How to survive the early days

I often get the question “How did you manage to take care of two little ones, cook AND do housework all by yourself?” I would often just smile and say “By God’s grace” and sometimes “I don’t know how I managed”. That is not the kind of answer some would like to hear as they would like a solution to make their hectic, chaotic, sleep deprived days of dealing with little ones more manageable… even with the help of a maid or grandparents.Coming up with a more complete answer would require either a chat with the interested party or taking time to organize and pen down my thoughts. Since the former is not always possible given the circumstances that I meet the interested parties, the latter would be a better option for me to reach out to more people.

In case you think I have kids who are easy to take care of, well… I don’t. I have two boys who are born slightly less than two years apart and the younger boy was born 2 months prematurely. A relatively small age gap meant that the elder boy still needed physical help with many things while I had to take care of all the physical needs of the younger boy. Both boys have minds of their own and incredible lung power and stamina for crying. Premature babies need to be fed more often because of their low birth weight and are very difficult to nurse in the early days (notoriously sleepy at feeds and unable to suck well).

Before I “impart” any useful survival tips, I must declare that I am no supermum with limitless energy, patience and wisdom. I would rather indulge in my favorite hobby — sleep, than struggle out of bed at 6.15am every morning (weekends and public holidays included). I often fail to discipline my kids without feeling anger welling up inside me. I often do not know what to do. All these inadequacies only serve to point me to my need for Jesus Christ and the salvation He offered to me, and rely on God’s grace that never fails to run out as He refines me to be more Christ-like until I see Him face to face. What I have to share comes from my personal experience, so it is not prescriptive for everyone.

1. The spiritual side of things

When we have time to sit down and think, we will realize that how we manage challenges  in life is not limited by our intellect or physical ability, but rather, by our perspective of things. Of all the perspectives that we have, the most important one is how we view our sovereign God and the brief life we have here on earth. In the midst of chronic sleep deprivation and the countless number of things that scream for my attention, it is easy to lose focus and forget who God is (His attributes), His promises and that many things may seem important now but do not really matter in the light of eternity. When my eyes are fixed on God, I trust Him more and worry less. So the following 4 things are helpful in helping me to keep my eyes, mind and heart on God:

Support from fellow sisters in Christ. Although I keep in touch with quite a few young mums, I have a homemaker girlfriend whom I keep in touch with on an almost daily basis, just so we can update each other about our concerns, how God has answered our prayers and encourage each other in our Lord Jesus Christ. By journeying together, it has given both of us great joy and strength to persevere in our walk as Christian homemakers with young children.

Persevere in reading God’s Word. Some mums (myself included) feel bad about not spending enough time reading God’s Word and it is understandable (especially when the whole family is still adjusting to the new arrival). What matters is we do not give up trying to find time to read the Bible. It may be the same chapter over and over again or a few verses a day, but what is important is persevering.

Pray, pray and pray some more. When dealing with young kids, parents will realize that many things are not within our control. This should spur us to turn to our sovereign God. I used to pray aloud to my babies (I still pray aloud with my boys now) about anything… giving thanks for the sunshine/ Jesus/ food/ our hands, asking God for strength, asking for forgiveness for losing my patience, entrusting my toddler’s bladder control into His hands..etc.

Look at God’s creation. When looking at God’s creation, it refocuses our eyes on who He is. This act is almost like turning a child to face the adult in authority and asking him/her to focus on what is important.Simply look at how light and fluffy the clouds are or how intricately designed a baby’s eyelashes are and I cannot help but marvel at what a wonderful creator and sustainer God we have.

2. Practical perspectives

Of the tons of advice I have been given, the most useful ones have to do with how we view kids and homemaking. When seen in a certain way, being a stay-home-mum with two little ones does not seem as scary as it sounds! Here are some of them:

“It doesn’t hurt to let your babies cry”  Sometimes I wish I could clone myself to take care of the needs of both kids at the same time. Since that is not possible in the foreseeable future, someone has to wait for his turn. Kids grow up not to expect to be the center of the universe (although each of us have an innate tendency to put our needs and wants first) if parents do not respond to their cries immediately every time. I remember having to unlatch a nursing baby and leaving him in the crib crying because I had to rush the toddler with a full bladder to the bathroom… not once, not twice, but pretty often. Letting babies cry is also necessary in the process of sleep training (proponents of attachment parenting will strongly disagree… but hey, sometimes people give me a look of disbelief when I tell them at what age my babies could sleep through the night… and wish theirs could do the same thing). Note: What I mean by “crying” encompasses anything from a genteel whimper to  red-faced, hyperventilating, screaming ball of terror that threatens to shatter your eardrums.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” When spilled milk, soiled bedsheets and routines that are out of whack seem like a big deal, it is helpful to remember this.

“A little dirt around the house won’t hurt” This makes housekeeping more manageable 😛

“Take it one day at a time. Before you know it, days, weeks and months will fly past.” On trying days, I used to take it an hour at a time! Counting down the hours to bedtime helped me to make it to the end of the day. When time is broken down into bite-sized chunks or when the finishing line is in sight, the day with tons of things to do seem more manageable. Thinking too far into the future will only result in panic and paralysis.

