When I had my first baby, everyone gave me advice. “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” “Eat when the baby sleeps.” “Do housework when the baby sleeps.” “Pick up the baby when she cries.” “Don’t pick up the baby when she cries.” “Don’t give the baby a bottle.” “Get baby used to the bottle early.” And so on. But the one thing that no one really mentioned was just how much life changes when a baby enters the picture.
After my daughter was born, all of a sudden, there was a nap routine to consider. There were diaper changes and nursing sessions to plan around. There was a bed time. There were times when I couldn’t take her out because she was more likely to spit up all over herself and me and the car seat and the next door neighbours. I had to wear “nursing friendly” clothes. But on top of all that, I didn’t have time to do anything that I wanted to do. All my personal goals and ambitions took a backseat. Everything was about this little baby girl. Everyone wanted to visit her. Everyone wanted to take her picture. Everyone wanted to know how she was doing. All of a sudden, I became a supporting character in my own life story.
Well now she’s two, and I have a second little girl who’s six months old, and they fill more hands than I have, but I’m slowly starting to figure out how this is done.
Get your priorities straight
The first thing I recommend to anyone, parent or not, is to make sure you clearly define your priorities. My personal priority list looks like this:
- Time-sensitive religious obligations, like daily prayers
- Raising my children to the best of my ability (which includes taking care of my health, because all kids need a parent that can keep up)
- Other obligations and my personal goals
- The never-ending housework
- Everything else, including hobbies and entertainment
You might notice that the kids come higher on the priority list than my goals. I can’t possibly get anything done, when kids always come first and they are so incredibly time-consuming, right? Well, kids come first, but they can also wait.
For example, one of my personal goals is to memorize my religious book, the Qur’an. I have a new passage to memorize four days a week with classes over the phone, and I do revision daily. I can usually squeeze these in when my husband’s home to watch the kids, when they’re playing, or when they’re sleeping. I often do memorization while nursing. You have to bend like a contortionist to be a goal-driven mom. At the same time, if either of my kids has an urgent need for me (one that I and I alone can help them with), then I will go to her even if I have to skip my memorization class for the day.
I do everything I can to stay on track with all my goals, by creating schedules and planning ahead, but sometimes it’s just a bad day. The baby decides to throw the schedule out the window (or into the toilet), or something unexpected happens. With two kids two and under, you just start to expect that something unexpected is always going to happen. It’s inevitable. Sometimes I’ve been thrown off schedule every day for a whole week, despite all my efforts, and it’s so demotivating, but I won’t give up. Just because you have a bad day, or a bad week, or even a bad month, you can’t give up on your goals and dreams that make you who you are. You just get right back into it when the phase is over, as if nothing ever happened. And if you dwell on the bad times, you will surely lose confidence and stop working on your goals, so focus on the goal itself and take it one day at a time.
Take responsibility for yourself
The kids definitely throw off plans, but I don’t want them to be the reason that I didn’t do something. I don’t want to leave this world to tell God that I didn’t complete my memorization of His book because of my little girl. I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking she “held me back.” I’ve come across a mom who said to her children, “I couldn’t work when you were born, and now no one will hire me because of you.” I will not allow my kids to have that kind of blame placed on them, whether intentionally or not. Personally I think that’s just a shallow excuse. My kids don’t have the power to stop me from doing anything. My kids are along on my journey, just as I am along on theirs. That’s what family is.
You are not a slave to your children
As new moms, we have a tendency to place our babies on a pedestal, and we think that life now revolves around this child. She dictates where I can go, when I can eat and sleep, what I can and can’t do. We forget that they are the children and we are the adults. We are a partnership: they lead us in what they need and we lead them in what we need. They tell us when they need to be fed, and how much they need to eat. We tell them what food we are going to serve. They can lead in their play and learning at home. We tell them where the boundaries are. We tell them when mom needs to do a class, when dad needs to go to work; when it’s mommy and baby time vs. mommy and daddy time, etc. Don’t forget your role as a parent. The kids can be your priority without you giving up everything for them.
Parent for the future, not just for the moment
Finally, remember that having your own goals and ambitions is good for them, even if at the moment they don’t realize it. Babies are adaptable. They will not be harmed by you working on your own things for ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there. They’ll even learn the valuable skill of independent play at the same time. They may complain a bit now, but as they grow up, they will only remember that mom worked hard on her own dreams. They will learn that a mom isn’t just a woman who gives birth and takes care of kids, but is a whole personality with her own life apart from motherhood. They will learn that a woman’s purpose in life isn’t only to raise children while “sacrificing” everything else that’s important to her. We are all constantly working toward improving ourselves and improving the world we live in.
What helps you to find time for yourself? How do you stay motivated when the kids are driving you insane? I’d love to read your tips; share them in the comments!