I hesitated about writing this article because it would seem like I have ‘arrived’ when in actual fact, I have not. I am still ploughing through day by day. Then when I think of those mothers who have more kids, or do more stuff, with little or no help, I feel even more unqualified to write this.
But many of you have written to me, asking me how I cope with two at home. My first response to this question is ‘Sigh! Where do I even begin?’ It is something that would require a lot of thought, a lot reflection and a very long email to answer. (Multiply that by the number of emails I have to reply for the same question!)
I hope you are not looking for a list of how-to’s because I am just going to share, in all honesty, all the ups and downs that I go through. If you find something here that helps you, I am happy. Otherwise, I hope that the least that I can do with this article is to encourage you. I am not a Supermom and I have my fair share of failures, frustration and despair. If a ‘normal’ mom like me can pull through, you can too.
I have two kids, 3 years apart. I don’t have a live-in domestic helper, but I do have a part-time cleaner who comes once a week to help me with the heavy duty housework. My daily house chores include keeping the house neat and tidy, sweeping the floor, occasionally wet-mopping when the kids-created damage is too bad, doing the laundry and cooking the meals. My husband helps with the ironing. Apart from housework and kids, I run an online business and of course, this website.
So you see, I don’t do that many things after all!
I must point out that the 3-year age gap is a blessing to us. From what I heard from other mothers’ experience, those with children of narrower age gap tend to have a tougher time because the older one just reached the challenging stage (commonly known as the ‘terror two’ stage), when the baby arrived. At that age, the older one is still at the ‘self-focused’ stage and still requires a lot of attention from the parents. He is also less able to understand a lot of things, like why the baby takes precedence over him for a lot of things. But by the time he reaches 3-year, he will begin to be more independent and able to understand more things. Personally, I also find that when my boy reached 3-year, he started ‘detaching’ himself from mommy and ‘attaching’ himself more to daddy, which is a welcome relief for me.
The 3-year gap was not deliberately intended but I am thankful that it worked out well for us.
Besides the age gap, I am also blessed and thankful that Dominic is generally a good boy. He even helps me watch the baby sometimes! If Dominic is difficult to manage, I would have a harder time.
As for the baby, Damien, *sigh* none of my kids are the easy type at the baby stage. How I envy those mothers with kids who will sleep through a storm! My babies are both hard to put to sleep and easy to wake. Hence, it is not unusual for me to spend hours putting them to sleep, only to have them wake up after 30 minutes. I can still remember the record time with Damien when he was about 1 month – I started rocking him to sleep at 10 plus in the morning, and only succeeded at really putting him down at 4 plus in the afternoon. In between, he would cry whenever I put him down in his cot. Thank God the confinement lady was still around then and took care of Dominic while I was engaged in this marathon. By the time I put Damien to sleep, I was frustrated to tears, completely exhausted and wondered why I even wanted to have another baby.
Damien is still terrible at nap times. If he sleeps a total of 3 hours for nap a day, it would be considered a really good day. Imagine that within that 2-3 hours that he naps, I have to prepare meals, eat my lunch, have a break, do things that I can’t do with him around.
I have since moved him to the sarong cradle. He is also getting too heavy to be rocked. For those of you who may not take care of your own babies full time and require the babysitter to not use the sarong cradle, I urge you to consider her ‘hardship’, especially if your baby is like mine and when the babysitter is not strong and young. It is always easy for one to say not to do this or to do that when one is not the person actually doing it most of the time. Think of it as doing it for the sake of your baby. If the babysitter tries to follow your instruction and she has to rock for hours everyday, she is bound to get tired and frustrated and as a result, not be able to care for your baby well.
Coming back to my kids. I must say that I am blessed and thankful that Damien is a wonderful night baby. In the first few months, he only needed one or two night feeds. Since I breastfeed him, it was easy. And after I fed him, I could just put him down in his cot straight away and he would go back to sleep. By 3 months plus, he was sleeping through the night (about 8-10 hours straight). So Richard and I were not deprived of a good night sleep.
The older boy, Dominic, goes to half-day childcare (not 3-hour kindergarten). We sent him to childcare to further relieve my burden. In any case, he has reached schooling age. Because he is away at school for half a day, I could concentrate on the baby during this time.
Dominic has been trained from young to be independent. He is expected to keep his own toys and feed himself. He is able to bathe himself but still need a bit of help here and there. Whenever I bathe him, if Damien is not napping, I will let Damien play with some toys outside the bathroom where I can see him. Most days he will just crawl into the bathroom as well and I have to keep him away from the shower area or else he will be wet too. Dominic is also taught to be quiet when the baby is sleeping. I simply tell him that if he disturbs the baby, I will have to spend my time taking care of the baby and won’t have the time for him alone.
