When my husband and I collapse on the couch at eleven pm still holding our newborn son because we haven’t yet figured out how to feed ourselves our third takeout pizza of the week, get the dishes into the sink, change from daytime sweats into nighttime sweats, and simultaneously keep our baby happy/fed/in a clean diaper/not crying, let alone put him to bed, one of us wonders aloud, “What did we used to do with all of our free time?”
“I don’t know. I can’t remember. “
“Me neither. But whatever it was, I don’t miss it.”
“So true.” Pause. “I am really freaking tired, though.”
“Oh God, me, too. But this is amazing.”
“Yeah. Totally amazing.”
“Incredibly hard. But great. “
“Of course! So great.”
One of the reasons that having a child is so great and amazing is that you figure out really quickly what the important things are and finally let go of everything else that previously cluttered your life. I’m not talking about the Big Important Things – family, friends, loyalty, all that. Hopefully you’ve got that down already. I mean the next tier, the types of things that, pre-baby, occupied most of your daily life.
Here’s how it works: in the beginning, everything is cut out but the essentials, which are anything involving the care of your baby, and occasionally feeding yourself. Gradually other staples like showering and paying bills get added back in, and after a month or so, minor errands can even be accomplished. You also grow far more efficient at doing things. Think you’re pretty good at folding laundry? Yesterday I folded and put away a load of our son’s laundry (of which there is a shocking amount) while pumping two bottles of breast milk (thanks to my hands-free pumping bra) and cooing and singing to the little guy to keep him entertained in his crib. Try that on for size.
Some of this simplification is borne of necessity, but most of it – once you’re at the point if being able to re-institute some pre-baby activities into your life – comes from being honest with yourself about which of these things you do and don’t care about anymore. My husband and I both work full time jobs – his is 40 hours a week coupled with an hour-long commute, mine is close to home but with a wildly variable schedule. And we both have a long list of hobbies and non-career-related aspirations we’d like to pursue – so many that we somehow always felt pressed for time even before our little man arrived. But the reality, I now realize, is that we were never going to get to half of those things anyway, baby or no baby. Even if our lives had continued along as usual, with no qualifying life event, certain of those aspirations would have just kept simmering on the back burner because we would have procrastinated or simply chosen to devote our time to other pursuits. The difference is that now our hand is forced and we can admit that we’re never really going to do those things, and frankly don’t have the time anymore to even fantasize about someday learning Spanish (me), picking up the bassoon (him), or forming a band with pediatrics colleagues and calling it Kids Rock (me again; don’t judge – it was going to be awesome).
But what we can do is pick one or two things to focus on that are not exactly essential to our lives but that make major contributions to our happiness and fulfillment. For my husband, one of those things is running, so we bought him a reflective vest and flashing safety light to wear on evening runs after the dishes have actually made it to the sink and the little guy is in, or on his way to, bed. And for me, one of those things is writing, which is why I am thumb-typing this essay into the Notes app on my iPhone while breastfeeding our baby.
Just know that sleep does not fall into that category of important things you can choose to prioritize. Sleep follows its own rules and your preferences about it really don’t apply. But look on the bright side: you’ll have far more awake hours to devote to those important things you’ve identified, and most of all to the little bundle who started it all. How great and amazing is that?