My husband’s vacation time was up and he returned to work when our daughter was three weeks old. I could see no feasible way to do anything besides take care of her and maybe microwave some leftovers for lunch. Maybe. Shower? Errands? Chores? Self-care? Ha! (and not the funny kind of “haha” ). All naps had to be either on me or laying next to me for her to sleep more than thirty minutes. I breastfeed and bottles were touchy up to about three months when she stopped taking one for good. When her dad got home I’d have just enough time to shower and possibly get one task done before she needed me again. There was no rest and no end in sight. As all moms know, it was hard. It still is, but it did get better.
This is where I’m supposed to tell you I sucked up my pride and asked for help. As if help is just something there to be tapped into for everyone. It’s just not. My family is a nine hour drive away. My husband’s family is split between the two coasts. We have a plethora of supportive friends in the Twin Cities, but we run with an active bunch. They seem to all fit into one of the following categories:
- Running a business with a new baby of their own.
- Care-taking for a loved one while working a few other jobs.
- Working one or two jobs while in grad school.
- Working full-time while parenting one/two/three/four/nine active and engaged kids.
- Some combination of work, life, caregiving, and distance.
I don’t blame a single one of them in the least for not being able to neglect other obligations or their own health to come hangout with their new mom friend in the middle of the day. It just means that if you want to see me roll my eyes so hard it hurts, tell me to just drop the baby off at Grandma’s or have a friend come over for a few hours.
Now you’re probably thinking, why not hire someone to help? We are very fortunate that I could leave college and my career when I got pregnant. Still, going down to one income when you’re used to two while also picking up a student loan payment is no joke. It took years to prepare for it and we’re still figuring out how to make sacrifices to maintain me being home, which is important to us. Paying someone to watch our baby so I could bathe, cook, clean, or relax would be wonderful, but childcare is not cheap, as we all know. Not to mention that wherever I went, so did my baby’s only source of nutrition. Therefore, me taking even a few hours away had to wait until she could drink water and eat snacks. We’ve hired a sitter a total of three times in twenty-one months, and you better believe I didn’t stay home and do the dishes on those rare special occasions.
As with any difficult situation, at a certain point the ice gets too thin and you’re forced to act. First, I made sure that the other parent and person responsible for our daughter and our home, regardless of his work schedule, knew my struggle. Getting used to being a stay at home parent came with shame around not being able to do it all myself, something our individualistic culture ingrains in us. In dealing with my unwarranted shame, I could let my husband know what I needed. Then he was able to look for more things he could take on. Like all the grocery shopping on his way home from work and adding a few more dinner recipes to his repertoire (though cooking is a passion of mine, so I was not willing to give that over completely).
Next, I got creative. Necessity is the mother of invention (a phrase that I love even more now) and I NEEDED to be able to take a shower without waiting for my husband to get home. I also needed to get back some of the things I love to do. One of my favorite outlets to express my art and love for people is food. Cooking, baking, canning, dinner parties, and cakes for every celebration fill my bucket. I also needed to be able to get some chores done while my daughter was awake since I was booby trapped for naps.
I’m sharing my solutions not to tell anyone what to do. If any of the advice I had read online worked perfectly for me I’d just link you to it, but we all know how unique every one of our lives and babies are, so it rarely works that way. How it did work for me though was listening to what worked for someone else and that got my gears turning.
For me, nothing felt more like a loss of independence than having to arrange time with my family to bathe myself. Fitting my shower into someone else’s schedule, two other people’s schedules actually, just plain got me down. I had to find a way to hop in whenever I wanted to, which was usually in the morning after my husband left for work.
It dawned on me after listening to another parent talk about how they brought their baby’s changing pad into the living room because it was the one place they’d allow themselves to be laid down without screaming. My daughter also loved her changing pad for some reason. After a diaper change she’d just lay there contently to coo and play for as long as I’d stand there. I brought her changing pad into our tiny bathroom where it just fit, handed her a toy, closed only the clear liner, and voila. Shower City. Population: me.
Once she could pull herself up I switched to her bathtub, which was perfect for keeping toys within her reach. When that couldn’t contain her I just kept the door shut with her in the room with me. The room was already baby proofed and she could access her bath toys in the cabinet. Throwing those into the tub while I showered proved entertaining enough for her for quite a while.
Now that she’s almost two sometimes she takes a shower with me. While I will always prefer a solo shower, it’s a pretty great two-birds-with-one-stone situation. She grows and changes fast, so my solutions have to keep up. Conquering this challenge gave me the confidence to tackle others.
I know I’m not alone with the trouble of trying to cook when you have a baby or toddler in the house. I think my daughter senses my joy in the kitchen. She always wants to be right there with me and doing all the same things. The only thing that ever lets me get anything done is getting her involved.
One of her first words was “mix”. A turn or two stirring the pot or batter and she’s content. Yes, it takes twice as long, but it means I get to cook more often. Now I’ve found lots of ways for her to help. Dropping measured ingredients in, pressing buttons on appliances, and rolling out dough to name a few.
If I’m on a time crunch (Thanksgiving), making something delicate (wedding cake), or especially hot (caramel), I set up her own mixing station. My go-to includes: one small bowl of oats, one small bowl of flour, a shaker that barely lets anything out (a novelty pepper shaker is great or some herbs way past their prime), a couple measuring spoons, a whisk, and a larger bowl. She measures and mixes and makes this cook’s heart soar. The mess can be epic, but oats and flour sweep up fast. It’s worth it to have almost an hour of uninterrupted cooking time and she still gets to be included.
Here is a list of the other chores my daughter “helps” with, allowing me to actually get them done.
- Dusting. It’s usually pretty random what she dusts, but sometimes it’s actually something that needed it!
- Dishes. Hands us clean dishes from the dishwasher. (She refuses to let us put dirty things in after, so that’s a work in progress.)
- Sweeping with the hand broom and brushing dirt into the dustpan. Or around it.
- Gardening. Water for her is always a hit and she loves making sure everything gets thoroughly soaked. I left a few pots empty which she can move dirt in and out of for an hour. I then get to weed without fear that she’ll pull up a strawberry plant.
- Laundry. Puts clothes in the washer and dryer. Pouring the soap in is very exciting. Now has the courage to press start on the dryer. Pretty great now at carrying folded clothes from the living room to dresser drawers.
- Anything I can use the word “help” with. Making helping a thing to get excited about just seems like a good idea. It’s even turned a couple tantrums around, so I’m sticking with it.
I don’t support our culture of individualism, especially now that I’m a parent. I think we truly need one another if we want to be the happiest and healthiest we can be. Unfortunately, vocalizing that view isn’t going to change my situation. I was raised by a hard-working single mother and I’m not naive to the privileges I enjoy. I know that it could be much harder. If help is out there for you, I hope you’ll let go of any false notions that you can’t tap into it. If it’s not, I hope your creativity will be the thing you tap into. Then share it. You never know who might need to hear it.