A year ago was the first time Jacob, William, and I spent Christmas and New Year’s together. William was a little more than 1 month old at the time, so things were a bit crazy. It was fun for sure but crazy nonetheless.
Jacob and I thought long and hard about which family traditions we’d like to emphasize as a family. As we live in the Netherlands, we are surrounded by traditions that are not really ours but some of which we like, so we could consciously choose which ones we want to celebrate family. We also thought about what other traditions we’d like to add, whether from our own cultures, upbringing, or ideas.
William, our son, turned 6 months, woohoo!!! He’s getting cuter every day, but he’s also becoming dangerous–he has two sharp teeth now!
He’s starting to get into a routine these days, which is music to my ears. It’s not super precise yet, but it’s much more predictable than in the early months. That feels good to me because it means I can structure my day a bit more.
I’ll start with describing the night because it’s my least favorite part. Even though William sleeps much better now than when he was smaller, I still don’t enjoy being woken up in the middle of the night…
We put him to bed around 19:30, and he usually sleeps until about 22:00 or 23:00. When he wakes up, I feed him, put him back to sleep, and go to bed myself if I wasn’t in bed already. (If I’m really tired, I go to bed at 21:00 and get some sleep before he wakes up.)
Then, he wakes up around 2:00 or 3:00, so then I feed him again, and we both go back to sleep.
Finally, he wakes up around 6:00 or 7:00, feeds again, and goes to sleep again (or, like today, wakes up nice and fresh at 6:30). I usually wake up at this point–it would be nice to sleep a bit more, but I’m just not able to fall asleep again.
I love mornings, gloooooorious mornings with the suuuuuun coming in… I don’t think that’s an actual song, but I’d like to make one up. Seriously though, mornings are awesome!
I often have breakfast around 7:00 or 8:00. William usually wakes up between 7:00 and 8:00 (if he’s not awake already), and then we do his morning routine: feeding, diaper change, and get him out of his pajamas and into clothes for the day. We play a bit and go out on the balcony for some sunshine.
An hour and a half after he’s woken up, so between 8:30 and 9:30, we start the naptime routine. That includes reading a book together on the big bed and cuddling, so it’s a lot of fun! 15 minutes later, he’s in bed and soon falls asleep (on most occasions but not always!).
William usually sleeps for 1.5 or 2 hours at this point, so it’s his long nap. Not always though–sometimes he wakes up after 40 minutes, so his reliability is not 100% yet. I usually do laptop work during his nap such as writing a blog post, doing a financial review, checking email, messages, reading articles, or doing online tasks.
When he wakes up, which is usually between 10:30 and 11:30, we have a feeding again and change his diaper. We are also starting to introduce solid foods now, so he eats a little bit of that as well. Then we play, and I usually do household tasks and eat lunch around 12:00.
Two hours after he woke up, we start his naptime routine. Again, we read a book and cuddle on the bed for 15 minutes, after which he goes to sleep. This is usually around 12:30 or 13:30.
Once William’s asleep for his second nap of the day, around 13:00 or 14:00, I do my training. I exercise for 30-45 minutes with equipment we have at home. While I love going to the gym, I’ve found during the Covid period that it’s very convenient to train at home. Zero travel time really makes a difference and makes it possible to train a little bit every day. It also feels good to move my body, activate my muscles, and lubricate my joints every day.
In the afternoon, William sometimes sleeps for 1.5 hours and sometimes for 40 minutes. If he wakes up and I’m still training, I put him on his tummy in front of me, and we both exercise. He loves watching me do squats! He laughs like crazy–apparently, my head bobbing up and down is really funny!
Usually, William wakes up between 14:00 and 15:00. Once I’m finished training, I feed him and change his diaper. Then, I may try to give him some solid food, and afterwards we play together and call a family member or a friend to catch up. I may do some household tasks or online tasks if I haven’t gotten a chance to finish them before. If the sun is out, we may go out on the grass behind our building and chill there.
Two hours after his waking time, so around 16:00, we go out for a walk. He usually takes a 30-minute nap at this time, but, again, not always–yesterday, for instance, he refused to sleep that late. The man is starting to have preferences!
We take a good, long walk, about 1-1.5 hours. I really enjoy that because I get nice movement, and we both get fresh air. I either listen to a podcast while we walk, or I have a friend join us for some social time.
