By Tan Yi Lin
If you are a parent-to-be preparing for the arrival of your newborn in a few months time, the thought of how to manage life with a kid must have surely crossed your mind. If you are a newly-minted parent, well, congratulations! Hopefully you’ve settled nicely into your new role and aren’t up to your shoulders in dirty diapers. But if life seems to revolve haphazardly around the baby’s erratic schedule and you are on the lookout for some time management advice, here are some tips that may come in useful.
1. A baby is not an office project
“If new parents are willing to let go of some of the usual activities prior to parenthood and adjust their lifestyle so as to enjoy caring for and playing with the baby, much can still be accomplished. Ultimately, it all boils down to one’s mindset: is parenting something that I ‘have to’ or ‘want to’ make time for? The former stems from a sense of obligation while the latter, a manifestation of desire,” says Kenny Toh, Founder of the Institute of Advanced Parentology.
Many of us, in our pre-parenthood lives, strive to be star workers by rushing around the office in a bid to complete our work assignments in the most efficient way possible. After all, productivity is measured by the number or size of tasks that you can accomplish in a day. While you may wield a considerable amount of control over your time in the office, things on the homefront may be better tackled in a different way, especially when a newborn enters the equation. Be realistic about what you can accomplish at home in a day. Set out to do what you deem important and learn to let go of other things which can either be done another day or assigned to somebody else to do. Not every task that you set out to do must be related to the baby (although it does seem that way). For example, setting aside time to replenish your multivitamins to ensure that you are in the pink of health to look after the baby, is probably more important than folding (yet) another batch of laundry.
2. Get organised
Set up simple systems at home to help you manage your time.
For example, instead of trying to remember things in your head or scribbling them down on scraps of paper that you’ll spend precious time hunting down later, place a central note pad on the fridge or coffee table where you can jot down your “To Do” lists. Get your spouse or family members to do the same so that errands can be run in a timely fashion. Kenny has a tip for your “To Do” lists. “The trick is to PRIORITISE the items on your lists. Not everything needs to be done right away; some things can be left for a later time or another day. For example, most of the cleaning-related tasks are non-urgent and can wait”.
“Jotting down your baby’s schedule, i.e. meal time, milk time, nap time, poo time, will also help you to roughly plan out your own schedule around your baby’s. Be flexible, it is your baby’s schedule, not your schedule that you want her to fit into. Allow for flexibility in your baby’s schedule. Lastly, keep useful information at hand – you never know when you need it. I find it helpful to record doctor’s appointments, vaccination schedule, the baby’s temperature when he has a fever, dosage for medication, etc,” says Kenny who is also an experienced father of two boys.
Create spaces where you can get your tasks done while having the baby within easy reach. For example, place a rocker in the kitchen while you prepare the meals, a swing in the living room where you iron and fold the laundry, or a playpen in the study where you work on your computer. Invest in portable baby stations that can be moved easily throughout the house or use a baby carrier at home to free up your hands.
You can even set up a meal system. Plan meals on a weekly basis, say, carrots and chicken on Monday, beef and peas on Tuesday etc. Prepare food in larger quantities and freeze it in smaller portions for future use. It will save you a lot of time and agony wondering about what to cook for dinner after a long day at the office.
3. Delegate the chores
Don’t feel bad about getting help. If people offer to help, say yes. If they haven’t yet extended a helping hand, don’t be afraid to ask. Being a good parent doesn’t mean having to do everything yourself. Plus, people do feel good about helping others. Get family members to help with small and simple tasks, such as hanging up or folding a load of laundry, burping the baby, taking the baby out for a stroll in a pram, bottle-feeding the baby, watering the plants, setting the table, etc.
If you can afford to, be open to paying for help with domestic chores. You can engage a cleaning lady to tidy up your home once a week, or hire a live-in helper to take care of the daily housework. Adeline Seet, 34, mother to two boys aged four and one, advocates engaging part-time help to for domestic chores especially in the period right after childbirth. “For new mums, it’s good to surround yourself with help in the first two months when it’s key to get plenty of rest in order to allow your body to recover after childbirth.”
