How did you survive? As a mum how often do you hear that question? If you hear it often then well done you! It means other mums are wowed by your parenting skills, no, no, not parenting your surviving skills, stamina, ability to not sleep and function, and multitask. I often ask women who supposedly had it harder than me this question. In my head these are mums with age gap smaller then 2, twins, or an older sibling/younger sibling and twins, single parents, parents who have ongoing health issues or whose children have ongoing health issues. So when someone asked me this question I was baffled. Me? Survive? Seriously? But then I thought, well, I kind of survived with a 2 year old and a newborn. My family isn’t nearby, my youngest was born with a tongue tie, multiple food allergies and a silent reflux; and my husband works 6 days week 7:30 till 5-6. Yes, of course, he does a big share of housework, because he isn’t a d.. it’s a blog isn’t it? I should be polite. He is a nice person. I have lovely friends who helped a lot when I needed it. My in laws are helpful but we need be mindful about our favours. So anyway, yes I did survive like a lot of other mums in similar situation. That’s what we mums do, we no longer have villages around us, so we just push through. Of course, how difficult one finds dealing with children depends on the type of personality mum and children have, what type of job their partner does or if he/she are present at all, age gap between siblings, whether grandparents, relatives and friends are there to help, their financial situation and many other things. But since someone asked me the “how did you survive” question I will answer it for everyone by sharing some tips that I found useful, and if you have any, please, feel free to add them in comments so other mums and dads can benefit from our experiences.
1. Create a list of people that you can ask for help in the first few weeks or months. Ben and I wrote down our weekly schedule to see when I am likely to need help. So, for example, we knew that on Thursdays our son goes to nursery for a full day so I won’t need help, on Tuesday he has a day off so I won’t need help, but on the weekends I would need help because he works. I knew which friends are available on weekends or whether his parents would take our son away for couple of hours or a full day so I can focus on one child. Don’t underestimate the amount of work a newborn baby requires, hopefully you will have a straightforward birth, easy breastfeeding or formula feeding, no health concerns etc, even then it’s a lot of work, sleep deprivation and recovery from exhausting labour. If things aren’t exactly straightforward then you will need even more help.
2. Prepare food. Honestly. If it’s your first child don’t be foolish and assume you’ll be able to get some food when baby naps or cook while they are quietly laying in a cot. I found a jump from no children to one harder than a jump from one child to two children, because of my unrealistic expectations. Askar didn’t sleep unless I held him and he fed all the time. I mean all the bloody time. Anytime I put him down to go get some food he would scream the place down so for weeks I was eating bread/biscuits or waiting till my husband comes home and feeds me. Obviously at the time I didn’t know about slings and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to put him in one without some help. I got the hang of it by 4 months so that’s 4 months of not being able to do anything because my baby lived on me. I have written a separate blog post about batch cooking, so here it’s only mentioned briefly.
- Batch cook and freeze some meals. Even if you won’t need them because you have an unusually settled baby who eats and sleeps having a freezer full of food will give you a piece of mind. Remember you need to take things easy after birth and rest. Don’t do the stupid unrealistic “get back to normal”, you had a baby your new normal is different from old normal. If it’s your 2-3-4-5 whatever child you will need to feed them too. So batch cook and freeze.
- Get a snack box. This isn’t my tip, but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the book or the author. Whether it’s your first child or a subsequent you need a snack box. Some kind of a container that your partner or you fill with snacks when you have a chance. Again, bad experience first time, so just learn from me. Ben filled up my snack box every evening for the next day or bad night with my second. He’d put reasonably healthy snacks in there, like nuts, cereal bars, dry fruit, oat cakes etc. I’d have it somewhere easily accessible so when I was feeding Alma and I got hungry I could reach it and eat. No being hungry all day second time round. If you’re planning on breastfeeding bear in mind it can take ages to begin with, so you might spend hours at a time on the sofa establishing breastfeeding. If you feeding of a bottle, I did both so know about both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, it still can take ages to feed baby of a bottle, and they are just as likely to want to be held all day. Also if your older child suddenly, and they will I promise, decide they are starving to death while you’re feeding your baby you can say “come darling, let’s see what mummy has in her snack box” and voila you’re amazing at parenting because you kept both kids happy and fed.
