The year following the birth of a baby must have its own name and its own set of expectations. In my family, it is known as The Baby Year. (Capitalized, revered, and always uttered with a touch of fear.) Each time my husband and I went through a Baby Year, we overcame the guilt, rationalized our shortcomings, and excused the chaos in our lives by 1) naming it and 2) letting it go.
House constantly messy? Don’t worry, it’s a Baby Year.
Haven’t seen your friends in months? It’s a Baby Year; you’ll reconnect soon.
Don’t have time to read fiction, grocery shop, or apply makeup? Forgive yourself; it’s a Baby Year.
All bets are off in a Baby Year. You can’t be expected to operate at full steam in all areas of your life during a Baby Year. After all, you’re dedicating a whole crap-ton of steam towards keeping a new small human being alive and thriving. This “Baby Year mindset” helps you get through the sleepless nights and breastfeeding challenges and teething phases, too. Just remembering that your little cherub will only be a baby for a year makes you realize just how short and temporary everything is.
While a year passes very quickly in retrospect, it can also seem unbearably long while you’re in it. Knowing this, there are a few things you can do to make the most of your Baby Year. The Grocery Store Grandmas were right–it really does go by so fast.
6 Tips for Surviving a Baby Year
Sleep in Shifts
It won’t be long before someone will ask you, “So, how is your baby sleeping?” Whatever your sleep arrangement is, find a way for you and your partner to get some undisturbed sleep. You might choose to separate every night into two shifts, with each of you taking half of the night with the baby while the other one sleeps. Or, it might work better to take an entire night as a shift, especially if both parents work different days. One partner might sleep in the guest room for part of the night, or one of you can use a sound machine to drown out sounds while the other sleeps on the couch with the baby monitor. If you can set up a mattress in the baby’s room, one of you can sleep in there while the other gets some good sleep in “the good bed.”
No matter how you do it, make it your goal to help each other get sleep. (Your baby certainly isn’t going to make that his goal!) It doesn’t make sense for both parents to get up every time the baby cries.
Free At-Home Dates
During our last and final Baby Year, I gave my husband the gift of 12 free, at-home dates, one for each month of the coming year. We didn’t have money for babysitters or expensive dinners. There was no time for weekend getaways or couples’ trips. But we absolutely could find time to be together, and these date ideas helped us be intentional about it.
Divide and Conquer
Before children, you have plenty of brain space available for thinking about housework. You probably know who has done what jobs and when, and if ever one of you is burdened with more than their fair share of tasks, you notice and discuss it promptly. After you have children, everyone is just in survival mode. There is no brain space available, but if there were, it would be devoted to seeking sleep or seeking a shower.
During a Baby Year, try to come up with a simple plan that can help you and your partner stay in your own lane and focus on a few set tasks. Maybe one of you takes on the job of doing the dishes, and the other takes the laundry. You don’t have to spend time worrying about the jobs that aren’t yours or asking each other to do their share. Talk about ahead of time who is going to be in charge of which jobs, but be flexible if housework doesn’t get top priority of the to-do list for awhile.
Funny thing about sleep deprivation: it prevents you from storing long-term memories. Pick a method (or several) for keeping track of those special milestones, sweet moments, and small memories, because they won’t stick in your brain no matter how much you think they will. These five options for documenting memories are a great place to start.
Lower Your Standards
A wise person once said, “If you aren’t having fun, lower your standards.” While that comment is meant to evoke a laugh, it’s also incredibly true. If you’re freaking out because your world isn’t perfect, stop expecting your world to be perfect. It won’t ever be flawless, but I promise you there are some pretty great things going on that you’ll totally miss if you’re only looking for perfection.
Laugh About It
Baby Years are insane. Totally bonkers. How do any of us survive them? Luckily, lots of us do, and they are so much more enjoyable if you can enjoy them while they’re happening instead of only in retrospect. Those crazy, blurry-eyed evenings where everyone is covered in urine and spit-up and the dog rips apart the couch and the toddler dumps a bag of flour on the kitchen flour? Just laugh. It’s terrible, and it’s frustrating. It’s also hilarious. Try to laugh.
Bond with your partner over the ridiculousness of it all, because you’ll be reminiscing about these crazy nights for the rest of your lives…if you even remember them. As for the laundry and dishes, forget what I said before about dividing and conquering. Just let it go for now. It’s a Baby Year.