We get home around 17:30 and relax. I feed William and warm up dinner for the adults. Jacob and I have dinner at 18:00, and at 18:45 we start the bedtime routine. We change William’s diaper and change him out of his clothes and into his pajamas. Then, we read a book on the bed, cuddle, and put him to bed. He usually falls asleep around 19:30.
Once the little one is asleep, we clean up the kitchen and living room a bit and get things ready for the night and/or the next day. Finally, Jacob and I have some time together to talk or read on the couch. We tend to go to bed between 21:00 and 22:00, depending on when we get sleepy.
And that’s it! This is William’s (and our) rhythm at 6 months of age. It’s really nice to have some structure and predictability in the day. Funny enough, everything can still move +/- 2 hours: sometimes he wakes up earlier (as early as 6:30) and sometimes later (as late as 8:30); some days I wake up early (as early as 6:00) and other days a bit later (as late as 8:00). But the outline of the day is the same, which feels comforting and makes it easier to plan things.
Little one, soon you’ll be a creature of habit just like your parents, woohoo! Until you become a teenager and rebel against any routine, staying up all night and sleeping during the day… Ah, let’s enjoy the days of (relative) predictability while you’re still small!
Two weeks ago when we found out we’ll be in quarantine at home for at least a month, something clicked for me: We need a routine! As a person who loves putting together routines, I was on fire. I took different daily activities and moved them around in my head, from morning to afternoon, before lunch or after, before our walk or after… Ahhh, the fun!
Since then, I’ve seen many psychologists and other experts online recommend the importance of routines in these otherwise unpredictable and strange times. Every time I see this, I think, “Yesss!!!” Great minds think alike; routines are key.
A routine ensures you have some sense of normalcy in a time when your usual habits have been disrupted. It can be comforting to control what you can control and accept the rest which you cannot control (and that’s a lot).
By having a routine, you also make sure the things you’ve deemed important get done every day or on some regular basis. In this way, fewer things slip through your fingers and you have more choice in how your life goes.
Our daily routine
Alas, since we have a young (almost 5-month-old) baby, we cannot stick to a very strict routine. I know, I know, it’s good for me to learn to be flexible… whatever. Instead of planning our day by the hour, I plan it in blocks of activities, as a sequence of which activities get done during which part of the day (approximately).
We wake up whenever William wakes up (usually between 7:00 and 8:00, but today it was 6:30…). We cuddle him, I nurse him, and we change his diaper and then out of his pajamas. Then, Jacob and I have breakfast, while William plays near us. Afterwards, we cuddle him a bit more and put him in bed for a nap. His morning nap usually begins between 8:00 and 9:00.
By the way, every time I put William in bed for a nap and wait for him to fall asleep, Jacob works. That’s how he manages to get stuff done. And in the afternoon and evening, he has longer uninterrupted stretches of time for work.
While William is sleeping, Jacob and I train in our living room. We’ve decided that we’ll get ripped during this quarantine! Nope, not really, but we’ve committed to doing 30-45 minutes of exercise every day in order to get our bodies moving and stay strong. We are fortunate to have kettlebells, elastic bands, a gym ball, a pull up bar, and some other equipment at home, so we can do a pretty good workouts, although I still miss barbells and weight plates.
Usually, William wakes up towards the end of our workout. We put him on his belly for tummy time (it’s important for babies to train their back muscles), so for 10 minutes or so the whole family is exercising! Then, I nurse and change him. After that, one of us plays with him while the other one showers. I also use this time to do things around the house (laundry, kitchen, tidying, etc.). These days the weather has been nice, so Jacob has been taking him out on the grass behind our building for some sun.
Soon, it’s time for William’s lunchtime nap, which usually starts anytime between 12:00 and 13:00. While he sleeps, we eat lunch, and I like to use this time to check and respond to email, messages, etc. The duration of this nap can vary greatly (between 40 minutes and 2 hours), so I may be able to get lots of stuff done or very few.
Around this time, I may write a blog post, read something interesting online, work on putting together our annual photo album, or do a home project. Jacob usually cooks at this time (he cooks 3 times a week now, and I help out sometimes or make an additional fancy meal or sauce).
When William wakes up from his nap, I nurse and change him (are you seeing a pattern here?). We play with him and let him explore the world a bit. Jacob usually works at this time, and I may be able to get something done too. Once William starts getting tired, we put him in the stroller and take him out for a walk. He takes a nap, and we get to walk (usually around 15:00 or 16:00).
