Week Ten of Parenting: Routine Nightmares

When you have a baby, everyone tells you that for the first few weeks you have carte blanche to just sit around in your pants and do whatever feels best. You take this advice, and it goes some way towards soothing your sleep-deprived brain.

But when you emerge from that initial foggy cocoon, still-sleep deprived but marginally more with it than before, you are suddenly blindsided by a new barrage of ‘advice’ on how to get your little one onto a set routine. If you don’t do it while they’re small, the many books on this topic warn, you will face months – if not years! – of being wholly at the mercy of your child’s every whim.

As a side note (and to provide vital and relevant context regarding my current state of mind), I think I mentioned in a previous post that after giving birth I had the too-late epiphany that I should have spent my pregnancy reading up on what to expect in the first year of my child’s life, rather than about the pregnancy itself. Because I failed to do this, I was totally unprepared for the stage we have most recently entered. Now my son is 10 weeks old he is much more alert and demanding of my time. Whereas before he would sleep straight through my morning coffee and Love Island (I know, I know, so shoot me) session, now he either cries and fusses, or stares me down like I’m the most neglectful parent in the world. As a result, I have been experiencing extreme guilt about not stimulating him enough, and panicking constantly about how to fill his wakeful hours with meaningful interactions that will help him flourish. This has led me to singing maniacally along to Spotify nursery rhyme play lists, dangling every toy I have in front of his face for hours on end and generally being a freakishly over-attentive (and probably quite annoying) parent.

Now back to the routine. A couple of weeks ago I bought an old copy of Tracy Hogg’s ‘The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems” (which seems a rather grandiose claim to say the least) from Amazon. I decided to try and read it on our trip back to the UK, forgetting momentarily that the fact we would have our child with us on said trip meant I would have no more time to read than I do when I’m at home. Still, I managed a few pages and decided that when we returned to Brussels it was high time we got our son on a schedule. How difficult could it be?

Fast forward almost two weeks and I’m a shell of a human. The few pages I did manage to read on our ‘holiday’ (ha) left me so stressed and confused I didn’t know where to start. Tracy’s proposed schedule is somewhat infuriatingly named the EASY method, the idea being that your child will Eat for half an hour, do an Activity for 45 mins and then Sleep for 1.5 hours, during which you have the luxury of treating yourself to some much needed You time.

The fatal flaw in my being able to achieve this EASY way of life is the following: My son does NOT feed for half an hour (more commonly ten mins, which Tracy says means he’s already developed a bad habit and is a ‘snacker’ – fantastic), and he flatly refuses to nap for longer than 40 mins during the day (if indeed I can convince him to nod off at all). Both of which mean it’s virtually impossible to follow the EASY plan. All reading the book has done for me is make me painfully aware my son does not sleep enough or eat for long enough, to the point where I’m now totally paranoid about both. This week I’ve been keeping a daily diary of everything we do to see if there are patterns in my son’s behaviour, and if we can get anywhere close to the EASY way of life. So far my nerves are shredded and I’m no more enlightened than I was when I started.

Frankly, I’m exhausted from the effort of it all. I’ve been putting such insane pressure on myself that I constantly feel like a failure. I’m so obsessed with the routine and noting every detail of our day down that I can’t imagine what life was like before (though I do know it was considerably less stressful); it’s literally taking up every moment and I’ve no idea where the days are going. Coupled with the fact it’s hotter than the sun in our apartment and the building works downstairs are continuing relentlessly, we’re both a little (to put it mildly) hot and cranky.

So, after having a mental crash yesterday I’m taking a chill pill. I’ve decided to focus less on trying to change every aspect of our days all at once, and am instead focusing on getting the bed time routine nailed. On night one the 8pm bedtime ended up being 10pm, but by the second night we had already got it down to 8.45pm. As my husband rightly pointed out, we can’t expect it all to fall into place straight away. Ten weeks ago we didn’t have this little human in our lives. All things considered, we must remind ourselves we’re doing a bloody good job.

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That face though ❤

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Eating Frogs

My old boss used to say ‘time to eat the frog’ when talking about the thing on his to do list that most troubled him – you know, the one that lurks at the bottom, perpetually torturing you with its very existence, until it grows to toad-like proportions, usurping all other tasks. And he was right to eat the frog from time to time, because it’s funny how spending even the smallest amount of time on the things you ritually avoid can instill a sense of calm. Or maybe not so funny, given that procrastination is surely one of the greatest stressors of the modern world.

As a struggling writer (with the emphasis firmly on the ‘struggling’ and often barely on the ‘writer’) it baffles me no end that the things I routinely attempt to hide from are usually related to the one thing I claim to want to do the most. We humans are complex – read ‘stupid’ – creatures. Or maybe it’s just me. Plenty of writers do, after all, write. Many do so for a living. I just dabble part time (or, if I’m really honest, spend 90% of my time worrying about it and 10% actually doing it), and even that is enough to raise my anxiety levels to red. And, while we’re on the topic of anxiety, there’s another by-product of today’s western society, where we have the luxury of almost infinite choice, and yet are simultaneously paralysed by it. In short, we are ruined by our own hands. But then, of course, it’s not all bad. Things rarely are.

The key to not just surviving but thriving in this crazy life is, I’ve begun to realise, taking our feet off the gas pedals once in a while; flicking on the cruise control and acknowledging we can only do what we can do. I’m not advocating laziness, or complacency. But what personal experience over the last thirty three years has shown me is that when I put the most pressure on myself I usually perform the worst. Setting goals is great, but when those goals are metaphorically akin to climbing Everest, it’s unsurprising that it’s often hard to take even the very first step. In scaling back ambition – reigning it in just enough to make it achievable – it dissipates the feelings of anxiety and fear of failure that often stop us from beginning our journey in the first place.

By all means eat the frog – it will invariably make you feel much better. But don’t put so many frogs in your way you have to eat them all. Aside from anything else, it will give you terrible indigestion.

Disclaimer: No frogs were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

TreeFrog