- Get yourself a big reusable bottle of water that can be opened one handedly. You won’t need to get up, you won’t get dihydrated and your toddler can have drink from our bottle if you are stuck under the baby.
3. Simplify everything.
- Get food shopping delivered. Yes, it might be more expensive, yes you might not be getting the best deal but it saves your sanity. First year after Alma was born we shopped online. We bought a yearly delivery pass and had all of our food delivered.
- Get other things delivered too. I know, I know, evil big corporations driving small businesses out of the market. You can shop in local places when children are older.
- Simple meals. A bag of frozen chopped up vegetables instead of fresh carrots that need peeling and cutting, oven chips instead of mashed potato (peel, boil mash, honestly we still don’t have mash at home because it’s too much work). Don’t be a kitchen Queen. Maybe later, everything can be done later when you’re not sleep deprived and exhausted.
4. Ask for help. This one is so hard, I know you’ve made a list and hopefully people came round in the first weeks to help you or more likely to see the baby, but babies don’t suddenly become easy to deal with after the first weeks, months or even years. It’s really hard to admit that you might need help, I really struggled with this to a point I’ve made myself mentally ill, so please ask for help. In most cases people around you won’t even realise that you’re having a difficult time unless you tell them and in most cases people would be willing to give a hand. Is a friend coming for a cup of tea? Ask them to get some bread on the way, or to hold your baby while you shower, or take a toddler outside for half an hour so you can focus on your other child. Ask your partner to help if he/she aren’t amazing at decoding your hints, understanding your mental and physical state by just looking at you. My husband is amazing, he is doing more housework than I do, but he doesn’t get the whole mental overload, management and planning that goes into running a house with kids. He’s getting better at helping me in a way that I find useful because I am getting better at asking him to do things that I need him doing in a way that I want them done. Hope it makes sense.
5. Hire someone. If you’re lucky enough to have this option go for it. Absolutely go for it. Whatever makes you feel like it’s taking a load off your shoulders. Cleaner? Cook? Postnatal doula? That’s what I had. I actually paid someone to come for 6 weeks twice a week for 2 hours to help me with anything that needed doing after having my second child. Is it obvious I really struggled with my first? Well I found it so hard that I paid a woman to come make me tea, cook me dinner, play with my son and keep my sanity. She was also a breastfeeding counsellor and in the end just mainly helped with that because we had a rough start with it.
6. Get a sling. Of all the variety and abundance of gadgets that baby industry tries to sell you this is the most useful, old fashioned traditional one that I believe everyone should have. It’s your child, it’s up to you and your partner how you raise them and I’m not here to tell you anything about parenting beyond some helpful tips but having your hands free to do things is amazing. You could walk the dog without faffing about with pushchairs, you can go shopping, up and down the stairs and travel the world with a sling If you believe in fourth trimester and more natural approaches to parenting than sling is also your go to gadget. It’s amazing. Check out if your city has a sling library or community where you can get advice and try slings out. They come in different forms and suit different budgets. I personally even hoovered the house with a child strapped to the back because my kids are very demanding and I don’t agree with the idea of leaving them to cry.
7. Get out. The days when I feel like I’m loosing it are the days when I’m stuck at home with them. It’s always been this way. Go to a playground, go to the corner shop to get some bread, find a local playgroup that you can go to if you haven’t started with your first one already, I find it so helpful just to offload, we all have a good moan about our kids, roll eyes and say “not again” it makes me feel like it’s not just my kids that are completely bonkers.
8. Distract your older child. When I was 38 weeks pregnant I raided some charity shops, not Ragnarok style ml it more woddle woddle style. I bought lots of little toys and quite a few puzzles. I found it useful to get one new thing every now and then for my 2 year old so he could be distracted and leave me in piece and quiet to concentrate on my newborn. Also we enjoyed making puzzles on the floor while I was feeding newborn and moving puzzles around with my free hand.
Hope this helps and the best of luck! Whatever is the age gap between your children you will make it work.