We have a nice hour-long route to the park and back that we take every day. Since the weather is really pleasant these days, we chill on the grass in the park for a bit, letting William look around, and then we head back home. Sometimes I go on this walk alone with William if Jacob is busy, or I ask a friend to join us, so we can chat while keeping our 1.5-meter distance.
When we get home, I nurse William and change him (is this getting a bit repetitive? hahaha), and then Jacob and I have an early dinner (around 17:30 or 18:00). We like to call family or friends around this time to catch up and be social virtually.
Around 19:00, we start William’s bedtime routine, so he can be in bed around 19:30. I feed him, we change his diaper and put him in his pajamas, and then I carry him around the room and sing him a lullaby. Then he sleeps, which means PARTY TIME!!!
Okay, it’s not really that late. From about 20:00 until 21:30, it’s PARTY TIME–Jacob usually works, while I read, write, do administrative tasks, or something along those lines as well as have a snack. Sometimes we just talk and spend time together, and we intend to watch a movie one of these days!
At 21:30, I start getting ready for bed and am in bed by 22:00. That’s when William usually wakes up for his first feeding of the night, and after that we sleep. If I’m lucky, he wakes up twice more in the night (around 1:30 and 4:30), and then we wake up refreshed around 7:30. And if I’m unlucky, he wakes up about 4 times in the night and then around 6:30 in the morning (like last night), and then I wake up grumpy. You never know which one it will be.
Ah, it’s so nice to have a routine! Even though it’s never exactly the same and we can’t follow it to the dot, it gives structure and guides our days. We definitely get more done when we have a routine than when everything is up in the air because we know what to do during the different times of day.
How about you? Do you have a routine at this time? If so, what is it and how is it helpful? If no, why not and how does spontaneity work for you?
The world is on pause. Everyone is at home, shops are closed, streets are empty.
At the same time, life is going at full speed: news popping up everywhere, people ill, countries’ borders closed, travel plans canceled.
How about me? I’m still at home, taking care of our little one. Not much has changed, and, at the same time, so much has changed.
So much has remained the same
William, my 4-month-old son, has no idea what COVID-19 is. Life has stayed exactly the same for him. He wakes up in the morning with a smile and coos at me. Just as before, the most important things for him are to drink milk, to be cuddled and entertained, and to sleep. He clearly has his priorities straight.
Much of our daily rhythm remains unchanged. The succession of feeding, changing his diaper, playing with him, and putting him to sleep remains as stable as ever. We still go for our daily walk, sing the same songs, and have a bedtime routine at night.
So much has changed
Unfortunately, we’ve canceled all our visits from friends. Before the social distancing recommendation, we were having 3-4 visits per week, and that was a lot of fun. People enjoyed meeting William, and I enjoyed having company. However, this is irresponsible now, so we’ve canceled all visits. We try to video chat with our families and friends instead in order to avoid feeling truly socially isolated.
When we go out for a walk, we maintain a distance from other people. Luckily, the park we walk to is big, so there’s enough space for everybody. It’s wonderful to see so many children and adults enjoying the outdoors and the sunshine and so strange to have to maintain a distance from everyone. It seems like everybody feels the strangeness of the situation: we are happy to be outside and are enjoying each other’s company, but we also need to keep our distance.
One fortunate consequence is that Jacob, my husband, is home from work. He closed his chiropractic practice for the time being, which means he’s at home with William and me for the next 2.5 weeks. Woohoo! It’s a lot of fun to have him with us the whole time. We’re trying to think of it as a staycation, our little vacation at home.
Another change is that I’m currently not taking William to the supermarket or any other shop, for that matter. I know that, apparently, COVID-19 is not super dangerous for babies, but I’d still rather avoid unnecessary exposure for the little one. Because of this, Jacob buys our groceries or whatever else is necessary.
A silly consequence of the pandemic is that I haven’t gotten a haircut recently even though I would have liked to. Several of my friends have also shared their struggle with wanting to go to the hairdresser and having to wait or cut their own hair (if I attempt that, the results would be disastrous, I’m sure…). I have a feeling that once the social distancing is over, the hairdressers will be flooded with customers! Good for them.
Finally, our gym has closed. This was really sad for me but perfectly understandable. Luckily, we have a beautiful set of kettlebells at home and some other equipment, so we are able to do pretty extensive home workouts. Still, for me going to the gym is a break from home life and also deeply needed me-time, so I miss it. But it’s okay: social distancing is important right now, and at some point I’ll get back to the gym. I’ll walk in and inhale the smell of barbells, weight plates, and kettlebells. Aaaaahhh.
