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The New Mommy's Guide to Managing the House

There have been few things in my life as humbling and horrifying and just plain bewildering as having a new baby and wondering how in the world I was going to cope. Before I had my first, I knew all about how to be a mother. I had been raised on cozy stories of how my mother carried me around the house in my baby seat and talked to me all day long while she worked. Perfectly lovely. I was going to do that, too. I’d get all my work done. My baby and I would have scads of interaction. Our little home would just bubble happily along. Then my beautiful baby girl was born. The next day, I placed her in her bouncy seat so I could eat dinner.

She hated it.

And I realized that I was never going to get anything done ever again.

That was seven-and-a-half years ago. Needless to say, I did manage to accomplish a few things since then (including having four more children), but the terror is still fresh in my mind. So when I get comments like the one I got this past week from Mommytoo, the empathy wells up strong enough that I suddenly find the emotional energy to write a blog post even in my current postpartum state. Here’s what Mommytoo says:

I was such a mess when my baby was born. She’s 11 months and I still feel all disheveled. It took me almost 3 months to cook a full meal. We have no family nearby. I’m expecting my second and I’m so nervous how I’ll be able to do everything with 2. I wish someone would write a book about mommy scheduling… A very detailed hr by hr, day by day book. When do you fit your prayer/reading time in? Thank you for your blog. And congratulations on your new baby!

I would love it if I could tell you what to do hour by hour and day by day. Besides being a power trip for me ;), it would be thrilling to be able to bless you with that kind of omniscient help. Actually, a lot of people have made a lot of money telling worn-out mommies what to do when, but the problem with most of their glistening advice is that the only person who can really safely and effectively make a schedule for your family is you. (I wrote a post about some of why that is here.)

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any ideas to pass along (which I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone). Here’s what has been bashed into my head during my brief seven-and-a-half-year stint in the School of Hard Knocks for Mothers (and of course, other mothers may have gotten knocked around differently and so may have learned some completely different coping skills, which I hope they’ll share, too):

The First 40 Days are Sacred, or This, Too, Shall Pass, Maybe Even by Tomorrow
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, the best advice I got on new-mommyhood was “The first month is the hardest.” During the first 40 days, you are recovering from labor, your milk supply is getting established, your baby is adjusting to life outside the womb, you are both getting breastfeeding figured out, your family is adjusting to the new little person, and life is changing on an almost daily basis. Plan for this beforehand. If at all possible, get your house extra clean before the birth so you can coast a while after, stock your freezer with meals, and once the baby’s born try to accept as much help as possible. Job One during this time is just nurturing the people in your life, especially your baby. This kills me. I always feel like I MUST get all of life established RIGHT NOW for evermore. If my house is messy that first month, I despair, thinking that it will be messy forever. If my front flowerbed is an astounding mass of tall grass and dandelions, I cry to my mother that “we’re hicks, just hicks” (yeah, that one happened last week). BUT, I know from experience that actually, despite the postpartum insanity that puts such nonsense into my brain, actually things level out considerably after 40 days (and then again even more around four months). Those early days are just about surviving and establishing relationships, NOT housework. And stuff that seems horrendous has a way of just vaporizing when you least expect it.

Make Full Use of Prime Time
Once you’re past those first 40 days of healing, cuddling, and adjusting, you may be feeling like you want to start getting your new life organized. This is where scheduling really comes into play, and it’s also a major mental adjustment. Suddenly a lot of the times that used to be the most logical for you to do certain things lose all connection to your new reality. Take dinner prep for instance. Most people without babies prepare dinner right before it’s time to eat dinner. But with a new baby, this is a sort of Russian roulette. Just when you want to be zooming through your kitchen whipping up something nourishing and tasty, your little snuggle bunny is likely to put in an urgent request for a gourmet treat of his own, and you’ll find yourself nursing to fill his belly while yours growls. Instead of being tied to your old view of logical times, your baby’s rhythms become your new logic. If your baby is really happy to sit in his swing first thing in the morning or he takes a good nap in the early afternoon, that is when you do your dinner prep. Know in advance what you are going to make, and do everything you possibly can ahead of time when your baby doesn’t need you. Brown your meat, mix your batter, cut up your vegetables, load the stuff in a crock pot if you’ve got one, get everything all set for a quick and easy one-armed throw-together at the last minute.

