers were not meant to get up with their babies all night alone, take care of them all day alone and feel solely responsible for every little thing that goes awry alone. Well, I added that last part, but really, we mothers, especially new ones, put an awful lot on our shoulders. Or maybe society does it. Or both.
Anyhow, it all means for entirely too much focus on our babies and entirely too little on us. That’s how come a good friend of mine wound up with walking pneumonia when her four kids were little, why moms put themselves dead last, and why I was cheering at the Oprah show, “Amen!”
Now, I’m not saying that you should put your baby down and go outside for a joy ride. (Can you have a joy ride in a mini-van?) Nor do I believe that your baby is better off if you spend your day watching Flipping Out re-runs and mixing pomegranate martinis. But I do think that there’s room for more of you and less of all that baby stuff in your schedule, but only if you make it happen. I also think that a little “me time” for mom is good for you and for your baby. Remember, OSHA has rules about working hours and mandatory breaks for workers so that no one gets hurt. And you need a break, too.
How to Get Your “Me Time” Now
Here’s my Five-Step Plan for finding “Me Time” when you’ve got a baby at home:
1. Trust other people.
I put this one first, because I know it’s the hardest one for most new moms. First, nature gave you hormones that make you fiercely protective of your baby. Then, the media added fear to the mix by telling of horror stories about bad things happening to kids when they’re not with their mothers. Soon, guilt seeped in, and then your husband went and did something really dumb, like putting a diaper on backwards or not heating up the bottle before feeding the baby. Your conclusion? Only you are qualified to care for your baby.
But that’s not true. All it takes is some trust and a gradual lowering of your standards, and you can safely and successfully leave your baby with other people. Really! Whether it’s a daycare teacher that you’ve vetted through interviews and background checks, or your mother, who raised you and you turned out just fine, you can leave your baby with trusted family, friends and childcare providers. And yes, Daddy. I’ll go over more in detail on your baby’s relationship with other family members in [a later] Chapter. But for now, remember these important points:
• Hubby is not an assistant mother. As long as your baby is safe, let him parent his own way.
• Some of the baby care rules have changed in the past few decades. Certain rules, such as putting Baby on her back to sleep, must be enforced, no matter who’s watching the baby. Others, though, aren’t as important.
• Some folks have more parenting experience than you do. Trust them. They might know something.
2. Give yourself permission to think about yourself.
Starting with the first Baby on Board sign, which probably went on a 1985 Volvo, our society has been particularly child-centric. Too child-centric, if you ask me. Granted, the younger your kid, the more attention he requires. But our generation of mothers has taken baby care to an unprecedented level — a level where there’s little room for mom or her needs. As a result, we’re burning out, and it’s not good for us, let alone for our kids.
If you’re among the more than 55% of moms who are home full-time with their babies, you might find yourself falling into the same trap that I did. You might think, Well, this is my job now and I’d better be the best ever at it. And so you sign up for baby classes, create “teachable moments” out of folding laundry and work really, really hard at giving your baby every opportunity possible, because you’re fortunate enough to stay home full-time, darn it. But sometimes, your baby just needs to lie on the floor and study her fingers. And sometimes, you need to do the crossword puzzle and attempt to reach the bottom of your coffee mug for once. And guess what? That’s okay. Really.
If you’re working from home or at a job away from home, you might get caught up in the idea that if you’re not working, you’d better be with your baby and vice versa. But that leaves little room for you, not to mention haircuts or showers or sleep. If you’re spending your lunch hours at Baby Gap or putting off your doctor’s visits, you’re not thinking about your well-being. Your husband likely doesn’t feel guilty for working, so why should you? Don’t take it out on yourself. Rather, think of yourself as the CEO of the house. You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of everybody else, too.
It worked for me!
“Don’t do everything for your kids. Don’t make them the sun that you orbit around, find some balance.”
– Annie, Honolulu, Hawaii
3. Give your baby some room.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to fill your baby’s day with Beethoven, flash cards and vocabulary building. You don’t have to micromanage every moment of your baby’s life. The sooner you teach your baby a little independence, the more she’ll learn how to entertain herself. And if you’ve ever spent an afternoon with 10-year-olds who don’t know how to play, you’ll understand why that’s so important.