Fortunately, our family is healthy and doing well, continuing to live our life almost as normal. It’s odd how a pandemic can change so much, and yet so much can remain the same.
For the first two months of our newborn’s life, my husband and I were sharing things like the night feedings and the cooking, while I was doing more other household chores and he was working full-time (for details, read this blog post). Around 2 months, our baby’s rhythm changed, and we adapted our routine.
Around 2 months, William started sleeping for an approximately 5-hour stretch at the beginning of the night (great!) and also started sleeping less well during his daytime naps (not so great). This meant that we needed to adapt the way we were taking care of him and of our home.
The night feedings
The late evening feeding Jacob was giving him with a bottle around 22:30 was no longer necessary. Instead, I fed him for the last time around 20:00 or 20:30, and we were in bed around 21:00. The next time he woke up was first around 01:00 and later got pushed back to 02:00 or sometimes even 03:00. The following feeding would be 3-4 hours later.
This is also our current rhythm where I take care of all the feedings. Also, William was now nursing more efficiently, so I could be back in bed within 30 minutes of his waking. This is quite nice, except that while he can fall asleep immediately after feeding, I can’t, so I often lie awake for a while. But the nice thing is that he rarely cries during the night now, so Jacob is back sleeping in the bedroom with William and me but doesn’t wake up.
The daytime activities
The other development is that William isn’t taking long naps during the day now. If I get him to sleep and leave him in his crib, he wakes within 30 minutes and is quite fussy because he hasn’t had enough sleep. A 30-minute nap is hardly enough time for me to do a lot of chores around the house or cook a meal, so instead I stay with him in the bedroom and soothe him back to sleep when he wakes up. In this way, I can help him get the rest he needs. And in the meantime, I try to take a nap, listen to an audio book or podcast, or read on my kindle.
Alternatively, William sleeps very well in the carrier at the front of my chest. All I need to do is sway gently side-to-side, and he sleeps for 1.5 hours or more (this is exactly what I’m doing while I’m typing this). But if I want him to keep sleeping, I can’t really do household stuff or cook because too much movement wakes him up.
For this reason, Jacob is doing most of the cooking (probably around 80%) at this time. I try to do what I can to help him and do other household tasks when I can. Usually, after William is fed and changed, there’s a 20-30-minute window when he’s happy playing by himself, and I can do some household stuff or some minor cooking. I’ve discovered that he likes it if I put him in his bouncy chair, so he can watch me do whatever I’m doing. In the meantime, I sing and dance, which entertains him greatly and, honestly, is fun for me too.
During the rest of the day, I go on walks with him, receive visitors at home, do errands online, read, or even watch movies sometimes! I have to say it’s quite a fun lifestyle, actually 🙂
It seems like there’s no right way to divide labor in a household these days. Many of us are past the days when women take care of the kids and the house and men go to work. But when a baby is small, the mom is breastfeeding, and the dad is going to work full-time, what is a fair division of labor?
For us, the answer has been to stay flexible and adapt as our needs and our baby’s needs were changing.
The first two weeks: Crazy land
We started out sharing pretty much all baby-related tasks: we both changed diapers; we both woke up in the night; we both comforted him when he was crying; we bathed him together.
Even breastfeeding was somewhat of a shared effort since my husband would arrange all the pillows, I’d sit down, and he’d hand me William. When William started moving around or waving his arms, hitting himself in the face, Jacob would hold him in place on the pillow or let William’s little hand hold onto his finger in order to stop the crazy thrashing about.
During the first two weeks, we received help with the household and the baby from the maternity nurse and my mom. For those two weeks, Jacob did all the cooking since I was still recovering. After the first week, I started running a laundry here and there or (un)loading the dishwasher once in a while. But I didn’t have to do too much of the household stuff because my mom was still there.
From 2 weeks to 2 months
From 2 weeks on, Jacob, William, and I were on our own. This was the period when we were the most tired. I was trying to do more around the house while also taking care of the baby by myself since Jacob was at work full-time.
I don’t like taking naps, so I was trying to survive on the interrupted sleep I got during the night. While William was not one to cry for long periods during the night, he still woke up every 3-4 hours to nurse. At that time, breastfeeding took a long time, so I was usually up for 1.5 hours with him at each waking to nurse him, change his diaper, and get him back to sleep. And this was happening every 4 hours! I was exhausted.
