You made it through a year of parenthood! Before your very eyes, your baby transformed from a tiny helpless creature who could basically only eat, poop and sleep into an active one-year-old who can laugh, crawl, play, and might even be starting to walk or talk. Baby’s first birthday isn’t just a milestone for her – it’s also the anniversary of the day you became a parent. The day your little one was born, your life changed forever. You’ve probably never known such joy and love, but you’ve also probably never felt quite so exhausted. It’s easy for mommy-hood to completely take over your life and identity for a while. I think this is pretty normal. Particularly in the first few months, your baby is so helpless that it takes all your time and energy just to tend to his needs. But by the time baby has turned one, life has most likely calmed down a little, and baby is probably better able to handle being apart from you. Once all the presents have been opened and the icing has been cleaned out from behind baby’s ears, it’s a good opportunity to take a step back and bring your own needs into focus.
The ideas I’m suggesting will resonate with some people more than others. Some moms blow me away with their ability to maintain active social lives after baby. And moms who work out of the home may feel like time with their little one is too limited and precious to spend additional time away. But as someone who threw myself into motherhood with little time left for myself, I eventually came to realize that I needed to restore the balance in my life. These are some ideas that I think might help other moms out there too.
Move your body – Whatever physical activity made you happy pre-baby, figure out a way to re-incorporate it into your life. Or maybe take the plunge and try something completely new. Don’t do it to “get back your pre-baby body.” Do it for you. Do it because it feels good to have some time to yourself to clear your head, and because your own health and well-being matter. Especially for stay-at-home-moms, do it because it’s nice to be connected to the adult world! I love the camaraderie of my Zumba class – a group of women shaking our butts in an ego- and judgment-free atmosphere. Even if you can just go once a week, find a way to work fitness into your weekly routine.
Plan a Girls’ Day – When was the last time you got together with your friends, baby-free? Of course you love your little guy or girl, but when you bring baby along on social outings, it’s impossible to truly relax. You’re constantly worried about whether he’s cranky/hungry/ready for a nap/about to destroy everything in your friend’s house. Every conversation gets cut off and re-starts approximately 17 times as you tend to baby’s needs. Give yourself a chance to have true quality time with your friends. They love to see your little one, but they’ll also appreciate a day when you can reconnect with the worries of motherhood at least momentarily put aside.
Have an intentional wardrobe – Once baby arrives, the idea of a leisurely day at the mall to shop for clothes can feel like a distant fantasy. And when every piece of clothing you own ends up covered in spit up, baby food, or other bodily fluids that we shall not speak of, it’s hard to see the point in getting nice clothes. Many of us feel guilty spending the money on ourselves with all the costs of having a baby. With these factors combined, moms often end up with wardrobes that are completely accidental, a mix of shirts we bought because they were on clearance, pants that don’t quite fit right anymore, and jeans that were cute when you bought them…. three years ago. These clothes often don’t actually make us happy or feel good about ourselves. So indulge yourself just a little, Mama! Leave baby with your parents or significant other, go shopping, and find at least a few pieces that you actually love. Be bold, and try on styles or colors that you wouldn’t normally go for. When you wear well-made, cute clothes that flatter you, you feel like a new woman.
As a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, I would often find myself still in pajamas at 3:00 in the afternoon. While this felt like a luxury for a while, eventually I started to feel like a slob with my frizzy, unwashed hair, and permanent wardrobe of old t-shirts and yoga pants. Getting an infusion of nice clothes made me feel human again. I felt a renewed confidence. Even just on quick trips to run errands, instead throwing on a hoodie and praying not to run into anyone I knew, I’d walk with a little swagger knowing how cute I looked in my new outfit.
Go on a Date– The demands of parenthood have drained you both. Romance often takes a backseat during the craziness that is the first year with a new baby. It’s natural to put baby’s needs in such a central place that your connection and attentiveness to your partner are affected. Again, while this phenomenon is very normal, I think it’s critical to keep the romance alive and take time to nurture your relationship. The first time my husband and I went on a date post-baby was pretty fantastic. It felt like old times, getting tipsy over pre-dinner drinks and indulging in a slow, multi-course, gourmet meal. We laughed together like we hadn’t done in months, and engaged in conversations that went deeper than the usual daily discussions of what to have for dinner, what errands we needed to run, and the intricacies of my son’s bowel movements. Even though we see each other every day, going on actual dates keeps us truly connected.
Resurrect Your Hobbies- Think back to your pre-baby life. It might feel like a million years ago, but there were things you loved that you probably haven’t managed to find time for in recent months. Whether it was hiking, biking, painting, or salsa dancing, carve out the time to make this part of your life again. I’m an avid reader, but at one point I couldn’t even remember the last book I’d read that wasn’t about parenting. Starting to read books for pleasure again and starting this blog have been important steps to bringing balance back into my life. Being a mom is the most important aspect of my identity, but it is not the only thing that defines me. I also think a lot about the type of life I’m modeling for my son. Reading and spending time outdoors are things that I want my son to embrace, and leading by example will be much more powerful than just telling him that those things matter.
Some of the suggestions on this list involve spending money, which may seem contradictory after reading about my one month budget challenge. But that’s all part of the “Moderate Mama” philosophy; there are times to be thrifty, and times to indulge. If financial struggles mean that new clothes or a gym membership are simply not feasible, there are still ways you can take care of yourself for free. Start a book club, and choose works that are readily available at your library. Have a potluck with friends. Commit to a weekly jog, or start a walking group with some neighborhood moms. Think about what you need in order to nourish your social and emotional well-being, your creativity, or whatever other aspect of your life has been neglected.
This is not a call for selfishness, but for acknowledgment of our own needs and wants. Your baby will always be first, but taking care of yourself matters. Brief time away can give us renewed energy and joy when we get back home to our little ones. Not only can it make us more satisfied with our lives, but it may ultimately make us better moms.
Readers, what do you think? Are there things you’re glad you did for yourself when baby became more independent? Have you struggled to find a balance between your baby’s needs and your own?