I love talking with moms of babies and preschoolers, and I often get questions about how to handle housekeeping responsibilities with the demands of taking care little ones at home. Maybe the reason I love sharing my tips is because I struggled with this a lot myself as I tried to juggle a baby on one hip while looking at the mess that was supposed to be my living room. It's what started me on my quest for creating a sanctuary.
Recently, a reader named Jennifer emailed me and asked it this way: many of the housekeeping schedules I have seen don't seem to be made for mommies with really little ones. How did you survive infancy and toddlerhood while maintaining a home sanctuary?
Today, I'd like to share with you from my (edited) email to her. Maybe you're right smack in the baby-makin'/baby raisin' years and could use it....or maybe you're long past diapers but know someone who might need some encouragement and you can pass this post to her - either way, we are women helping one another along. It's what we do. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of tips and advice, just my "shoot from the hip" thoughts.
The baby and toddler years, to me, are the toughest parts of the parenting/homekeeping journey. With my three kids, I felt like I should have T-shirts that read "I survived my baby's first year!" for each of them. Seriously, that first birthday felt like a huge milestone for me because I just found myself very stretched in during that time, to say the least. I loved my babies, but I did not always love the work that went the baby years. I was tired a lot.People always tell new moms to use baby's nap times to get things done but I found this advice useless. You should know that I always took naps when the babies napped and never got anything done when they slept.
How do you make a housekeeping schedule work without either being a slave to it or giving up altogether? I think it's best to find something super simple that will work for you in this season. A year from now, you might find that something completely different will work because your baby will be able to play a little on his own or stay occupied while you work on the house. This is a passing season that will change - and a lot of the chaos will go away with it.My suggestion is to keep things as easy as possible.
1. Focus on one task at a time if you can, for example, work on laundry on Tuesday (random pick). Keep after it in between snacks and boo boos and diaper changes. Don't use laundry day to run errands or clean out drawers. Whatever you don't finish, leave until next Tuesday if possible. Then you don't even have to think about it for a whole week and it is off your mind. Buy plenty of underwear. :)
2. Have a basket, bin or drawer in every single room that you can throw toys and clutter into on a moment's notice. Get your toddler used to picking up at sorta regular times - before Daddy gets home from work, before bathtime. Use a timer and set it for just a few minutes so he learns that picking up is a game that is quick and fun.
3. Realize that starting a new family, regardless of how long you've been married, means huge changes in your life (and how you see your role in life.) This is great stuff, but also stressful stuff. Add to that other circumstances, such as job issues, in-laws, tight finances, illness, etc, and all of that really affects your ability and motivation to do much more than survive. And survival is good! You should give yourself credit for that. Don't measure your "success" as a homekeeper on the basis of such eventful years. Dishes can wait, kisses won't. Don't let what what is "undone" rob you of the joy to be had in gooey smiles, finger painting and playing peek-a-boo. There will be plenty of time to become a housekeeping goddess as time goes on.
4. Don't set yourself up for failure by biting off more than you can chew. Aim low if you have to, but just aim at something. They say if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time. :) Instead of having the goal "Have the whole house sparkling every day," shoot for "I'll have the dishes done each night before bed so I can wake up to a clean kitchen." Small victories are powerful and they lead to more victories. Hence, the "Small Things," my personal coping strategy.
5. If a simple schedule is just not doable (and many, MANY times I've abandoned all hope of having one) just work on daily Minimum Maintenance. Seriously. And then just jam stuff into closets when someone comes over if you need to - ha! A schedule is a tool - and if it doesn't work for you, then no big deal. Just be willing to revisit it periodically because one day you might find it's just the thing for THAT PARTICULAR season.
6. Don't compare yourself to others, and stay away from the blogs that make you feel "less than." You know, the ones with beautiul pictures of people's fabulous crafts and gorgeous decor and gourmet cooking. Inspiring? maybe. But mostly, they make us feel dissatisfied or worse, like failures. Listen. You are EXACTLY who you are supposed to be for your husband and baby. You are their gift and they are yours. You will make it. Believe that.
Almost all older moms will tell you - "enjoy this time." I'm so glad I took those words to heart when my children were small. No, I didn't enjoy poopy diapers or teething or temper tantrums, but I did try to focus on the idea that those years would be fleeting, and I should try to make the most of them. My "baby" boy turned 18 last week - and he was a clingy little guy for the first four years of his life. He thought I should hold him from morning until night - it was extremely inconvenient and tiring ;). I felt I got nothing accomplished until he was in school - LOL. Those years were messy and frustrating, but I loved them. And the memory of that time in my life is very, very special. He (and my other two kids) are proof that blubbering babies eventually turn into beautiful young people, and now I can mop my floors to my heart's content, which is still practically never.
What is something you wish you'd known then that you know now? Or what trick did you learn that helped you deal with the mess and chaos that are naturally part of that season of life?
Special thanks to Jennifer, for allowing me to share from our emails today.
Song of the Day: Baby Mine, Bette Midler