“As long as the kids are fed, cleaned and put to bed, mummy has done a good job for the day!” Adjusting to the new arrival of a second child is not the time to be ambitious. A goal like this one is more realistic.

3. Transition: From delivery to going solo

I was fortunate to have my mother-in-law, who raised four kids by herself, to help me during this transition period. Going through what she did meant she knew how to provide the help that I needed during my recovery such that I had some rest to recover but would not panic when she had to leave. As soon as I was physically able (no more pain from the episiotomy), she left the entire responsibility of taking care of two little ones to me. She never helped with night feeds so there was no getting-used-to-night-feeds for me to do. When the time came for her to leave soon, she left the house for hours at a stretch so that I can ease into the task of going solo (and she got to stretch and have some fresh air). She spent most of the time washing dishes, cleaning the house, entertaining the toddler when I had to take a short nap and providing the extra pair of hands when I really needed help with either of the kids. After my mother-in-law left, my parents would visit a couple of times a week during the weekdays for a few hours when they were free, to spend time with the grandchildren and help out with some housework.

4. Energy and time saving tips

Routines. The transition from the time baby came home from hospital to the time I was on my own took place within a span of almost 2 months. During this period, I got my kids to settle into routines that had staggered feeding times and came up with a detailed timetable of each child’s daily routines and my cooking/ household chores. This meant I had time to plan ahead and minimize situations when I felt like I desperately need a clone. Having routines and some planning helped a lot when I was in a sleep deprived state because what I needed to do next was written down. Such planning is also helpful as the baby’s routine changes to accommodate dropping of milk feeds and starting solids. Some may ask “But isn’t baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns unpredictable in the beginning? How to predict when he will be hungry and when he’s sleepy enough to nap/sleep?” That is when the advice “It doesn’t hurt to let babies cry” comes in handy. I put the baby on a 2.5 hourly (instead of 3 hourly) routine after I had the breastfeeding issues sorted out to ensure that he was fed often enough.

Sleep training. Sleep training involves teaching babies how to fall asleep on their own when left in the crib. Although the baby was not ready to sleep through the night without a feed, I started sleep training him the moment he came home from hospital. It meant that although he still had to wake up for night feeds by the time my mother-in-law left, he could fall back to sleep on his own after being fed. Just as routines are critical in helping me to cope with taking care of the little ones, sleep training was crucial too although the process of training can be hellish (for myself and the baby). Getting kids to sleep through the night and fall asleep on their own as soon as possible gives mummy a lot more time and energy on her hands for other things.

Fall asleep on the job. Having to cover day and night shifts for a few months requires stamina. I am the type of person who needs 9 hours of sleep a day and can always do with more if given the luxury to indulge. So how I survived the days of the chronic sleep deprivation was to fall asleep on the job! I fell asleep nursing and burping the baby, and watching the toddler eat on a daily basis. I could read and carry out a conversation with the toddler while catching up on sleep by punctuating my seemingly intelligible speech with micro-naps of a few seconds in length.

Breastfeed. Besides the health benefits that breastfeeding offers, it was also essential in helping me to get through the night. Being the milk bottle meant that before the baby was sleep trained for the night, I had the option and advantage of not having to get out of bed to feed the baby at night. (His crib was right next to my bed. When he could last from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. without a feed, I moved out of his room). This made the night shift more restful and I still had energy for the day shift. During the day, doing without the bottle meant that I did not have to spend time preparing the formula, washing the milk bottle and sterilizing it. (Note to mothers who struggle with breastfeeding: don’t feel bad about giving up or supplementing with formula. Do what is best to help you and the family cope with having a new baby in the house.)

Multitask. Having staggered routines meant that the whole day seemed to revolve around feeding with little time left for anything else. As the kids grew and the toddler became more proficient at self-feeding (without creating a big mess), the feeding times coincided and I had more time to do other activities with them. In order to get more things done within the limited amount of time, I learned to multitask. E.g. reading to the toddler or watch him play while nursing the baby; ironing clothes while singing and talking to the baby; teaching the toddler how to read/ count during meal/ bath times.

“Steal” time. I do my ironing and floor cleaning in stretches of a few minutes at a time, whenever there is time in between activity although I usually plan to clean the floor at the end of the day. It is a bonus if I get some cleaning done before the kids go to bed and I get more time for myself at night.

Cooking smart. I used to have cooked food delivered to my house during confinement and for 2 months after baby came home from the hospital. As the food was not really suitable for toddlers, I decided to cook. With the limited time and energy that I had, I cooked lunch and dinner portions together, such that I only needed to reheat the dinner portion. I planned the menu for the week as well so grocery shopping and food preparations for the week becomes a no brainer. I am also always on the lookout for simple but yummy recipes to make food prep and cooking easier.

5. My best friend

My best friend is none other than my hubby :). Although he did not take over any night feeds because I was on total breastfeed for the baby, his support was invaluable. I couldn’t have survived through the early days without his love, companionship and support. We went for dates whenever it was possible. He used to take the elder boy out on weekends so I had time to rest (yes, after having two kids, taking care of one baby is actually restful!). And of course, he helped out with the housework whenever he could.

That is all I have to share. I hope this is helpful for mums and mums-to-be :). For Christian mums, as Galatians 6:9 mentions, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Let us not grow tired of teaching our little ones and taking care of them, with God’s help.