And don’t forget that nursing times are prime times, too. That first early morning nursing is a great time for prayer and Bible reading. Other nursing times throughout the day are wonderful for reading to older children, planning meals, checking e-mail (especially if you’ve got a laptop), making phone calls, and teaching homeschool.

You basically have three categories of daily life with a new baby. There’s stuff you can do while nursing, stuff you can do easily while holding your baby, and stuff that you really need to have your hands free to do. The key here is knowing which tasks fit which category (with my second baby, I actually made three lists) and then picking a task every time your baby’s status changes. At first, you’re probably not going to have an awful lot of housework in that middle category (stuff you can do easily while holding the baby), and that brings me to my next idea…

Think Like an Amputee
One of the hardest things for me about being a new mother was that my baby didn’t like to be put down. And that was a big problem because I had spent my entire life with two arms, and now I suddenly only had one. I figured that since I had always used two arms for everything from laundry to dishes that I needed two arms to do those things. But I was forgetting about amputees. Every day thousands of people face the one-armed life, but rather than dissolve into permanent inability, frustration, and despair (usually), amputees get occupational therapy so they can learn to do all their normal daily activities with only one arm. And if amputees can learn, then mommies can, too. I still remember how I just didn’t get it when an older, experienced mother brought me dinner after my first baby was born and tried to tell me how she held her babies with one arm and wiped counter tops with the other. I thought I could never do that. Now that I’ve had some years to practice, I know how to do laundry, sweep the floor, help my toddler use the potty, make beds, file paperwork, and do many other things I never would have thought possible while holding a baby. It’s slower with only one arm, but it can be done. The trick is first believing that it’s possible and then strategizing creative ways to tackle each task. If you can learn to just keep plugging away at things even with only one arm, you’ll find that you accomplish a lot more than you ever thought you could even while taking care of a needy baby.

And, just like amputees get to have some special equipment to help them out, there’s some great equipment out there for mommies, too. I’m talking about those soft carriers that keep baby close and make him feel like he’s being held while leaving your hands mostly free. These are things like Moby Wraps, Mei Tais, Snugglis, and slings (the SlingEZee is my favorite). Different people find that different carriers work best with their body types, so it’s great if you can try out your friends’ carriers before you buy one. A carrier that you and your baby both like will be your BFF, allowing you to fold laundry, heft around new treasures at the resale shop, and help your toddler get on the swings at the park. You can even learn to nurse in them, which is how I managed to march my four older children around the Creation Museum when our new baby was five days old. (For me, those first 40 days MUST include a lot of distraction because I am a quivering ball of hormonal adjustment and just sit and cry whenever I’m alone.)

Plan, Reassess, Rinse, Repeat
This is what ties it all together. Adding a baby to your life is a huge change requiring a lot of adjustment, and you need to do a lot of planning to make your new life work. The problem is that your first plan will probably fail. At that point, instead of getting discouraged, look carefully at how the plan failed and make a better plan instead. Did you plan to run errands in the afternoon while your baby slept in his car seat, only to have him wake up wailing the minute you carried him into the grocery store? Try something different next time, like shopping at a different time of day or transferring him to a sling for his nap. (This is a real example from my life–it actually took me weeks of defeat and frustration before I figured out that my babies won’t sleep in their car seats in stores, but they’ll nap beautifully in a sling.) Decide what you need to do, and keep trying until you figure out how to get it done.

There are very few things that a mother with a baby truly cannot accomplish with some strategy, creativity, and lots and lots of trying again. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll find yourself as competent as I’d imagined I’d be before that fateful evening when my daughter shattered the air and my illusions with her pitiful wail from the bouncy seat. Managing a house with a new baby is rarely as simple as we’d like it to be, but it can be done.

