Over a year ago, friends asked me, heavily paraphrased, how did I manage to maintain outside interests after having kids. I wrote part of an email several months ago, and then in a (successful!) push to get to Inbox: Zero, finished it earlier this month. With their permission, and Chad's, I'm putting a slightly edited version of it here for public consumption.
I tried really hard to make it clear that I was writing from my own experience here and that other people's situations may vary, but I probably did less of that in a personal email than I would have in a public post. So consider that disclaimer bolded and emphasized up front: this is what I find helpful and what I thought those friends would also find helpful, but I'm really not judging anyone who finds that other things work better for them or who weighs priorities differently, because that is an awful thing to do (assuming thresholds of safety, care, and affection are met, of course).
And now, the email.
When I was thinking about this, at first I thought it was two questions, how do you maintain a desire to have a life outside your kids and how do you actually have that life. But now I suspect that's too complicated, that making time for other things in itself may encourage the interest in using that time.
So obviously a lot depends on logistics, outside work and daycare and people who can babysit and how hard it is to get out of the house and so forth. And some kids are much more demanding than others. But in my experience, and I think this is likely the case for most people, the amount of brain cells you have spare at any point in early childhood definitely varies. There's the very early phase, where they are adorable sleeping lumps for the vast majority of the time, basically; then when awake they start gradually needing more of your attention for reasons of both safety and interactivity; then they start being able to play on their own and occupy themselves. This is not linear--there are separation-anxiety phases, there are phases where they're reasonably good and safe at their current level of gross motor skills and then phases when they're gaining new ones and need much more supervision--but you get the basic idea.
That was a long way of saying that there is a period where I found it much more difficult to devote time to myself, that time when they're not sleeping nearly as much but don't really play on their own. This is a great time--interactivity is awesome!--but it is challenging. It is a limited time, however, and though time can act really weirdly around kids, under most circumstances one can reasonably say to oneself "this too shall pass." And it is still possible, just harder.
I highly recommend a way to read one-handed. I read dozens of books on my old Palm handheld with SteelyKid; with the Pip I went back and forth between an eReader & my netbook computer set up next to the rocking chair in the nursery. Now that they're older I have to fight against spending too much time on the tablet when they're playing, though, still working on striking the balance between letting them work things out themselves and not being attentive enough. But during the feed-every-three-hours phase especially, completely invaluable. If I'd had a smartphone (I still don't) I'd probably have been on Twitter/FB/something else social and short a lot more and that would have helped, too.
Backups. People, that is, not software/data. If your friends/family aren't in positions to help when one of you is sick/out of town/just need a break, see if the community can turn up a high school student or something--when the Pip was tiny and Chad was snowed under at work, we got a high school student to come every Sunday afternoon and play with SteelyKid so Chad could go out of the house and get some work done while I nursed the Pip or napped with him. (Chad's college has a "social" email list and he asked there and got like five responses. Also, if you do daycare, a lot of times the caregivers there will babysit.)
The Deal. metaphortunate had a line about parents having Jackson's Whole style Deals which are sacrosanct, which I think is true to an extent, but only to an extent. [*] There have been times when Chad & I have let dissatisfaction with the balance of family and household responsibilities simmer too much and should have talked and made an explicit plan about who does what and when much earlier. But there have also been times when those plans needed to be readjusted. So we don't flake on Deals, but we do sit down and renegotiate them when necessary.
[*] Having re-read that post for this post, metaphortunate wasn't actually talking about situations in which Deals might need to be renegotiated, and I shouldn't have implied that. Apologies.
Schedules. A subset of The Deal. Specified times that are blocked out for one of you to do something alone, for the other, for both of you to do things together. For example, Saturday and Sunday mornings, Chad always takes the kids out for particular things and I get the house to myself. (We still don't have a regular date night set up and we should, because it always gets pushed back by other things and we miss it.) [And of course, since then, this particular schedule has been renegotiated, because it was no longer working for Chad and because SteelyKid has dropped the joint Saturday morning activity. Now we split all of Saturday together, Sunday mornings are Me Time, and Sunday afternoons are Chad Time.]
Prioritize self-assessment, self-reflection, and checking in with each other. Kind of the meta-principle behind all of the above.
Anyway! Sorry for the ludicrous delay, and best wishes on the expansion of your family.
Other thoughts welcome, but please keep it to the same spirit of "things that have worked for me and may not work for all," because this is such an emotionally fraught subject to be giving advice on. comment(s) | add comment (how-to) | link