At the same time, Jacob was trying to do his job well and serve his patients as he usually would, while also cooking all of our food and taking care of countless household chores (we still had to get done all the chores described here). He was also waking up almost every time William and I woke up, arranging pillows for the feeding, changing diapers, rocking him to sleep, etc. He was also exhausted.
Sharing night feedings
At this time, I came across the suggestion that the mom can pump a bottle of breastmilk, go to sleep, let the partner feed it to the baby, and then the partner gets to sleep. This was a lightbulb moment for me! It helped us immensely.
We had a nice evening routine: at 21:00, I pumped a bottle of breastmilk and said good night to my men. I cherished this time for myself: I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, cleaned my face, and put on hand cream. How luxurious these simple self-care acts felt! Then I hugged my pillow and enjoyed sweet, sweet sleep.
In the meantime, Jacob waited for William to wake up. Around 22:00 or 22:30, Jacob fed him the pumped breastmilk and changed his diaper. He put William in bed next to me by 23:30 and then went to sleep in the guest bedroom. It was tough to have him sleeping away from us, but in that way he could get uninterrupted sleep and wake up relatively rested at 6:30.
The next time William woke up was around 2:00 or 3:00. At that time, I fed him, and then again around 5:00 or 6:00. I usually went to bed around 21:30 and finally got up around 8:00. My sleep actually wasn’t too bad this way.
Fun during night feedings
Funny note: I listened to audio books during the night awakenings! I got rather annoyed by having to be awake for 1.5 hours twice each night, and I wondered how I could make it nicer for myself. The answer struck me: listen to fun audio books! Suddenly, those awake times weren’t so annoying anymore, and I was learning interesting things from my audio books. What’s more, I quickly got the Gold Night Owl badge on Audible 🙂
During this time, I was trying to do my fair share in the kitchen. Since William was napping quite well during the day, I was able to do quite a bit at home. Jacob and I were probably sharing our cooking duties 50-50, and it was working well.
Around 2 months, things changed, and we had to reinvent our division of labor…
Caring for a newborn is hard work but not in the way I expected it to. It’s a roller coaster of numerous small, repetitive tasks, and it’s surprisingly difficult to do by oneself or even by a couple. My account of how my husband and I have been taking care of our baby would be terrible incomplete without mentioning all the people who’ve been helping us.
The first week: help from the maternity nurse
During the first two weeks, things were completely unpredictable. I pretty much had no idea what was going on. Luckily, in the Netherlands they have the wonderful system that for the first week a nurse comes to your house for about 6-8 hours a day and helps you with everything baby- and house-related. She helped me breastfeed, change diapers, take care of the house as well as of the baby. It is so, so great to have someone like that come and help in the first week after a baby is born! It is amazing.
While the nurse was at home, she helped me get a rhythm. She made sure that William fed every 3 hours (he was sleeping a lot of the time, so we may have forgotten to feed him otherwise). She reminded me to eat lunch or take a nap, which were all good ideas.
In the evenings when Jacob and I were taking care of the baby alone, it hit me how we really had no idea what we were doing, and at the same time there wasn’t so much we could get wrong. If he was crying, we’d: 1) try to feed him, 2) change his diaper, 3) cuddle him, so he falls asleep. It all felt so uncertain and strangely new but also strangely simple and repetitive. It was sometimes difficult in the evenings if he got fussy and cried for 10-15 minutes, but soon enough we figured out how to comfort him, so he could sleep.
The second week: help from my mom
Fortunately, my mom came to help out during our second week postpartum. That was very helpful because I was now able to take care of the baby a bit more but couldn’t also manage with all the housework. Jacob, my husband, was doing a lot of the housework, but he was also back to work full-time, so any help was highly appreciated.
My mom did all kinds of things such as run a laundry, load and unload the dishwasher, and cook. She also helped me take care of William, figure out how to dress him appropriately for the weather, hold him, so I can take a shower, and really everything else that he needed. It was very helpful and calming to have my mom by my side with my baby.
Recently, in William’s third month, my mom came to visit and help again. How good it is to have someone else help out with taking care of a baby! Not only was I more relaxed because I had more time to rest; I was also a better mom, wife, daughter, and friend (I believe) because I had more time to myself, so then I could be better to my close people. And also, it helps to have someone hold your baby while you’re peeing, so he doesn’t cry. (To be fair, when we’re alone at home, sometimes he just cries while I’m peeing, and it’s not the end of the world.)
