Confessions of a Routine-Driven Mom

I have to confess: I let my son’s routine run my life. And do you know why? Because it’s just easier, that’s why. It’s easier because he is easier to manage, making being a parent less tiring. I admit that I am that mom, the mom that lives according to a schedule, the same mundane schedule every day, not the mom that lives from one adventure to the next, child in tow.

Routine makes Bean happy, it keeps him centred, his world balanced and as it should be – or should I rather say as he got used to it being. The minute something in that routine changes or a person with an integral role in his life leaves for a couple of days (for example a parental business trip), I immediately notice little changes in his behaviour, showing me that something simply is not right with my sensitive little guy: he sleeps less, needs to be rocked more and a little longer, he is quieter, he cries easier and more, and he is a lot more demanding.

And let’s be honest, managing a distraught little toddler who does not understand why things change or why people need to leave every now and again, is exhausting! It’s exhausting because it’s sad to see him upset (even if it’s just a little) and it’s infuriating because I cannot really do anything about it. No parent wants an unhappy child, it’s simply not in our nature as caregivers. And so, I stick to his routine, religiously, because when he is happy, I am happy.

I clearly remember a conversation I had with my mom and sister shortly after we found out I was pregnant. Being a naïve non-parent, I was adamant that I would not let this new baby rule my life – if I wanted to go for dinner, for example, he would simply have to come along. Now, all I do is laugh when I think of this. I could not have known how tired I would be all the time: so tired that dinner and socialising (and the mere thought of having to hold a decent conversation after putting all my energy into developing a tiny human all day) would simply seem like too much effort. I could not have known that taking care of a family means giving so much of myself on a daily basis that at night all I can do is just be. I could not have known that keeping my child happy, content and asleep (when he is finally sleeping) would become my number one priority.

Of course, we make the time to explore new places, to socialise with friends and family, but we do this within our routine. And if we cannot fit it into our routine, then we do not do it. And it really is as simple as that.

One day, when Bean is older, when he has a better understanding of what is happening around him, we will be spontaneous and sociable again. But for now, we will stick to a schedule, his schedule, because it simply is easier and it simply is less exhausting.

A Newborn Marriage Challenge

We attended a wedding last weekend and as I was listening to the pastor deliver his sermon, I was transported back to my own wedding day and the feelings of joy and elation I experienced in anticipation of something great. I remembered our priest saying that we had committed to being together, to finding strength in each other through times of abundance and happiness (and lots of wine), as well as through times of drought (and only water). As I took hold of my husband’s hand while we witnessed our friends committing to a life of happily-ever-after, I realised that our own fairy tale had recently started to fade, our marriage being characterised more by drought, than by abundance.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not broken, a piece of shattered glass which cannot be repaired. We love each other, our family and our life. But, having a child has put a strain on our bond, which, if not nurtured, will shatter. Having a child has meant that there is an extra person, a little blessing who needs constant love and attention, in our life and in our marriage. It has meant that we are always tired and it has meant that we have placed Bean first, letting our marriage fall into the background. Nobody functions well when they are tired and an exhausted person can easily become unreasonable, snappy and bitter. Combine this with a lack of fun, romantic activities and added financial pressures and it is all too easy to fall into a cycle of blame and fighting.

Because of this, I have put together a challenge, a few daily actions focused on strengthening our relationship, and as I am sure that most couples (whether married or not) experience this, that A and I are not the exception to the rule, I have decided to share this challenge. So here goes:

  1. Remember that your relationship comes first

Being a mom, it is so easy to place the needs of our children first. That is what being a mom is after all – it means that our children’s needs, their growth and their emotional development are of paramount importance. I am guilty of this a hundred times over. I have however realised, that there would be no child, there would be no family, if it were not for us, for our relationship, for our marriage. I would not be able to give my child the stable family home environment I believe is so important in his upbringing, if A and I are not in a stable, happy and strong relationship.

Do something for your partner every day: whether it is making a sandwich for work, or it is taking 5 minutes out of your day to hear how her day went, do something which is only for him/her.