13 comments to The New Mommy’s Guide to Managing the House

  • My little man is coming up on his first birthday and there are still days in the week where I have to choose between thoroughly cleaning or having a shower – naps only last so long! Every mommy can empathize with your commenter.

  • As I just had my second little one a month ago and my oldest is only seventeen months, this post came at the perfect time…thank you! Several of the points I’ve been figuring out in the last couple weeks, but it was just good to know that other mommies struggle with adjusting to having a new baby in the house too…even when it’s their fifth. :) Thank you so much for the encouragement…

  • Sarah

    This is a very encouraging post. Having children changes all your priorities and having five small ones is really a handful! Hope you are able to get enough rest when your husband is there to do something with the other children. I was always pleased when my husband held the baby for ten minutes, so I could quickly do something that I had wanted to do the whole day! May God bless you and all mothers of small children. This is the most important task in the world!

  • This is a great post to share to all my friends… the testimony of how to manage families like this is incredible. I love to pass it on.

    But I didn’t pop in to say that, entirely. I’m not a mom (and never will be, haha), but I am the oldest of seven, and the last two were twins. I ended up carrying babies about as much as my mother (I was basically their second dad). And you are right… you have to think like an amputee. And with twins, you sometimes have to think like a double amputee… you don’t have any arms at all! I got very good at opening doors with my feet and such while carrying a little’un on each arm. * grins *

    It was hard (harder for my parents, though, who had to be awake almost all night, with the twins playing tag-team), very hard. But I grew tremendously through it, and I know my parents did as well. Scary, yeah, but a blessing impossible to express. It is completely worth it — to the hilt. (Guy expression there.)

    And for you moms… train your children. Don’t exclude them from the raising of their little siblings. Not only will they thank you when they are raising their own families, but you will thank them when they are able to keep the house going when you are out for the count. We really are capable of it if we are trained to before-hand! And we love it. (Insider secret there that we don’t like to admit to, haha.)

    So God bless you all, dear mothers in the world. Thank you for standing for the blessing of children. Even when it is hard. :)

    -Jay Lauser
    aka Sir Emeth Mimetes

  • Kim from Canada e-mailed me with a link to another post that addresses the same topic from a spiritual rather than a practical standpoint. It is an excellent and encouraging read.

  • thanks for encouraging the young moms the way you do! Your advice is very practical and helpful! Now that my life is filled to the brim with teenagers and their lives, I have totally forgotten what this is like.

  • Sarah

    I like the idea of the 40 days!

  • what, you went to the Creation Museum and didn’t call us???????????

  • Great post! This is going in my mental preparation folder for sure. Carl and I already do our grocery shopping together every week—a source of much mental comfort when I see young moms struggling to keep their kids together in the store.

  • Rachel,

    I’m so sorry! I’m going to have to plead postpartum insanity. I totally forgot how close you guys are.

  • Mrs. Kitzmiller

    Great Post!!! I love your amputee thoughts. My husband reminded me of this when our youngest was a a baby. We know a lady that only had one arm and cared for children, her own and others, all of her life. It was utterly amazing to see her PEEL POTATOES even faster than my mom or grandma could with two arms. She could do anything!!!!

    When my babies are nursing I have looked for ways to read or listen to the Bible or helpful sermons, it is an excellent time to pray too. I think not knowing how I could have quiet time with my Lord was one of the most frustrating aspects of babyhood for me. One of my friends suggested this and it worked beautifully. She said she always kept something close to the chair she would nurse in. But beware… Your baby will notice that you are not looking longingly into his eyes and may tell you about that. : )

    Early days with a baby are wonderful, cherish them.

  • :-) oh well, next time… congrats, thanks so much for writing the birth story, I always enjoy that. Cali has recently done some photo work for a baby center near here, (where people hire midwives and dulas, and take birthing classes etc.) and I thought of you. One of my clients had a home labor… (which is harder hear because of the laws) but then the baby went into distress, the baby was born in the hospital, literally ten minutes after they got her in a room!

  • This is a great post. Good, positive and yet grounded spin on the difficulties of the early days.

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