On our own
From the third week on, Jacob, William, and I were left on our own. At first, I was rather scared! With Jacob at work, how was I going to take care of William for a whole day?! Luckily, once we spent a few days on our own, I realized it wasn’t that bad. We were managing pretty well – after all, the things that really had to be done were that I had to eat and go to the bathroom and he had to eat, get his diaper changed, get cuddled, and sleep. Everything else was optional.
I slowly figured out how to pee before he started crying and shower or eat while he was sleeping. I felt like a pro! We even started taking walks in the stroller when the weather was nice. Jacob, William, and I drove to appointments with the osteopath and chiropractor. On trips out of town, I breastfed in the car! Before each new activity, I felt scared about how we would manage, whether he would cry, etc. But we seemed to make it every time: even if he cried, we managed to calm him down, and things were somehow alright.
Weird note: I greatly enjoy packing William’s diaper bag. That’s something I’ve always looked forward to! Diaper bags are so cool with all their little pockets specifically created for diapers, wet wipes, towels, napkins, bottles, etc. We have a diaper bag for the stroller and a diaper backpack because I love them so much! And yes, we use them both.
Help from friends and family
Many friends have offered to help, but I haven’t quite taken them up on their offers yet. I have no problem letting other people hold or play with William when they come over, but I can’t quite imagine how friends can take care of my baby for hours on end at this stage.
My dad and my brother also came to visit several times, and that has also been helpful. It’s really convenient to have someone to hand the baby to for 15 minutes or half an hour in order to do something myself. Funny enough, the other person actually enjoys holding the baby, so it’s a win-win situation!
I’d like to thank everybody for their help. William, Jacob, and I are happy to receive so much help and love from the people around us. And if you ever feel like holding a baby for half an hour, let me know 😉
Our son just turned 12 weeks! Last week, I described how I went back to the basics of time management when he was born. I also went to the very basics of task management, and it’s been super effective.
Many new tasks came up when our little boy was born: order diapers, fill out the form for his daycare, read an article on his development, etc. I started jotting these down since I didn’t want anything to slip through my fingers.
Usually, I advocate the GTD approach where tasks are sorted by context: some need to be done on the laptop or my phone, others in my sons room or in the kitchen. The logic is that when you find yourself in the specific context, you can check the respective list and see what tasks you can do there.
With my newborn, however, I found it more helpful to have one list. I’m not sure why; perhaps because my different contexts were pulled more closely together by my being home with him. I began keeping one list on my phone with the creative name ‘General Tasks.’ I’d arrange the tasks on it in terms of which I wanted to tackle next. It was very easy to open up my list whenever I got a moment and see what task I could tackle at that time. This list served as a catch-all place for the tasks that had crossed my mind at some point.
I also added tasks on the bottom of the list such as ‘Organize a photoshoot in the spring’ with a due date of April 1. These are quite far in the future still, but they will come on to my plate in due time. Since I don’t have that many tasks on the list, it doesn’t feel overwhelming to have these longer-term tasks on there too. If at any time it becomes too much, I’ll move them to my ‘Someday Tasks’ list.
In my previous blog post, I wrote about the ‘Today’s Want To Do’ list, and that’s different from the ‘General Tasks’ list. The General Tasks list includes tasks that I’d like to get done sometime, in the near or far future. I’d consult the General Tasks list whenever I had time on my hands to do something. Today’s Want To Do list is really about what I hope to accomplish today.
It’s interesting how when things became more chaotic, I simplified my system. Perhaps that’s because it feels like I’m doing more task management at this point than project management (i.e., I don’t have many separate projects but rather it all more or less revolves around one project). I’m sure this will change when William becomes associated with more ‘projects’ and also when I go back to work.
But for now, simplicity works like a charm. At least one aspect of my life is not chaotic 🙂
Somewhere I read the following advice: “Once your baby is born, you need to set really low expectations for what you can accomplish in a day. You can expect to get two things done per day, one of which is to take a shower.” Oh, was this true for me!
It was very difficult to get used to such diminished productivity in the usual sense of the word. Of course, in fact my productivity was very high but in a very different way. I had just given birth to a tiny human, my body was recovering, I was learning to breastfeed and to take care of the little new person.
But in terms of usual productivity, I was managing to take a shower and to respond to messages on my phone. That was about it. There were days when I didn’t even manage to respond to my friends. Crazy.
I was fortunate enough to receive help during the first two weeks after my baby was born. But after I felt recovered, I wanted to figure out how to get more things done again.
The trouble was that a newborn’s rhythm is very unpredictable. I didn’t know when my little one would be hungry, sleepy, or require my care, so I couldn’t plan my days in any way.