  1. Tell your partner you love them

This should be done every day, at least once. And not in parting, out of habit, as you say good bye. Look your partner in the eye and say it. Mean it.

  1. Choose your partner

Being in a relationship with someone is a choice, a choice we make every day. Whether it’s an easy subconscious choice (as you wake up in your partner’s arms with a smile) or a more difficult conscious choice (after a fight), it is a choice. Be sure to always choose your partner, your relationship and your family.

  1. Give your partner a compliment

It is so easy to criticise and to harp on the negative as the pressures of daily life get too much. But instead of focusing on the negative: the fact that your partner is not helping with the dishes (again) or that he or she is late from work (again) leaving you with all the house hold chores and kids to take care of, for example, focus on the good. Tell him how much you appreciate him working late to provide for your family. Tell her how beautiful she looks today.

  1. Be grateful

Take a moment every day to say thanks. There is always something to be thankful for.

  1. Take care of yourself

My mom always reminds me of the oxygen masks and their rule of use in an aeroplane: the air hostesses always say that in an emergency, first place the oxygen mask over your own face before helping others to fit theirs. The reason: you will not be able to help them if you pass out due to a lack of oxygen. Similarly, you cannot take care of your family, if you are not taken care of. Every single person has needs and desires, dreams and aspirations and they are all equally important. Do not lose sight of yours simply because you have a family to take care of. Find a balance and be sure that you are happy – a happy parent leads to a happy family.

Do something every day that makes you happy (even if it is just a hot cup of coffee).

 

 

Magic and Cynicism

‘Where is my Bean?’ I call into our living room, as I see the swaying movement of the curtains behind our sofa stop. The scurrying noises I heard just a second ago stop as well and I hear a stifled giggle as I make my way to the area where he is hiding and call out his name again. I peak behind the sofa and see my 13 month old on all fours ready to dart away should I come too close, with his head bopping up and down as he is trying to contain his loud laughter. I burst out laughing in child-like delight and pick him up in one swoop. ‘I’ve got you!’ I declare loudly as his laughter resonates through our house. He wriggles in my arm trying to free himself so that we can start the game again and as I place him on the ground, I realise how wonderfully adventurous it must be to him.

He is able to communicate, not with words, but with sounds and actions. He is walking and crawling with the purpose of exploration. He has his own sense of humour, allowing him to laugh out loud in arbitrary moments, sometimes making me wonder what it is he is laughing about. He stares at cars as they drive by, making a ‘brrrrrmmmmmmm’ noise and he waves at lights as they go on and off. When he sees an empty bowl, he lifts his hands as if to say, ‘where have the contents gone?’ and he squeals with delight, waving his arms excitedly, every time he eats somethings he likes.

Everything he does, he does with a vibrant energy, a sense of adventure, of learning something new; and I often wonder staring at the openly curious look in his eyes when he sees, feels or smells something new: at what point when we grow up do we lose this sense of magic and replace it with the cynicism and bitterness so prevalent in adults? When do we stop being delighted by the simple things in life in an attempt to be more, have more? When is it that we become so entrenched in the drama and politics of everyday adult life? When does our ego become so important that we forget to appreciate the beautiful –  the vibrant colours of a sunset, the soothing sound of a breeze blowing through trees, the gurgling sounds of a river, a child’s laughter?

We are going to the Vaal river for a weekend getaway soon and as I was telling one of my friends about the trip, I jokingly mentioned that before I had Bean, I used to travel the world (for work) and now I get excited about a weekend to the Vaal. To be honest, sometimes, when Bean is being difficult and the day to day routine of being a mom gets a bit much, this little sentence makes me a bit depressed – I really miss getting on a plane wondering what adventures the next couple of weeks will have in store. But then I remember the drama and the politics this life brought with it: my own ego often getting in the way of happiness, being so easily swept up in unnecessary drama. So, despite no longer travelling the world, I really am excited about our little trip! It is a place I have never been to and although it is close to Johannesburg and by no stretch of the imagination an exotic break away, it is something new: a new experience and a new adventure which I can share with my little family.

