As a little human moves from infant, to baby to toddler, the way you parent changes and adapts alongside. Fitting in work alongside this is quite the juggle and means your work life is also under the same pressure to adapt.
Only the adaptable survive according to Darwin, and at times I didn’t think my career could survive. It wasn’t until I let go of structure (something that would always be a challenge for me) and expectations, and more importantly, my previous style of working.
I have been self employed and working from home since my early twenties. Before this I worked in bars/restaurants/office/warehouse/shop fronts and back. This level of freedom was something I had aimed for, worked for and achieved with many sacrifices along the way and I appreciated every second of it, and enjoyed each day of feeling free. So when a baby came along this freedom was gone. In Reuben’s case he did not want to sleep. He has been a curious, energised and spirited soul right from being an infant, one of so many qualities this tiny human has and one of the boldest and most exciting. But my work took a hit.
In an instant I went from having all the time in the world to paint, to barely a moment. A number of times I painted with him in a sling attached to my chest but my movement was very limited. He preferred to nap on me and so a spare minute to paint was rarely on the horizon. However, stupidly I would still task myself to complete X amount of painting that day, or write X amount of words towards my book. At the end of the day, when all that was achieved was a rushed shower, a few dabs of a paint brush and a bowl of cereal I would feel utterly deflated. However, I had fed a baby from just my body and kept him happy, comfortable and alive. (Sounds so basic in theory, but in practice…)
Eventually I caved to my new reality. What I saw as giving up ended up giving me the freedom to create more efficiently, and as a result, MORE. I aimed to focus on my baby and myself, if any time popped up, great. If it didn’t, then that is fine. I found that without trying so hard to encourage a nap with so much at stake, he ended up having more small naps in his moses basket here and there. That was ten minutes here and there to paint. That was enough to write a chapter intro. Maybe even enough to finish of the detail on a certain animal subject. From giving up on the ideal of having an hour or so solid time to work, letting go of expectations of the day meant I found time in whatever form it could be. This eased pressure on myself, on Reuben, and on my work. I could only do what I could manage.
Fast forward to him being a toddler. He has gone through a number of evolutions in this period of time where my work schedule has had to adapt around him. The most recent being the dropping of his second nap, which halved my work time. One of the tough parts of working from home as a new mother is that relaxing during his nap times goes out of the window. As soon as his head hits the pillow the brushes are out and palette fully loaded. Adding extra nursery time was the only option to allow me to still thrive and create work, without taking too much of a hit from lack of time. At first I panicked, but then I remembered the importance of being adaptable.
Every mother has a different experience, not every baby avoids sleep. I hear of the mythical unicorn babies who sleep all the time, giving new parents the time to set up side hustles or relax and catch up on TV. Parents who have to head back to work for their regular shifts and adapt to childcare and new routine. Parent’s with family who sweep in like superheroes to relieve the pressure. Parent’s with very little help. But one thing I have noticed is that this pressure eases, as time goes by. You get through it no matter how tough, and being adaptable in your circumstances will always benefit you.