As the baby grows older, and started to play, the both of them could play together in the afternoon when Dominic is around. And in the afternoon, I try to put the both of them to sleep at about the same time everyday, so that I get a break, or use the time to prepare dinner.
In the first few months, I tried my hardest to reduce all the things, especially the time-sensitive ones, which I had to do to the minimum and simply focus on the baby. This means that if I have to take care of the baby to the extent that I can’t prepare dinner, so be it, we will buy back to eat. This was to reduce my stress level. E.g. if I had to spend hours putting the baby to sleep and then having to make sure I get dinner out by 6pm, I would be very stressed out indeed. So my goal was to minimise, minimise, minimise.
Damien is not a very easy baby to take care of. He is very sticky and requires a lot of attention. We nicknamed him the ‘koala’. In the first few months, when putting him to nap was so difficult, I was often reduced to tears and hysteria. Remember, if he did not nap, he would get cranky, and I wouldn’t get the time I needed to do other things or rest. Richard, the poor soul, had to put up with my hysterical phone calls quite often. He was my only outlet to vent my frustration so the long-suffering fellow had to become my ‘punching bag’. Even Dominic was not spared. Sometimes, my patience wore thin by Damien had a repercussion on him – I became less patient with him too.
The first few months were the hardest. One thing I kept reminding myself was that things will only get better. On days when things were really tough, I reminded myself that it couldn’t get any worse, or even if it did get worse, I have already gone through the worse before so it was nothing I have not experienced.
As I said, I try to minimise the thing that I have to do. The heavy duty work is covered by the part-time cleaner, so that really helps with the stress level. In the beginning, I only kept one item on my “To-Do” List and that was to just take care of the kids. Slowly, as I learned to manage, I add one more thing at a time. E.g, packing up the house so that it won’t look like a huge mess. Then, as I got better at coping, I added in cooking simple meals, maybe not everyday, but once in a while, and later on, more often.
Everyday, I have a routine. It changes over the months according to changes in the baby’s schedule, of course, but by and large, from day to day, the routine is quite fixed. It really helps to plan the things that I have to do and stick with the routine. I also try to schedule my to-do’s according to the baby’s wake and nap hours. Some things can be done when the baby is awake while others can only be done when he is asleep.
I learn to be more flexible with things (yes, even with a routine), learn to really multi-task, and to work with pockets of time. It’s a bit like guerrilla warfare. For example, when Damien goes for his blessed nap, I rush around doing things, like cooking meals, which cannot be done with him awake. Some chores I will deliberately ‘reserve’ for time when he is awake. Thankfully, I am a rather ‘organise and plan’ sort of person by nature. I do a lot of CPA (critical path analysis) in my mind when I go around doing my chores.
As for meals, this is how I try to minimise work : I seldom cook on weekends, and even if I do, it is not a problem because there is Richard around to watch the kids. This leaves the 5 weekdays. I don’t cook lunch. I cook more for dinner and keep leftovers for lunch the next day. And for the weekday dinners, out of the 5 days, we schedule 1-2 days to visit our parents and have dinner with them. This further cuts down my cooking to only 3-4 days a week. On days that I do not have leftover dinner for lunch, I either buy back or eat simple. Dominic has his lunch in school. Although I try to make him eat a light lunch at home to make sure he gets his nutrition (obviously not trusting school meals much), on days that I really don’t have lunch, I give him snacks like cheese sandwich and don’t feel bad about it because he has had lunch in school. I also make jars of homemade pasta sauce which I keep in the fridge. Sometimes, I toss macaroni in the pasta sauce for him on no-lunch days.
Apart from these, nowadays, whenever I cook porridge for Damien, Dominic gets a share for lunch also. As for Damien’s porridge, I cook in batches of 2-3 days worth and freeze. On the average, I cook every other day for Damien’s meals.
For meals, I try to cook simply. I usually only cook 2 dishes – one meat dish, one veggie dish. Although I like to cook, I don’t have time for complicated dishes anymore. When Damien was younger, I had to cut everything the night before so that the next day, I don’t have time-sensitive to-do’s to stress me out.