It is the simple things that really matter: to be surrounded by the people you love, to enjoy a good glass of wine and a delicious meal, to partake in a lively conversation with strangers, learning something new. We need to see the world through the eyes of our children to know that every day is magical, every day is an adventure.

When you see your children changing into cynical, bitter and ego-driven adults, remind them of their inner child-like wonder, joy and magic. Remind yourself and your children how easily they got back up after they had fallen, how quickly they forgave you when you were having a bad day, how pure and unconditional their love was.

Children are simply and wonderfully magical, and we as adults have the inherent ability to be like this too – we were once simple and magical, after all.

Going Back to Work – Hacks to Help you Survive

It’s the one day that every new mom dreads: the day you have to rely on someone else to take care of your little baby; the day you have to go back to work. I remember crying for days, no, weeks, before going back to work. Not only was I anxious about not being there for my little Bean 24/7, I was worried that I would never be able to do it all in one day. How was I going to manage our household, be a mom, a wife and go to work? At that stage I was at home all day and I was barely able to put dinner on the table, let alone get dressed (nicely, not simply leggings and a t-shirt), work (well) and still take care of the Bean and my husband.

Luckily I did survive and although I struggled in the beginning, I did learn to manage it all. Here is my list of survival hacks:

Plan and plan and then…plan some more

Being a working mom is hard and there are a lot of things one needs to juggle. In my experience, the only way to manage all these things is to be organised:

Set up a detailed meal plan and a detailed routine for the baby as well as for the rest of the family.  Plan your shopping trips in advance and always go with a list (there is nothing worse than forgetting something and having to go back). Whether you have a cleaning lady or not, set up a cleaning schedule as well as a schedule for family chores.

Whatever needs to be done: it needs to be planned and put in a schedule. Write the schedules down and make sure that everyone involved is following them.

Online shopping

Online shopping is officially my new best friend. After I set up my meal plan, I make a shopping list and I order what I need online. When doing this, I take into consideration the time it takes to deliver so I never order at the last minute (again, it’s all planned). I also buy all our clothes online.

A big positive for this type of shopping is that I am not rushed (so I do not forget things) and I do not buy unnecessary things while browsing (saving money).  Best of all is that I can do this in the comfort of my own home, in front of the TV, with a glass of wine in hand.

 Do a little every day

One of my Gran’s favourite sayings is: ’Was du heute kannst besorgen, das schiebe nicht auf morgen’ which translated means: ‘never push onto tomorrow what can be done today’. It does not help to procrastinate as tomorrow will have a whole new set of priorities which will need to be attended to.

So, I do small things every day: for example, I do a small load of washing every day while washing up bottles (to prevent it from turning into a huge pile which will take days to wash, dry and iron), I wipe the counters every time after cooking or preparing something in the kitchen and I pack toys away as they have been played with. These small actions take hardly any time at all and just keep everything neat and tidy and organised.

Cook smart

I prefer to make home cooked meals for my son and while I was on maternity leave I had enough time to cook separate food for him. Now however, time for cooking is limited and so I plan our meals in such a way that whatever I cook for my husband and I, can be given to Bean as well. It means that often our food can be slightly bland but a little bit of salt and pepper can fix a lot.

There are of course meals for Bean which we do not necessarily want to eat ourselves and meals for us which he cannot eat –  so for these meals, I cook in bulk and freeze. For the bulk cooks I also buy all the vegetables pre-cut to save time.

Have a support structure

I have a domestic helper and nanny to look after Bean and to help around the house while I am at work. She is a huge help and luckily Bean loves her.

We also stay very close to my husband’s family so if the nanny is sick, or my husband and I are both stuck at work, there are enough people in close proximity who can help.