While it might look like your baby isn’t doing much when she’s lying on her back, staring at her monkey mobile, she’s actually learning. And she doesn’t necessarily need your running commentary on “the pretty monkey, the brown monkey, the smiling monkey…” to get it, either. Sometimes, she just needs to stare at the monkey and, perhaps, attempt to suck on her toes. While this might seem to you the road toward a spot at the Village Idiot, it’s not. It’s your baby, taking in colors and shapes and mmmm, toes.
By the time your baby is old enough to lift her head, she can benefit from tummy time in the playpen, crib or on a blanket on the floor (assuming you don’t have a dog or a toddler to run her over). Meanwhile, you can catch up on reading your e-mail or watching the news. If she fusses, turn her back over and let her grab her toys, babble to herself or watch the cat clean herself. But don’t give up on giving her some room. She needs to learn a little independence and you deserve some time off.
We asked: What’s the worst part of having a baby?
“Losing who I was, body mind and spirit, and morphing into a stranger. I turned into super mom and lost all independence.”
– Paula, Worth, Illinois
4. Make time for yourself and then guard it like a pit bull.
Until my kids started preschool, my mother-in-law watched them one day a week for me. I knew that Thursdays were my days, and I made sure it stayed that way. That meant that when Omi showed up, I left. I didn’t return every hour to see how things were going. I didn’t even call (well, in time I learned not to call), unless I was running late on my way home. That was their time, and it wasn’t my place to get in their way. It was also my “me” time, and I made sure I used it wisely.
Omi-time was easy to take, but leaving my baby with Hubby and going out was harder for me. I knew he needed his time, too, and it’s difficult to mow the lawn and watch a baby at the same time. But if I made plans to go to the gym, I tried not to skip the elliptical machine in favor of a pharmacy run or a trip to BJ’s to find itty bitty socks and a jumbo box of diapers. I could get those things on the way home, and the extra 15 minutes wouldn’t kill my husband. Or I could order them online later along with the bazillion other things we needed.
It’s so easy to fill your free time with errands, and yes, I did that sometimes. I got my hair cut, went to the supermarket, picked up the dry cleaning and all sorts of other errands that seemed much easier to do without a baby (or a baby and a toddler) in tow. But you need your time, too.
If you make plans with your girlfriends, your mom, your husband or just by yourself, don’t be so quick to cancel them for every little thing that seems so much more important. So your baby was a little fussy before you put him down for his nap. He’ll probably wake up fine, and if he doesn’t, what’s the worst that can happen if you’re not the one who’s there to get him? Unless you’re nursing exclusively, there’s no reason why someone else can’t spend a few minutes un-fussifying your baby while you get a much needed break.
5. Ditch the guilt.
Okay, it’s really easy to say and so much harder to do. Motherhood is fraught with guilt, often over things for which we have no control anyhow. I remember feeling like a terrible mother because my baby had circular marks down his chest and stomach. What did I do? I put him in pajamas with nickel snaps. Turns out, he was allergic to nickel. I felt bad that I had exposed my baby to nickel, but really, how the heck was I supposed to know it was going to do that to him? In fact, the pediatrician said he hadn’t seen a nickel allergy in years. And my son’s hands have never broken out in a rash while making change, so perhaps he’s over it now.
You can’t know everything there is to know about parenting, and you shouldn’t have to. You won’t be there for every little thing your child accomplishes or fails, learns or achieves. My niece’s mother was just feet away from her when she fell off a swing and broke her arm. I’m sure she felt guilty anyway. Imagine if she was at the movies or a spa or watching TV when it happened? Oh, the guilt. And yet, it wasn’t her fault, no matter where she was standing.
The sooner you cut yourself some slack, the calmer you’ll become. Motherhood will come more easily to you if you lower your expectations a bit and recharge every now and then.
Jen Singer is the author of these wonderful parenting books: Stop Second-Guessing Yourself – Baby’s First Year, Stop Second-Guessing Yourself – The Toddler Years and Stop Second-Guessing Yourself – The Preschool Years. Go HERE to purchase Baby’s First Year or any of the books in the series. But make note that we will be giving away the trilogy! Come back on Wednesday to get the details!