As I mentioned, Damien is a very sticky baby. A large part of my day is spent just carrying him around. I end up doing housework with him in one arm. Sometimes, I even have to cook with him in one arm. (The seasoning is bound to be a bit off when I have to cook while carrying him.) Even if I don’t carry him, he would be playing on the kitchen floor. If you have a sticky baby like mine, you have to have a major mindset change and be flexible enough to do things that you won’t dream of doing, like letting your kids play on kitchen floor, or cook with baby in arm. As part of the ‘package’, you will have to put up with naysayer, typically the older folks, who will scream hell when they find out what you have been doing. But what they don’t know won’t hurt them, so you don’t have to tell. I smile whenever my mother-in-law ‘praises’ me in amazement that I manage to cook the baby’s meal to bring out. What she does not know is that the meal was probably cooked the day before, froze, and re-heated.
When they do find out, well, if they are not there to offer help, then don’t pay attention to their ‘NATO – No Action Talk Only – opinions. As I said, it is easy for one to say what to do, what not to do when one is not the one doing it. Talk is cheap. It’s bad enough as it is to live by our own self-imposed expectation without having more expectations from others heaped on us.
I do grocery shopping at the supermarket in the evening, after dinner. We treat it as a family outing, and after-dinner exercise. For grocery shopping at the wet market, I do it once a week, or once every couple of weeks, always on a Sat morning. Again, we treat it as a family outing, and we have breakfast at the coffee shop after that.
Lastly, even though I am quite fussy when it comes to cleanliness and housework, I have learned to ‘close one eye’. In fact, if you can afford to hire some form of help, even a once-a-week helper, I would advise you getting help. It will really take a huge burden off and make life a lot less stressful.
Plum and Peach & Parenting Joy Stuff
I have broadband internet access and my PC is on the whole day, just like you would have in the office. I check my mail every now and then, whenever I walk in and out of the room. I don’t reply mails until I really have the time though. Checking mails basically make sure I don’t miss out on urgent or important issues. Most of the work, especially the ones that need concentration, are done at night when Richard is around to watch the kids or when the kids have gone to dreamland. E.g. writing this article. It’s Day 3 of writing and it’s now 2am in the morning and I am not done with it yet.
Things that I feel are Important
1. Daily Time with God
This is where I draw strength and wisdom. To be honest, most day I don’t ‘feel’ anything when I do my daily Devotion. Some days, it even feels dry. But if I don’t do it for a period of time, I will most certainly know the impact of the neglect. Hence, I feel that it is important even though it may seem mundane and I am really tempted to push this aside and do something else.
I don’t have the luxury of spending hours, or just one hour, doing my quiet time or praying hours. Those of you who are SAHM will understand what I mean when I say that we hardly have long period of time that is not interrupted by our kids. Again, I learn to multi-task and make use of pockets of time available. E.g. I read my devotion while putting Damien to nap in the late morning. And instead of praying in the ‘conventional’ manner of sitting down, closing eyes, with hands clasped, I learn to pray on the go, while my hands are busy with work.
2. Get myself ready before facing the day
I can’t hop out of bed and jump into action. It’s a sure sign that the rest of the day will continue in the same haywire manner. I need get into the mode of things before actually tackling the job just like how a working mom get dressed before going to work. E.g. wash up, change, apply some moisturiser and sunscreen (for outdoor time with Damien).
I also prefer to make sure that things are in ‘operationally ready’ state when I start the day. This means no sink full of dirty dishes from the day before, or kitchen counter full of things not put away. I don’t like to start the day finishing the previous day’s work.
3. Take care of myself
This is an advice I would give to all mothers, especially SAHMs : Take Care of Yourself First.
This may sound selfish, especially when mothers are supposed to be self-sacrificing and put the interest of the family before themselves. But trust me, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will be running on empty and won’t last long. Your kids, your family need you to be there for the long haul, not for the short term.
It may be as simple as eating your meals when you should. I have to have my breakfast before I start my day. Otherwise, I won’t have time to eat later on and where would I get the energy to tackle the things that are crowding out meal times? Similarly, I will definitely make time for lunch, even though I may have a lot of other things waiting to be done.
The same goes for rest time and time spent reading God’s Word.
I find that if I don’t take time to take care of myself in simple areas like meals and rest, I tend to get grouchy, impatient and irritable. So just that 15-30 minutes off makes a whole lot of difference to my mood for the day. I consider it time well spent.
I am not the most hardy sort of person physically or emotionally. I admire those women who can take care of a whole household of kids with endless energy and patience even when their husbands routinely work late or have to be out-stationed at least 6 months out of 12. I know I cannot do that. As it is, very often, I wake up in the morning wishing that I don’t have to go through another day. Some days, I just focus on getting through the day segment by segment.
Tough as it may seem, things do get easier and I survived one year. Thank God!