In today’s third and final post in the productive lifestyle series, let’s chat about staying productive as a first-time (or several times over) mom! I consider myself fortunate regarding motherhood; I grew up surrounded by women who did it well. Most of them had large families, and I credit their advice with helping me create a parenting style that has been far less stress, anxiety, or frustration than our culture presents as the reality.
I was told, when pregnant with Adeline, that I’d lose my schedule, that I’d never sleep again, or that my life would be dictated by the demands of my small child. While there have been those moments, this negative, defeatist view of parenting has by no means been my experience. I believe that ANY mother can create a life of peace, joy, and stress-free parenting – but it requires effort.
All mothers are making an effort; but that effort can be proactive or reactive. Reactive effort is primarily damage control – saying “No” repeatedly, picking up toys all day long, dealing with the consequences of a behavior rather than the root. Proactive effort is primarily strategic – only saying “No” when you’re prepared to follow through, teaching your child to pick up her own toys for the sake of future responsibility, and watching for patterns of the heart as opposed to behavior control. In my home, proactive effort is always my goal. I only have one small child, so I am always learning and asking questions, but these principles have proven instrumental to the ease of my transition.
Proactive effort requires disciplined motherhood. Children need purpose and structure in order to thrive, but they can’t give it to themselves. That’s why it’s up to us – the moms – to discipline ourselves to a godly parenthood that provides a framework for our kids to thrive.
Below are five starter tips to stay productive as a wife and mom (concentrating more on motherhood than marriage, but the two often go hand in hand). As always, make these your own within the context of your individual lives:
Get Up Before Your Children
The best way to get a jump on your day? Get up at least 15 minutes before your baby. This simple act puts you in charge of the day from the very beginning. And as I’ve mentioned in several posts, if you don’t manage your time – someone else will! Babies are darling, but they aren’t good time managers. That person needs to be you!
By getting up before your kids, you not only enter the day with more control, you are better prepared to handle the stress of morning. Getting up at the same time as your kids puts you at their mercy; getting up before them allows you to direct them into a healthy, productive day.
Addie has always been an early riser. I began sleep training her at 6 weeks old. Other than a four month regression, she has slept through the night ever since (thank you BabyWise!). But no matter what time she goes to bed, that girl is awake at 6 AM. Once she was old enough to wait for breakfast, we would let her play in her crib until 7 AM, regardless of when she woke (from approximately 6 months on). There are a couple benefits to this:
- It taught her to entertain herself.
- She learned to wait and be patient.
- I was able to shower, eat breakfast, and begin my morning routine.
- She received my full focus once I got her out of bed.
If you’re struggling to get up in the morning, think about how you manage your evenings. Do you have an evening routine? Are you going to bed at a decent time? Remember: you have as much time in the morning as you do at night. It’s better for your health and your schedule if you go to bed earlier and get up earlier, rather than go to bed later and get up with the kids.
Create Flexible Routines
I’m not going to share much here because I have an entire tutorial on creating flexible routines. But let’s discuss what a “routine” is as a mom. It is not an hourly schedule. If you try to schedule your day in time blocks – 9 AM feed the baby, 9:15 wash dishes, etc. – you’ll give up in frustration. Instead, create a rhythm or pattern of productivity: the same order of tasks, but no tight timeframe in which they need to be done.
I like to create “time options”. I will have two places in my schedule in which I could do my work out: during Addie’s morning nap, or during her afternoon play time. If she skips her morning nap, no worries! I’ll still get my workout in because I had a Plan B.
Routines should work for you; you should not work for your routine. Tell your time where to go, but don’t become a schedule slave. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Plan the night before and write only the most essential tasks for the next day (I suggest five, max)
- If you have appointments, decide when you will get each task done in view of that appointment.
- Make a plan for interruptions or delays; when will you do the laundry if not before noon?
- Take a cue from your child’s needs, but don’t let your world revolve around the child. Know the difference between what is truly urgent (sickness, feeding time, nap time) and a baby WISHING something was urgent (a dropped toy, a second snack, etc.)
For a step by step tutorial on creating a routine that works for you, read this post about it.
Treat Motherhood Like the Job It Is
Motherhood is work. I became a mother five days after I resigned my full-time career. For the first few months, the novelty of NOT wearing a suit and heels was so incredible, I wore spandex every day! But around the two month mark, I knew it was time to treat motherhood with the honor it deserved.
