Advice for new parents · In the family way

Advice for new parents:* Work, sanity, and whether they can be reconciled

I am an opinionated sort (you’ll be amazed to hear). I have no shortage of opinions about the baby thing. And sometimes I really, really, really want to share these opinions with people I know, or worse, only sort of know, who are sprogging. Unprovoked giving of advice to new parents, though… that’s so, like, not cool, dude. So I’ve decided to make a home for stray opinions here,** where they are at least not actively assaulting any innocent parties. Don’t mind me while I relieve myself.

I reckon as soon as there’s a baby in the picture, pretty much any work situation is a compromise: not working is hard, working is hard, working at home is hard… no way around it. Working freelance, at home, is quite probably the best possible situation. You don’t get so totally taken over by the whole baby thing; you have Other Interests, you don’t feel so ridiculously boring to all your non-sprogging friends, etc. And of course, you get money, which is handy for little things like rent and food.

But what’s hard about it isn’t quite what you might expect – or, not just that. Obviously you’ll be tired, and having to constantly choose between work (essential) and sleep (even more essential)… well, that sucks. But the other hard part is kind of a psychological thing. See: when you’re on baby duty, you’re On. How this actually plays out depends hugely on what model of baby you get, so it might be a bit easier, or it might not, but you will almost certainly feel a huge shock to the system as you adjust to the new world order. It’s hard to explain, because it all sounds so obvious (um, babies require a lot of attention, DUH), but the thing is: new parents of a certain age – like me – have had a good long time as an adult to get pleasantly used to being in control of your own life. And then it all changes. And if you’re used to arranging your life around work etc, you probably expect to be doing much the same arranging once baby comes, only with a bit more to juggle. Which is reasonable enough on paper, but… that’s sort of not how it works. Again, hard to explain. You can create a routine, you can plan to work around that routine. It can even happen that way. But…

Well. The thing is this: you have to relinquish control. “Have to” in the sense that you will soon discover you are NOT in control, and the only way to stay within spitting distance of sanity is to roll with that. If, say, you schedule two hours of Work in late afternoon, and divvy up baby duty accordingly, and factor in scheduled nap times etc – well, understand that it’s more than likely baby will decide to have a lousy night, then screw up the whole day’s nap schedule, be fussy and demanding and clingy when awake, insist that nobody but mama is able to soothe his ills, and, well, like that. Work might simply not happen. Roll with it.

But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is… almost impossible to explain. Man, I’m struggling here. Okay. So, my friend Pip – heroic mother of twins – recently told me she was doing “fine, as long as I manage to live in the moment”. And THAT’S the killer. That’s what I mean by relinquishing control. You may think you’re prepared to roll with the punches, to adjust your work plans to whatever comes. Good. That’s necessary. But even then… even when you’ve mentally reassigned “work time” to “baby time” and are determinedly Adjusting, or even when it actually is scheduled baby time and you have no expectations of getting anything useful done at all… even then, I tell you, there’s going to be a little part of you that is screaming: a little part that is just unbelievably on edge and ready to flip at a moment’s notice from “” to “WHY! THE FUCK! WON’T YOU GO! TO SLEEP!” …or, “let me put you down for a moment”, or “drink your damn bottle”, or any one of a number of things.

Which of course is true for all parents, some of the time at least, because ultimately baby is always boss – Gina Ford be damned – and certainly not the most reasonable or predictable boss. All I can say is: for me, when I was struggling to adjust to my new life, I only started to make any progress when I consciously Surrendered to The Baby. When I gave myself up to just being with her, just being a mommy, and totally shut down that part of my brain that had hopes of doing something Useful at some later point.

Once I stopped trying to be in control, I was able to enjoy it, a little bit. (Only a very little bit, at first, but later – much later – a whole bunch.) And, again: this is true, I think, for all parents. It’s an adjustment, whatever your circumstances. But when you are also trying to work from home, it’s much harder to compartmentalise. When you’re not working, you have to be 100% Mommy. (Or Daddy, as the case may be.) And that’s hard. Much harder than I seem to be able to explain.

The most important thing, the best piece of advice I think I have to give… and I can’t even express it clearly.


* I’m thinking of new mothers, but obviously it’s entirely possible for dad to be the primary caregiver. And of course theoretically it’s possible for two work-at-home parents to be equal sharers of baby duty. I’d like to believe it’s possible in more than theory.
** “Here” is actually two places – I tend to cross-post mommy stuff here and on the sprog blog. See, that site is mostly for keeping farflung friends and relatives updated about Claudia; but it’s become a bit of a mommy blog too. I think it’s appropriate to post those things there, but I also sometimes think I might want other people to read them too. So, double posting. My blogs, my rules, so ner.

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