I admittedly read way too many parenting books before Brandon was born. I would literally read every book out there that anyone with an opinion had touted as the latest and greatest in the parenting world. It probably just confused me with too many methods and thoughts, and it took a long time for me to get out of my head what kind of parent the books were telling me to be and what kind of parent I actually was/wanted to be. I was convinced that I needed to be this hippie lovin', no-schedule, nurse-whenever my-precious-little-baby-wanted kind of mommy (this also fell in line with what my pediatrician at the time was telling me). Although most of these books never flat out said it, they pretty much expected you to meet every demand your tiny addition would make, regardless of how it affected your life, or if it was even reasonable (like feeding every 2 hours at 4 months old!).
Fast forward 5 months later, I was a wreck. Brandon would wake-up 10 times a night and was completely unpredictable during the day. I never slept more than a couple hours at a time and felt like a walking zombie. Being the type-A person that I am, having no clue how our days/nights were going to go drove me nuts. I couldn't understand how any mother out there ever got her act together after having a baby.
At our wits end, Brad and I finally called in Dream Team Baby sleep consultants to help us get Brandon sleeping at night. Not only did they do just that, but they also showed me a totally different picture of what motherhood could be like. They immediately put Brandon on a strict schedule during the day and used a version of "cry-it-out" to get him to sleep at night. It was incredibly hard the first day, but after 3 nights, he was sleeping 12 hours and taking 2 solid naps during the day. Hallelujah, praise the Lord!
By not giving into Brandon's every desire (i.e. me comforting him multiple times during the night and letting him set the schedule during the day) we had regained our control as the parents. I finally knew what to expect during the day and could actually get out for a run or lunch with a friend. I could plan things! I also had enough energy to do them since we were all finally getting a decent amount of sleep at night. It is no exaggeration when I say that sleep training, scheduling, and a bit of parental control literally gave me my life back.
There is no one-size fits all solution, but I would say the secret to getting your life back after baby is doing just that, get back to your life. Hire a babysitter, enlist the help of friends, let your child be a little uncomfortable as they work through the fact that the world doesn't revolve around them. I'm not saying let your newborn go hungry, but be reasonable. Respect your needs as well as your child's and don't think you have to give up your own life to be a good mother.
Here's a list of a few practical things that have helped me:
- Sleep Training - not for everyone, but it does work and it works fast.
- Scheduling - I'm a hyper-scheduler by nature, but I think just having a similar flow to your days is helpful.
- Parental Control - what I mean by this, is understanding that you're the parent and you know best. There will be a day when your toddler will cry and yell because they want to run into traffic, which you obviously won't let them do. Crying or being uncomfortable does not mean that you are being a bad parent, it's actually what it takes a lot of times to be a good parent.
- Independent Play Time - Brandon plays happily in his room for an hour everyday by himself. It is wonderful and heavenly, but it took a lot of work to get up to this point. We started young and with only 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, etc. Very worth the effort!
- Babysitters & Housekeepers - if you can afford to, hiring good help is one of the best things ever. Get out of the house without the kids.
- Planning - from weekly menus to playdates, having an idea of what's going on helps me immensely.
- Delegate to Dad - give Dad a task that is all his. Brad is in charge of baths in our house. It's a wonderful break for me at the end of the day, and since the bath is his domain he doesn't have to worry about me nagging him because he does something a different way than I would have (like filling the water up too high). Dad's like having an area of expertise where they don't feel like they are going to be critiqued every 2 seconds.
- Chocolate and Wine - every tired mom's best friend. :)
For the first few months you certainly have to give up a lot of your time and energy to your new bundle who relies on you for everything, but as they get older, making an effort to regain some of your time and freedom is beneficial to the whole family. You will feel better and your kids and spouse will have a much happier mom and wive.