When we look at motherhood as our work, it demands our respect. Since we often need to act how we want to feel, the best way to BE productive is to start by LOOKING productive. It’s a mind game, but it works!
What’s this look like?
- Get up like you have to be somewhere – because you do! We get to be “there” for our kids. They are our greatest work. Even if you stay home, get up before your kids, make a plan, and prepare for the work day ahead.
- Shower. Put on makeup if you wear it, and find a style that works for your hair. Certainly there are “messy bun” days, but by preparing your mind and body to “work”, you give yourself a motivation boost.
- Dress for work. I recommend wearing jeans or a dress several times a week. My own personal rule is “no workout clothes unless you plan to workout”, and I don’t wear baggy t-shirts, sweatshirts, or anything I wouldn’t wear to the store. I wear jeans because it helps me stay in tune to what I’m eating – they are more restrictive than yoga pants, and I’m more ready to leave the house/answer the door if necessary. Why do this?
- First, I do it for my own motivation and to honor my appearance.
- Second, I do it for my husband, since he makes an effort to provide for us through his work every day – I do the same by managing our home AND my body.
- And third, it’s an example I want to set for my daughter. I love my work! I want to dress like I do.
- Create to-do and task lists. Break down big projects into smaller, bite size to-dos. If you need accountability (like you’d have from a manager) ask your husband or a friend to check up on your progress. Pick one big task a week to tackle.
- Create a reward system: no Netflix or reading until “X” is finished.
- Give yourself “promotions”. If you get a certain big project done, budget for a special event or buy.
- Take every opportunity to “train” those under your care, bringing them alongside your work and teaching them what it means to help the family.
- Walking babies who are around a year can load the dishwasher, help with laundry, put away toys and much more.
- I use the Montessori parenting/schooling model in our home and highly recommend it to stay at home moms.
Pinpoint the Problem Areas
When are you the most stressed? Now ask yourself what is causing that stress and why it continues to be a problem. The answer might be “My kids!” but think again – what about your kids is stressful at that time of day? Why do they act that way? What aspect of their behavior and environment is under your control?
By pinpointing the problem times, people, and behaviors, you can make subtle changes for greater peace.
Many first time moms think they have no time for themselves, but they DO. They just aren’t managing it throughout the day, so by evening they can only offer themselves the leftovers of what they wasted. If you want to end your day satisfied with what’s done, at peace with your family, and with a little time for yourself, take the time to reflect on your time management. Ask these questions:
- At what point each day am I most stressed?
- What do I do when I get stressed? (retreat to phone, waste time to avoid task, etc.)
- What causes the stress?
- Is any aspect of this stress under my control?
- What am I doing instead of dealing with this problem?
- How can I do the hard thing and take care of this problem immediately, rather than avoid it?
- Where am I wasting time in my day?
- If I stopped wasting that time, how much more time would I have later to do the things I love?
- Have I asked for help in areas where I am overwhelmed? (Includes asking your husband)
- Is my home child-centric, or am I teaching my children to help the family?
- Am I going to bed at a decent time? Are my children?
These questions will bring to light the problem areas which you can then troubleshoot for solutions.
Plan For Failure
This might sound counter intuitive, but it’s pivotal to productivity. Make a plan for when Plan A, B, and C fall through.
This is why hourly schedules don’t work. Hourly schedules are neither flexible nor fail-proof. But a constantly tweaked routine will never fail you, because you are the master of it!
There WILL be days when your baby fusses (Adeline fought her nap for an hour this morning). But if you know this is possible, you’ll also know when, where, and how you’ll complete the tasks that still need to get done. As Gretchen Rubin says: “Know thyself”. And as I say: “Know your potential!”
Personality type is an explanation, but not an excuse – so no matter who you are, know what motivates you and allow that to dictate the structure of your routine. Remember: discipline is not limiting or inhibiting. It brings FREEDOM!
Do you want freedom to pursue your passions and show your kids how that’s done?
Do you want freedom to spend time with your spouse?
Do you want freedom to sleep well, eat healthy, and stay fit?
Discipline yourself. Teach your children what that looks like. Be the mom who sets an example through both effort and failure, never giving up on the life of motherhood on a higher plane.
It’s worth it!
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