Establish boundaries at work

Before I was a mom, I was always working until late at night or on the weekends. After Bean was born however, I soon realised that I simply could not work longer hours than necessary as I now have a family to take care of at home. I of course still work to the best of my ability while at work, but when it is time to go home, it is time to go home. My family is simply more important and I have accepted that I cannot put all my energy into building a career and into being a mom at the same time.

Be flexible with your working hours

Having flexible working hours is of course not always possible but having a baby brings with it certain time related problems at work (for example the baby is sick and needs to go to a doctor in working hours). In times like these it is important as an employee (and an employer) to be flexible. In the example at hand, you could take your child to the doctor and work from home for the rest of the day, or you could work in a couple of extra hours at night after the baby is asleep.  Either way, be flexible with your time, making sure that your work is done.

 Stay Strong

As clichéd as this may sound, going back to work and by default leaving your baby in the care of someone else is hard, no matter what the circumstances. It is hard trusting somebody else with a life you hold so dear, it is hard realising that you will not always be able to be there when the baby needs you and it is really hard to know that you will possibly miss out on a number of firsts. In order to prevent this situation from becoming more difficult (for yourself and your baby) than it already is, it is important to stay strong, push through and adapt – it will get easier.

 

Trapped

‘I feel trapped’, my husband said as we were washing up little Bean’s bottles. As any mom and wife will know, these are not words one wants to hear.  He, luckily, did not mean that he felt trapped in our marriage, but rather that he felt trapped in our routine-driven lives. Instead of spontaneously going for a night on the town or a movie, we had to carefully plan every activity we wanted to participate in. Could we take Bean with? If not, who would watch him? If yes, what did we need to pack to be able to go? Our lives had become one continuous routine of washing and sterilising bottles, nap time, play time and cooking food for our little guy, with the odd well-planned and well-packed excursion in between.

This made me think: why did I not feel this way? I experience feelings of anxiousness and stress – yes, often; but never trapped. I fully understood where he was coming from of course: our previously busy, adventure-laden and spontaneous lives had become boring and we had become that settled, married couple we had been so scared of becoming. Yet, I was quite happy with our new ‘dreary’ life.

Upon closer inspection our lives are filled with little bits of wonder, excitement and adventure every day. Bean is growing at such a fast pace and developing so quickly, that every day brings with it something new. On the night in question for example, I was busy feeding Bean his bed time bottle when he had a dirty nappy. Being my compulsive self, petrified of a nappy rash, I immediately placed Bean on his change mat and removed the dirty nappy. Excited by the freedom I had now bestowed upon my son, he decided to unleash the fury and so, in the midst of it all, he pooped in my hand. Hearing my panicked cries from the bedroom, my husband ran up the stairs, saw what was going on and promptly burst out laughing. This was a definite first and a funny, ‘adventurous’, one at that.

On the same day, Bean started throwing his arms around my neck, squeezing tightly, smiling his widest smile, all the while cooing excitedly, every time I picked him up. This filled me with so much gratitude and so much wonder, that it felt as if my heart was going to explode: it could not possibly contain the amount of love I felt at that moment.

A week later Bean started rolling – something I had been trying to teach him for (which felt like) forever. This was another exciting moment which caused me to jump up and down in our lounge, doing my little happy dance, feeling incredibly proud. And all this while Bean smiled at me impassively as if to say, ‘what is the big deal, lady?’

Now, coming back to the question of why I did not feel trapped by our routine– how could I with a living miracle in my heart, in my life, in my home?

It is easy to feel trapped while looking at an empty freezer knowing that you will have to spend the next 48 hours cooking for your child, or when you look at the dirty bottles piling up and you have just received a message from one of your ‘non-parent’ friends asking if you feel like going for a quick drink. I have felt this feeling creep up, threatening to spread a little bit of darkness over my heart – but in these moments all I need to do is look at my beautiful son, his eyes filled with wonder and excitement every time he sees or hears something new (even if it’s just water running out of the tap) and I know, with a knowledge deeply instilled in my soul, that he is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I would choose my dreary, routine driven and settled family life over and over and over again (and I know that my husband would do the same).

Picture Credit: http://www.canva.com