“Did it get easier with your third?” “Which kid is easiest?” I get these questions a lot. Some say after the second and third, parenting comes easier to you. Changing diapers is more of a breeze and you may find that your worry-o-meter is lower than before. Sure this can all be true, but what about now having to juggle more kids?
Whether you have one, two or five, the juggle is real. From the day you bring Baby home from the hospital, life takes a turn. A good one, to say in retrospect, but also hard. Tasks you would do with two hands now sometimes must be done with one hand. And that quick trip to the grocery? Well, now it’s a bit more complicated. The juggle really is real, but you don’t have to do it alone — and you shouldn’t have to. With some planning, parenting hacks and teamwork, this new life that sometimes seems impossible and overwhelming can become a little more manageable.
PICK A FLEXIBLE ROUTINE
Even if you’re not a routine kind-of-person, having some sort of schedule or daily checklist is the key to a manageable day. Robyn Gorman, M.D. with TriHealth Madeira Pediatrics, says although parenting is not easy no matter how many children you have, it is helpful to maintain routines, especially with the older children.
“Try to be consistent with their sleep schedule, sleep routines, feeding times and daytime activities,” she says. “Try to coordinate feeding times and nap times with the different children if feasible. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help!”
This being said, also know that being flexible should absolutely be penciled into whatever “routine” you set for you and your family – and every routine is different, whether you work-at-home, stay-at-home or you go into the office.
“I would go easy on yourself and not focus too much on finding a specific routine,” says Monica Hartman, primary care and family medicine doctor at Mercy Health — Liberty Falls Family Medicine. “When each of our four kids were babies, we found at various times that just as we thought we were getting into a routine, things would change, and we would find ourselves looking for a new routine. Be flexible.”
PLAN ONE-ON-ONE TIME
A big struggle for many parents is the feeling of missing out on the quality time they once had with the other kids before the arrival of the baby. This feeling is normal, but can definitely whip up a little “mom guilt.”
“That is an ongoing struggle,” says Hartman. “I would suggest involving the other kids as much as you can with chores and caring for the baby.”
Make your other kids feel special with tiny rewards. Do this by asking visitors to bring a gift for the older kids, too, or simply acknowledging them when they walk through the door as the “new big brother or sister” and telling them what a great job they are doing.
“Give yourself a break and don’t be too hard on yourself as it is inevitable that your time with each child will not be equal all the time,” she continues. “Also, your time might not be what each kid needs. While we may not have the time to give everyone individual quality time every day, we can make them feel loved and valued in other ways.”
Alone time with Baby is important, too. If it fits your family’s schedule, keeping your kids in school, a daycare or with a babysitter can help keep their days consistent (kids love knowing what is happening next!) also equaling more alone time between Mom, Dad and Baby, suggests Gorman.
PREPARE IN ADVANCE
Prep, prep, prep! A little prep time at night before you call it a day can help mornings go smoother. One way is to have “supply stations” around the house, suggests Gorman, including diapers, cream, wipes, trash baggies, extra cloths and burp clothes. This is such a great way to have the necessities on-hand at all times.
“We had one on each floor with our babies,” she continues. “Pack-n-plays are also a great, portable way to have a safe place to put your baby when you need both hands free to fold laundry or prepare meals.”
Meal prepping is a great idea, but having the time and energy, let alone to cook, during those early months seems impossible. If your family and friends offer to bring you a meal or help, just say, “Yes!” says Gorman. Plus these days, you can take advantage of all of the grocery delivery services available. For planning meals, rice cooker or slow cooker meals are your best friend, or adding healthy family meals to a calendar (Pasta Night or Taco Tuesday, for example) is the way to go.
“Maybe let the older kids come up with some idea options,” she suggests. “Try to plan meals in advance and cook a double batch so you will have leftovers for easy feeding later. You can always freeze extra meals for another day!”
ASK FOR HELP
This is probably one of the most important words of advice for parents: ask for help.
“Having help from your spouse or partner, family and friends is both wise and important,” Gorman says. “As parents, we feel so much love for our babies, but parenting can be exhausting and overwhelming! I think it’s important for parents to realize they aren’t alone and to ask for help.”
If you’re a breastfeeding mama, you can get help by having someone burp and change the baby while you gather yourself and organize what you need to; or, just have some time to yourself. Take turns with household chores and get the older kids involved by encouraging them with small rewards.
“Helping out with any of the household chores or cooking dinner are also good ways to keep older kids occupied and stimulated while teaching them life skills,” says Hartman. “They [my kids] also enjoy looking for bugs, collecting and painting rocks, coloring, playdough, etc.”
KEEP THEM BUSY
If you have more little ones to take care of, it can be difficult to keep them occupied during those times you are feeding or getting Baby ready for naptime. Keep little ones active and
stimulated with age-appropriate activities. Safe, water-play activities in the backyard or an outdoor playground for them to run and play on can really help.
As for activities you can do together while attending to the baby, choose things that engage their motor skills, language development and socialization, suggests Gorman, such as a short walk or hike, and discuss what you see around you. Kids love scavenger hunts, too (see if you can find a pine cone, bird, stop sign, etc). Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are loaded with great library programs, parks and recreation for you to take advantage of, especially in the summertime, so research away.
SLEEP AND SELF CARE
In the midst of it all, remember to take care of YOU. This includes sleep! I know what you’re thinking — what’s sleep? This is where teamwork with your spouse comes in handy and asking friends and family to take over feedings so you can squeeze in a nap or some “me time.”
“It is important to prioritize sleep for families and newborns,” says Gorman. “This can be very difficult, but sleep is crucial for healthy growth and development.”
Little naps or rest during the day can go a long way. At night, try alternating feedings with your spouse, that way you both can get some rest. For example, if Dad is up with the baby one night, he can get rest during the day while Mom tackles the daytime and evening duties the next day.
During this draining time, Gorman reminds parents about the importance of safe sleep for Baby.
“Even when parents are tired, it is still important to maintain safe sleep practices and follow the ABC’s of safe sleep: put your baby down Alone, on her Back, in a safe sleep environment such as a Crib that is flat and firm, and free of any soft objects or bedding,” she says.
Being your best for your kids means you must be the best to yourself. Making time for self-care is essential for your mental health and will help keep your engine running for the everyday tasks you do need to juggle as a parent. Walk outdoors, take an exercise class, journal, read, meditate, eat healthy, for example. Utilizing the help you already have at home will allow you to pencil in this important time for yourself. Encourage your kids to do the same, says Hartman.
“This goes for the kids, too,” she continues. “Making sure they are getting enough sleep, eating healthy food and staying active helps them also to be the best version of themselves.”
If you feel you are having a hard time managing stress/anxiety, or feel that it is not improving within a few weeks or is suddenly worsening, talk to your doctor or your kids’ pediatrician right away, says Gorman.
“For moments when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed … if you’re with your baby, it’s OK to put her down in a safe place and take a few moments to collect yourself,” she continues.
All-in-all, remember to go easy on yourself and have low expectations for getting anything done apart from caring for your family, reminds Hartman.