I’ve never really been good at slowing down, and went against all the advice given to me to defer my Master’s degree program for a year before giving birth to my first child. I was told it’s impossible to study and look after a newborn. I knew it would be no small feat, but after years of advocating that women have the tools to continue doing lots of things while raising a family, I knew I had to try practice what I have always been known to preach.
Was it all about proving a point? New mothers arguably torment themselves with unrelenting questions about how not to lose themselves in the midst of the life-altering stages of new motherhood. I would perhaps be fooling not only you the reader, but also myself, if I said that my plan to work and study while raising a newborn wasn’t partly to do with me wanting to reaffirm who I am as a woman, while trying to keep a hold of all the drivers that form part of my identity. That being said, I had an unflinching belief that moms really can continue to pursue passions of the heart while being a good parent to a newborn; I wanted to be a conscientious example for the new addition to the family and myself.
Parenting is, of course, a full-time job. However life throws curve balls at us and often pregnancy can come along during a time when either parent is focusing on a project, new job, study, and all the above. With some careful planning, many parents can manage a whole host of activities and seemingly impossible tasks.
Working with your Baby’s Schedule
This is number one. Your new baby will not work with your schedule, so work with theirs. Choose your study time around the times your baby is napping or otherwise occupied. Remember that if your baby interrupts your workflow, they are simply getting your attention so that you can meet a need. Tend to your baby and once they’ve been soothed or fall back asleep, crack on! This may seem obvious, however, once you let go of working in a structured pattern, it can really ease how you go about physically and emotionally dealing with your daily tasks. I was amazed by how much I could get done, by first prioritizing the needs of my baby and working whenever time permits.
Use the Support Network Around You
It’s really easy to forget that you’re not alone and that you don’t have to be Superwoman or Superman when it comes to raising children. It takes a whole community anyway right? If raising your child with a partner, agree upon set times, when they can take over baby-care duties. My husband and I, on weekends, alternate between study and baby-care time so that each of us can get on with our studies. Using two-hour intervals, we help each other get what work needs to be done – done! With the husband also completing a second Masters degree at the same time as I contend with mine, organization and support is key. Rope in other family members, if you can, or call on friends to take baby out for a walk, while you tackle a task or two. If financially free to do so, hire an ayi to come in a few hours of the day to look after your baby while you get some study time in.
Set Realistic Goals for the Day
It’s a challenge to try and break the flow of studying, particularly when you’re making headway and don’t want to stop. When I first resumed my studies I was trying to do too much in one day and got frustrated when I didn’t finish what I intended to complete. I was setting unrealistic goals for myself. Decide on no more than three concise study tasks for the day: reading a chapter of your assigned material; drafting the introduction to an assignment; writing a report plan; or researching a topic for no more than an hour, for example. I am studying three modules at a time. I approach my studies, by selecting two tasks for each module. I can stay ahead and make steady daily progress. My tasks always involve one reading and one written activity. Trust me, you’ll be thanking yourself. There’s nothing more rewarding then being able to tick off completed tasks and have the energy left over to be mom (or dad).
Think Outside the Box
If short naps and a giggling baby are thwarting your study pattern, fear not. Break your schedule into smaller segments. Can’t get your reading done within the assigned half an hour? Read for ten minutes and resume for another 10 when you can. Find ways of accessing course material in different ways. Find audio recordings and listen while looking after the little one. Plug your laptop into your speakers and listen to your lectures, while you get on with some cleaning or looking after the baby and once baby is down, get on with some written work.
Set aside a particular activity that’s only for baby and you. On study days when the ayi is around, I don’t get to spend much time with my little one. I decided to carve out little activities throughout the day to switch off and take over. We have 20 to 30 minutes of play before the ayi takes over again in the afternoon, and I always finish study days at 4pm to ensure that I can spend time with the family and keep a bedtime routine intact. Bath time is our bonding time each evening; just me and baby.
Don’t Guilt-Trip Yourself
Some days will be more productive than others. Don’t fall into patterns of guilt-tripping yourself into thinking you’re not doing enough or that you’re doing too little with regard to both your studies and your baby. Listen to your body. Sometimes after night-feeds I wake up exhausted and the words on a page just don’t connect. Shut it all down and go and rest or play with baby. Your work will be there again tomorrow. Baby needs more attention that usual on a study day? – put the books down and tend to your little one, resume reading or writing when you can. Always remember, you’re slaying it! You’re your own little imperfect but triumphant superhero and you can do it!