I just completed my third maternity leave, and I wish I could tell you that I’ve got it all figured out. I feel like I should be able to create some Pin on Pinterest that charts the course for the best maternity leave, but all three maternity leave experiences were very different. I believe maternity leave can be one of those transitions in life where we look back and say, “I wish,” or, “I miss,” or, “If I only could’ve.”
Parenting, in general, is full of those “if” moments (and even regrets), and maternity leave often falls under the same umbrella. Most of the time you’re just surviving, and that’s okay. For several weeks you walk around in a fog and then one day the fog lifts and things start to feel normal again…a new normal, but normal none the less. I believe that each mom’s hopes for what she will experience and the memories she walks away with during this unique time at home are different for every woman.
So, it’s important for you to establish what you want your leave to look and feel like, and make that happen for you. Every mom’s leave is personal and what works for one might not work for you. There are things to consider like: what number child is this for you? When you go back to work, will you work from home or go to an office? Are you recovering physically? So many things impact this time, so I always ask myself this question: at the end of my leave, what are the things that I will regret doing or not doing? The answers to that questions dictate how I spend my time with my new baby.
This is how I’ve made the most of my maternity leaves, in no particular order.
1. Start, better yet, finish any projects or “honey do” lists before the baby arrives.
Many of these projects are baby related such as getting the nursery together, stocking up on baby items, organizing shower gifts, etc. It can also be things you want to do around the house that you know you will not want to do or have the time to do once the baby arrives.
2. Embrace the help and the visitors.
We as moms, let alone new moms, often want to feel territorial with our new baby and it’s like subconsciously we think this maternity leave time is our only time we’ll have with our baby, so we tend to try and “do it all.” I’m here to tell you that while maternity leave is sweet and special, it’s just the beginning. The best is yet to come! Don’t rob others of the blessing of being a help to you. Share your baby. Let others hold them, give a bottle, and change them while you take a nap or just rest your arms and have an adult conversation. Honestly, I’ve learned to look at my babies and simply admire them while others are holding them. I have noticed things about them that I might overlook from the vantage point of looking down at them in my arms. Plus, I always liked to watch how others interact with them and learn from that. Believe it or not, you can learn new tricks and tactics from watching other people interact with your baby.
3. Let the mess go.
It won’t last forever. In fact, it will go by fast. Before you know it, you’ll be putting the massive swing that takes up the space of a small recliner up into the attic, and the pack ‘n’ play will fold up one last time. After we brought our third baby home, I looked around and there were blankets and bibs laying everywhere, nipples on my countertops, and diapers laying on the floor because the extra 15 steps to the trash can were too many at that moment. I’m an organizer and like for things to have their place, so I had to adjust the times of “straightening” throughout the day from several times down to just one time right before bed or whenever I had a second to do it. Do that if that is you, but remember that there will be time to organize after this busy and ever-changing season of having a newborn. When people come to your house to visit, they’re not there to see your “clean” house. They’re there to see you and your baby. I’ve heard countless women say, “I wish I’d just sat down and rocked by baby or played with them and let the house stay messy.” Now their “babies” are in college and they’d give anything for a mess around the house.
I ask myself this question: at the end of my leave, what are the things that I will regret doing or not doing? The answers to that questions dictate how I spend my time with my new baby.
4. Have grace with yourself.
You’ll never do life the same. Give yourself time to figure out your new normal. Just because you used to do the dishes right before bedtime or did all the laundry and put it away every day before breakfast or had dinner ready at 6 pm on the dot doesn’t mean you’ll ever do it that way again. Things, routines, and priorities have changed. You’ll figure out the rightful place for chores, grocery shopping, etc., in time…and then it’s likely to change again. Be flexible. Just because something worked or made sense yesterday, doesn’t mean it will today. Maternity leave is really about surviving and trial and error.
5. Spend time holding your baby and gazing at them.
They will change so quickly and you can use your maternity leave to watch it happen right before your eyes. It will be something you’ll never forget. It’s okay to let other things go. Your baby is establishing a trust and connection with you right now that will be undeniable. He’ll soon find you, hear you, and lay eyes on you in a room full of people.
6. Only control what you can.
At first, you can’t control much of your day, or when and what your baby will do but you can control you. It is important to keep as much of your routine as you can. If you’re used to exercising, then continue to exercise. You might not do it at the same time or the same way or for as long. If you are used to spending time in the morning reading or going to a ladies’ group event, etc., do your best to still do those things. That will help you feel as normal as you can. It’s easy to lose yourself in your baby and let your baby run you. You can still run your day and your life. It always helped me to get up before my babies woke for the first feeding of the day and shower, have my quiet time, eat breakfast, drink my coffee, or whatever helped me feel like me!
7. Take advantage of not working.
Do the things you always wish you could but can’t because you’re working. Go to lunch with friends, watch a Netflix series, visit family, etc.
8. Set a couple of small goals each day and accomplish them.
Don’t overwhelm yourself or you’ll end the day feeling inadequate as a person, wife, and mom. Goals can range from just simply taking a shower that day all the way to grocery shopping and cleaning the toilets. Setting small attainable goals help you feel purposeful and on-task while still getting to love on your baby which is your primary goal. Tomorrow, you’ll set new goals and before you know it, you’ll be adding to them and accomplishing more each day.
9. Talk to your man about your feelings, emotions, and expectations.
So many times the dad goes back to work and his life gets back to “normal,” but everything for you is up in the air. Communicate those feelings, whatever they are to him. Express your needs and work through things together.
10. Encourage him to help and let him.
He is not going to do it as you do it, but that’s okay. He needs to learn and connect with your baby and you need to get used to someone else helping (and not in the way you do it). While he helps, take care of yourself; go to the gym, the store, get your nails done, go for a walk, take a bath, etc.
I’ll leave you with one last tidbit of advice. This doesn’t pertain strictly to maternity leave, but mothering in general. Getting out of the house and into the car to go anywhere will be like a Chinese fire drill. You’ll be in the car and realize you’ve forgotten something, back and forth, the baby may have a blowout or spit up, or you remember that you forgot to brush your teeth (speaking from experience on all of these!). You’ll do yourself a favor if you tell yourself the departure time is 15 minutes earlier than whatever it actually is. Pack the diaper bag and get things ready as much as you can the night before. Getting ready to go anywhere with a baby is not for the faint of heart. You got this, Mama!
You’ll love this recent podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: Stop the Mommy Wars: Every Mom Is Doing Something Right – 045!
Don’t miss these related articles: To: First-Time Moms-to-Be, From: a 7-week Mom, To the Mom Who Feels Guilty for Loving Her Work, To the Mom Who Has Postpartum Depression, In Need of Mom Friends? 7 Ways to Reach Out, and You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be a Great Mom.