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Making It Work

Great Expectations

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 22-25

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I have a 15-month-old toddler and am seven months pregnant with my second child. I also go to school, so it's been hard managing everything. When I'm home, I feel that I should focus the majority of my time playing, teaching, and cuddling with my toddler. I don't know how I'm going to handle everything after the baby arrives—I already feel challenged. How do mothers with more than one child (and a job or school) do it?

Mother's Response

This isn't far from what my life was a few years ago. My children are older now, but the rest is still very much the same.

It really helped me to lower my expectations, especially about cleaning. There really isn't a need to fold laundry; each person in your home can have their own laundry basket for clean clothes. Clothing can be fetched from a basket just as easily as from a drawer, but with less work. It isn't necessary to do certain chores everyday, either. For example, my floors are multicolored so no one can tell if I have washed them or not. I have also found the family bed to be a great way to reconnect with my children. Those precious moments just before a toddler drifted off or just as they were waking up helped to compensate for missing out during the day.

Sometimes you're in a situation where you don't have family support due to other issues. If this is the case, you can still reach out to the community. Some parenting centers have outreach programs, as do some libraries and community health centers. La Leche League meetings are another great place to make contacts with other people who might be able to help out. If someone offers to help, suggest something specific that they could do, whether it is bringing a meal once a week or stopping by to do some vacuuming. If you say something specific (and mother-sized), it's quite possible that the person asking will offer to help. If people don't know you are in need, they can't help.

Have you considered asking a fellow student to help? I've found that studying with someone always helps me—otherwise I'm ready to fall asleep once my children are asleep. Other sources of help might be high school students who need volunteer experience and people who are trying to get into teachers' college. There is a lot of potential for a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Candace Gardener
Windsor ON Canada

Mother's Response

It's quite a challenge to juggle motherhood with work or school—I have been through this balancing act myself! The way I handled it was to make sure that we had plenty of help. I learned from my boss that much more gets done when responsibilities are delegated well. As much as we mothers want to try, we can't do it all by ourselves.

In order to give your toddler plenty of attention to make this time of change easier, schedule "dates" for her with yourself or another family member. One-on-one fun time with daddy or grandma and grandpa can give you a break to study, accomplish an import errand, manage some household chores, or take a much-needed rest. Try to enlist your little one's help and make games out of household tasks so that you can spend time together while also getting things accomplished in your home.

Once the baby comes, if someone offers help, take it! Ask a trusted family member to take the toddler to the park while you and your baby nap. Give a good friend the chore of folding laundry or loading the dishwasher. Your spouse can do the grocery shopping for a while. If your classmates ask what they can do, suggest that they drop off a homemade frozen meal and promise to return their dish when you're back on a normal schedule. Don't refuse any offers of help, but if through the haze of fatigue you can't think of something at the moment, ask for a raincheck and don't hesitate to redeem it.

When you're ready to start venturing out with both children, there are lots of ways to keep your baby happy while you enjoy activities with your older child. Babies love the closeness of a baby carrier. With my baby in a sling and my toddler in a stroller, my children and I have enjoyed many outings at the mall and walking to the park. Good luck!

Michelle Hottya
Phoenix AZ USA

Mother's Response

I just recently had my second child and I was also concerned about how I would manage everything. My first piece of advice is to take a deep breath and relax. It's all going to work out. It's disconcerting when there are big changes on the way and we can't envision things exactly.

Second, although toddlers benefit from structured playing and teaching opportunities, they also learn a lot through observing the world around them. They enjoy just coming along for the ride. So don't worry too much about having time set aside for those things. A little play time goes a long way with toddlers.

Try setting up play dates for your toddler when you need to concentrate on school. It makes them feel special to have one-on-one time with other important people in their life. You'll need to depend on a support system in the coming year. And remember to be kind to yourself. A new baby is a challenge, but one you and your toddler can rise to.

Erin Riley
Los Angeles CA USA

Mother's Response

Two words: get help! It's so important for mothers and their babies (and toddlers) to be together early and often to connect and communicate well. With this in mind, ask your partner or willing family members and friends to help as much as possible with household tasks.

For example, when someone comes over and asks what they can do to help, have a list ready and suggest two or three things to choose from that would really help, whether it be making your toddler a snack, folding the laundry, or washing the dishes. People will often offer to care for your baby while you get everything else done, but that can get in the way of bonding with your baby and learning how to read early cues. Don't be afraid to ask for the exact kind of help that will really benefit you at the time.

Around my neighborhood, it's pretty common to hire a mother's helper to play with children and also do some light housework. The best thing about these helpers is that they can be teenagers who are probably too young to be completely responsible for your children, but capable enough to play with them and do housework.

Pack up much of the "stuff" in your house that just needs maintenance and doesn't "earn its keep," so to speak. Remove extra dishes so you never have more to wash than what your family needs. Put away brass and glass tables that hold delicate knickknacks and need to be dusted and replace them with chests or dressers that can store items that would be handy to have in the living room, such as diapers or toys. After receiving a particularly stressful diagnosis for her son, one mother packed away all of her dishes for a year and used paper plates. She said that whatever cost this had to the environment was more than matched by the value it had for her sanity.

Finally, make one room in your home safe for you to lie down in while your baby or toddler is up and busy. You'll be able to rest when you need it and have the comfort of knowing that your child is safe and entertained. Ensure that all electrical outlets are impossible to access, that there is no tall or heavy furniture to climb on or pull over, no sharp objects, no dangling drapery or blind cords, and nothing stored up high that might be pulled down. It's amazing how happy a child can be with quiet toys on low shelves, a floor that can withstand some water play, and a couch (or even a mattress on the floor). You might even wake up to find your toddler asleep, too.

Linda Clement
Victoria BC Canada

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