Mat leave: expectations vs. reality

"Make no firm commitments other than creating an indent on the sofa for the first few weeks."

Photo: iStockphoto

After months of waiting, the day has arrived. Your baby is here, perhaps even snuggled in your loving arms at this moment. This is when all the information you’ve gleaned from scouring parenting books and websites will pay off. You have lists prepared and a stocked nursery, and you’re confident you could diaper an alligator in a hurricane, blindfolded. At this point there is no challenge you cannot manage. Right?

This sounds great, but there are a couple of flaws, because: a) babies can’t read; and b) babies hate plans.

Having a new baby means re-evaluating everything you thought you knew about everything. Maybe you have big plans for the next year—after all, how much work can hanging out with a baby be? You’ll have lots of time for getting stuff done: home organization, completing a degree, yoga every day, starting a hobby—these are all good ideas.

Actually, they’re not. They’re horrible. Put them out of your mind immediately. Messy closets and course catalogues will be there later. Take it easy now—you just made a person. In fact, go get your day planner. Now rip all the pages out. You can use them as burp cloths.

Make no firm commitments other than creating an indent on the sofa for the first few weeks. These early days pass quickly and things that were previously important to you—like eating food that didn’t come in a box or combing both sides of your hair—will fall by the wayside. It’s best to just temporarily forget about the space-time continuum, too, because your baby doesn’t care for things like clocks.

The early days may be filled with tears, and the baby will probably cry, too. You’ll spend your time feeding, changing, feeding, rocking, feeding and probably more feeding, because babies only know two things: “want,” and “right now!” Prepare to be peed and spit on. Prepare to flake out on a lot of coffee dates with friends because you’re too tired to drive and have no clean laundry, and your baby says “no.” Your baby will still love you, even when your friends don’t.

The fact is, while every baby is different, having a newborn in the house is hard work, and you are going to feel very tired at the end of the day—and at the beginning of it, too. Despite all you’re doing, it may still feel like your to-do list is only getting longer. Trying to get anything non-essential accomplished will sometimes be difficult, and now someone else is calling the shots about when those things can be done. Remember how bone-tired you felt when you were 10 weeks pregnant? You will long for the limited energy of those days. But it will get easier, I promise. Babies don’t feed around the clock or sleep in 15-minute segments forever. Otherwise, there’d be a lot more single-child families around.

So, how do you prepare for life with your newborn? Sleep when you can and find a good grocery delivery service, so you can devote your energy to getting acquainted with this new little member of your family. You can absolutely have a productive maternity leave, provided you measure productivity in baby giggles and blueberry stains on the ceiling.

Above all else, do not feel guilty about getting nothing “done” in a day. Save your strength for when you’ll really need it—the toddler years.

Read more:
11 tips to help you parent on four hours of sleep a night
7 breastfeeding tips every nursing mom has to read
How to survive maternity leave without going broke

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