Today’s Want To Do
I quickly came up with a system I called ‘Today’s Want To Do.’ (I called it ‘Want To Do’ because there was no guarantee I’d complete everything on my list on a given day.) I created a simple to do list and added entries on there. There were very few and simple tasks on there usually such as: Shower; Do laundry; Dry laundry; Empty dishwasher; Load dishwasher; Tidy up living room; Read book; Do recovery exercises; Go for a walk; Take a nap. (Note: These would not all get completed in a single day!)
I arranged the entries in order of importance and tackled the thing on top of the list whenever I got a few minutes. This was helpful because once my baby was asleep, I didn’t have to wonder what to tackle but could just glance at my list and get something done. This also ensured I didn’t start doing something random and later realize I forgot something more urgent.
Importantly, I had to be prepared to stop in the middle of the activity if my baby started crying. This was difficult! I don’t like leaving things half-done, but I had to. Once he was calm and/or sleeping again, I could pick up the activity again.
Sometimes I also had to add mealtimes to the list. Especially in the beginning when everything was chaotic, I had to make sure I ate lunch at a reasonable time because otherwise I ended up very tired and didn’t know why–until I realized it was 15:00, and I had only had breakfast so far.
I arranged the tasks in order of importance but also in temporal order, i.e., how I wanted to get things done in time. For instance, laundry would come before going out for a walk because the laundry takes time to be done. Lunch would come around noon (duh!) because if I postponed it too much, I’d end up tired, cranky, and, needless to say, hungry.
Back to Basics
This was a very basic approach: a simple to-do list organized by urgency and temporal order. Yet, that’s all I needed at that time. I tried creating a schedule of my and William’s rhythms, but apparently that’s impossible with a newborn. I tried to plan for the upcoming week (e.g., I’ll do laundry on this and this day, I’ll go for a walk on Tuesday afternoon, etc.), but that type of planning for the future didn’t work.
Instead, I had to commit to putting small, simple tasks on a list and getting to them when I had a chance. I have to say, it worked very well probably because I put all my thoughts on paper (or in an app, in my case), so I felt like I was taking care of the things I considered important or urgent or just plain necessary.
Sometimes, going back to basics is the only thing that’s necessary.
I have recently gotten the same question repeatedly: how do you make sure you divide chores equally between two people in a household? Often, this question is actually the disguised, “How do I make my partner do as much work as I do at home?”
My answer is two-fold: first, you need to distribute the workload and make sure that each person is doing their part; second, you need to let go of the comparison.
Distributing the workload
It is important, I believe, that everyone in a household has tasks to do. This ensures that they feel like they’re contributing to the home and that they have a role to play as well. I’m not saying that they will enjoy the chores they need to do but rather that it builds a sense of support and responsibility to the household.
This really struck me when we were visiting a friend of ours and his family a couple of years ago. Our friend, a father of two boys, was emptying out the dishwasher, when his five-year-old son came over, took the basket with the silverware, and began putting it away. We thought, “Wonderful that your boy is helping you out!” and our friend responded, “Oh, he’s not doing it out of selfless desire. He knows that this is his responsibility, so he does it.”
We thought this was quite special: a five-year old have a specific chore that is his to take care of. Of course, our friend could put away the silverware faster than his son, but that’s not the point. He chooses to give the task to his son in order for his son to begin learning what it means to be part of a household.
I feel that adults living together should definitely split the housework. This doesn’t always have to be 50-50 (perhaps one person has more working hours than the other, or there may be other circumstances), but it has to be a balance that both people feel happy with.
I’m also a fan of clear expectations when it comes to chores. Whenever possible, there should be arrangements about who does which task when. Then, there are minimal possibilities for confusion, hurt feelings, and blame.
At home, we split some chores in the following way:
Trash and recycling: Jacob. This is a rather big job because it involves carrying bags, collecting all the paper and cardboard and taking it out once a month, bringing glass to the recycling location, and sometimes driving stuff to the dump.
Laundry: Marisha (i.e., me). I don’t mind doing laundry, so I’m happy to take up this chore. It takes a decent amount of time, but I’m fine with it as long as I don’t have to do anything related to the trash.
Folding laundry and ironing: our cleaning lady. It saves a lot of time not to have to do this.
Cooking: shared. On Sundays, we cook together for about 2 hours; on Tuesdays, we each cook for about an hour but at different times because of our work schedules; on Thursdays, we each cook for about an hour and half, again at different times.
