When I became pregnant with my fourth child, I naturally turned to my favorite birth and pregnancy books for advice. My third child was only nine months old, and I was wondering just how in the world I was going to manage the discomforts of pregnancy (morning sickness, mood swings, pelvic pain) with a non-verbal, non-mobile baby around.
The books contained no advice, just token references to dealing with a toddler or preschooler and being pregnant or having a new baby. Frustrated, I turned to my friends, many of whom had large families with closely spaced children, for book recommendations. There were none.
“Didn’t you hear?” joked a friend. “A mom of five was going to write one, but she became distracted when her toddler and preschooler dumped the flour all over the counter, the older child needed a ride home from soccer, and the dinner boiled over!”
When the laughter died down, I received two easy pieces of advice that made the next nine months much easier:
1. Ask for help.
2. Let it go.
1. Ask for help
With three children then five, three and a half, and nine months, I couldn’t do it all alone. I needed help. And I personally hate asking for help because I (used to) see it as a sign of weakness. I mean, my kids, my choice to have another baby, my problem, right?
Yes, they are our kids and our primary responsibility, but there is nothing wrong with asking for help. My husband wisely pointed out that I don’t mind helping out my friends when they need it; why should I assume that asking them for help is a burden to them? He was right. I thought, “If my friend was sick and tired with a new pregnancy, would I mind watching her child for an afternoon?” My immediate answer was, “No, of course not!,” and so I changed my thinking.
The next time my friend said, “Would you like me to watch Princess for the afternoon?,” I took her up on her offer. Another friend gladly picked Big Brother up from kindergarten when I had an early ultrasound. I made sure to thank them and repay their kindness. One friend really likes Diet Coke, so I surprised her with a giant two-liter bottle. A heartfelt thank you note went over well too.
I learned something when I asked for help: when I took people up on their kind offers, I actually needed less help. Instead of doing everything and running myself into the ground, I was able to take short breaks. I felt recharged and ready to tackle the next parenting challenge that came my way.
2. Let it Go
When I was pregnant, my doula delivered a newsflash to me: “You will have had two babies in sixteen months. You’ve been pregnant for almost two years straight. You can’t do everything. Let it go.”
Stop. Look around. What is the most important thing you have to do?
I know, I know. Take care of the kids, right? Make that your number one goal. Get the children up, fed, dressed and safe. If they eat cereal for breakfast every day, so what? If they sit and watch TV with you all morning, so what? Yes, I still cringe at the thought of the all-day “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” marathons when I was pregnant with my third child. I remember lying on the couch, not wanting to move, feeling guilty for not taking my preschooler and toddler outside to play. What do they remember? Snuggling with Mommy and watching one of their favorite TV shows as much as they wanted – something that was a huge treat. Sometimes the moments that give us the most guilt are the ones that should be remembered the most fondly.
After the kids comes yourself. Take care of yourself. Eat right, but with minimal effort. You don’t have to make every dinner from scratch. There are healthier pre-packaged products on the market. Find some easy ways to cut corners, like baby carrots instead of regular carrots that require peeling and chopping. When you feel like cooking, double up dinners and freeze them. Teach your children to help you. Children as young as two or three can help refill your water bottle or make their own simple sandwich . . . and they will take pride in making one for you too!
Now, the house . . . let it go. Do the basics to make you and your spouse comfortable, and lower your standards. I switched my nine month old over to disposables for awhile because I simply couldn’t handle any more laundry. I love cloth diapering but something had to give . . . and that was it.
My husband stepped up to the plate a lot when I was pregnant, and I had to adjust my expectations there too. He wasn’t going to clean the house like I would, on my time frame, or to my expectations – and that was okay. Give clear instructions on one or two things you have to have done a certain way (for me, it was a clean kitchen and kitchen table every morning), and let your spouse do the rest his or her way.
Because my third and fourth children are closely spaced, I had to “let it go” even more than normal. I couldn’t wear my child, so I used the stroller. The inside of my showers took a beating and needed a good scrub. Cookies for school were made by the local mega-mart’s bakery, not by me.
A year from now, will it matter where the cookies came from? No, but it will matter if I consistently had enough energy to spend with my kids.
At times I felt horrible asking for help and letting it all go, but now I realize that all those things let me be more present and aware of my existing children and the new life I was growing, instead of fretting, worrying and stressing myself by trying to do it alone or worrying over trivial items.
Photo credit: Colleen Strong