4. Give yourself time to get to know your baby
The first couple of months are bound to be hectic because babies do not eat, sleep, cry or behave according to schedule. Having an open mindset and exercising flexibility with the schedule, going with the flow and adapting to your baby, instead of trying to adapt your baby to the schedule will enable you to better adapt to the baby’s habits. Kenny says, “the sooner one realises this, the more able one will respond to the so-called ‘nuisance’ with understanding, patience, and empathy. This will determine whether you go through parenthood with frustration (thinking your baby is out to make life difficult for you and therefore needs to be disciplined) or with love and pleasure (helping baby to adjust to her growth spurts and knowing that she will eventually settle into a regular schedule),” says Kenny. If you find that baby’s in a good mood on most mornings and is happy to be left alone in his cot or rocker, make the most of the early part of the day to get chores done. If he’s a cranky riser, consider preparing for the next day’s tasks after he has gone to bed.
For example, gather and pre-load the dirty laundry into the washing machine the night before so that all you need to do is to set the machine in motion the next morning while you tend to the baby. Adeline, a new mum, says, “once you get the hang of your baby's temperament and preferred routine, you can work out a schedule that works for baby, you and hubby.”
5. Approach an expert
Sometimes it is much faster to consult a parenting expert instead of searching for information in books or on the Internet. And who would be a better expert when it comes to handling babies than your own mother or mother-in-law? Says Rhys, 34, a new father to month-old Raphael, “What you need during those early days is sound advice, firm and experienced hands, and a confident voice to guide you through the various aspects of infant care.” If mum is able to afford the time and you have an extra room at home, invite her to stay with you for a month after the baby arrives. Alternatively, you can ask her whether she can come over for a few hours every day to render assistance, or you can drop by her place together with the baby during the day. Such arrangements not only put new parents at ease, they also ensure that the young mother is well-fed and looked after, which is especially important for breastfeeding mothers. However, Rhys reminds new parents to communicate and manage expectations with the caregiver so as to avoid conflicts over potentially contentious parenting issues such as feeding and sleep-training.
6. Look after yourself
Just like in pregnancy, a baby’s health is highly dependent on the mother’s health, so it is essential that that you take care of your health after giving birth. You may find that you have a couple of hours at most in between feeds and while the baby is sleeping, it is imperative that you catch up on your rest before setting out to do any other task. Adds Adeline, “sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s tempting to do other stuff like catching up on Facebook or watching television because you finally get a breather and some personal time, but you will end up feeling very tired.” Take some time between chores to relax and treat yourself to a nice snack, or do some window shopping to reward yourself for a job well done. The next batch of laundry can always wait!
Kenny offers more tips to maximize the rest you can get:
1) Shared parenting.
Mothers can take turns with fathers to wake up at night to feed the baby. If the mommy is breastfeeding, perhaps the daddy can take over burping the baby.
2) Take regular brief naps.
Try to catch 20-minute “cat–naps” or “power naps” whenever the baby takes hers. This can be tremendously energizing for the sleep-deprived.
Try doing more than one thing at a time. For example, kill two birds with one stone by packing the baby’s and your lunch and eating in the park – both of you can get a breath of fresh air with such an outing and enjoy a leisurely meal together.
Alternatively, do some simple shopping while baby naps in the pram, or get some exercise walking or jogging with the baby in the pram. This will save time, which can be used for more sleep or rest!
Nobody said that parenthood was going to be easy. But then, with some perseverance and good time management skills, it doesn’t have to be that hard either. “Surviving a cranky baby is one of the most trying things in life,” says Rhys. “However, caring for your baby is also one of the most amazing experiences and you will discover that love and strength will tide you through the trial”.
Kenny Toh is the Founder of the Institute of Advanced Parentology http://advancedparentology.com