Buying groceries: shared. I wrote about this more extensively here, but in brief, each of us goes groceries shopping once a week.
Loading the dishwasher: shared. When you have something to put in the dishwasher, put it in. Don’t put it on top or in the sink. It’s as simple as that. If the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, then unload it and put your dirty stuff in. In case you’re really in a rush, then you can leave your dirty dishes on top, but it shouldn’t happen too often.
Unloading the dishwasher: shared, but I do it more often. The idea is that when you see the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, you should empty it out. Somehow (I wonder why) I notice this more often, so I do it. However, I don’t mind because…
Washing pots and pans: Jacob. Our cleaning lady cleans the dirty pots and pans when she comes, but at other times of the week, after other cook-ups, we get many dirty pots and pans. I really don’t like washing them (I much prefer emptying out a clean dishwasher), so Jacob does that.
Bringing stuff from the freezer: Jacob. We have a chest freezer in the basement, and taking stuff out is sometimes a pain because the thing you need (i.e., minced beef) may be buried below lots of other frozen stuff (i.e., chicken). I don’t like doing this because it’s difficult to find stuff and it’s cold, so I’m glad Jacob does this job.
Preparing food planner: Marisha. Is anybody surprised that I plan out what we’re going to eat when and what we should cook when? Probably not. For more info on our food planner, go here.
Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, cleaning kitchen, cleaning bathroom and toilet, cleaning fridge, washing windows and mirrors, folding and ironing clothes: our cleaning lady. She takes so much work off our plate! The things she does in four hours would probably take us eight hours. For us, it’s completely worth the money.
Preparing cleaning schedule for cleaning lady: Marisha. Clearly, making schedules is my type of job, and I don’t mind making one for our cleaning lady as well. It tells her what to do on each day, and it also makes sure that different tasks get done with the regularity that’s suitable for them.
Buying and refilling cosmetics and cleaning products: mostly Marisha. I keep track of which cosmetics and cleaning products are running low and make an online order once in a while. I do the same for toilet paper, tissues, etc. and buy them from the store. Jacob keeps track of some cleaning products that are a bit more specialized. I even recently made our first order of diapers and baby wet wipes, woohoo!
Ordering supplements: Jacob. He knows much more about supplements than I do, so I entrust that job to him.
Filing documents: Marisha. Jacob doesn’t like filing documents, while I actually kind of like it, so that’s an easy one.
General tidying up: mostly Marisha. To be honest, I just notice things that need to be tidied up a bit more than him, so I take a few minutes a couple of times a week to tidy up. But if something is really messy and it’s not my responsibility, then I ask him to tidy it up.
Those are a lot of chores… Phew! If you have any questions about them or if you think of something I haven’t covered, let me know!
Letting go of comparison
In the previous step, I described how we try to make sure we distribute the workload equally, so each person has an equal responsibility and contribution to the household. But how do we know if our contributions are exactly equal? What if one person is doing slightly more than the other? Isn’t that unfair?
In a way it is, and in a way it isn’t. It’s very difficult to quantify everything we do for each other and for our household. For instance, last week I had my baby shower, so Jacob took over my weekend groceries shopping session. Did I have to explicitly return the favor? No. This week he was busier than usual, so I packed all of his lunches. Did I ask for something in return? No. Two evenings ago, he assembled furniture while I read a book. It made me feel strange that he was “working” when I was relaxing, but that’s just how it happened in that moment. When he had a small operation a few weeks ago, I helped him with the maintenance of the wound every day. When I have back pain, he treats and massages my back. How do we even begin to quantify these things?
At some point, it comes down to trusting that the other person is helping and even doing extra things that we’re not seeing. When I feel that Jacob is not doing enough, I give myself a little bit of time to see whether I’m just irritated or whether there really is something in the division of chores that should be adjusted. If there is an actual need, we talk about it and make changes.
It’s not difficult to distribute household labor if both people have the same intention: to maintain a pleasant, comfortable space and lifestyle and to help each other. As long as people share this intention and communicate about their needs and preferences, I believe they can find a division of chores that feels fair to both. It’s important, though, to stay open to the other person’s perspective because it may not match our own 100%.
At some point, we need to put down the measuring stick and trust that each person is putting effort towards a pleasant home and lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is never possible to make sure we’re each doing the same exact amount of work, but that’s also not necessary. We each contribute in unique ways, and it’s sometimes difficult to quantify them all.