One of the great legacies of lockdown is that many people now work from the comfort and luxury of home, which can be enormously advantageous on many practical levels: no commuting costs, the ability to pull extra hours readily where necessary, easy access to refreshments, and the ability to host a meeting in one’s underpants without the attendees even realizing. Working from home does have some hurdles, though, especially when you or your partner have just given birth to a child.
As a freelancer, for example, where previously you could always decide your own hours, having an infant will change this flexibility automatically, as your new boss is the tiny human screaming at you for a feed. The simple solution is to do away with any notions of planning your day down to the last hour; it does not work that way when you have a kid. Instead, as windows of opportunity present themselves, it is better to arrange your time around hourly targets to be whittled down on an organic and flexible schedule.
The trick is to arrange your life so that you’re readily available on call, both when your child needs you and when there is the chance to catch up on work hours. In this respect, one might suspect balancing babies and work is similar to working as an emergency responder: you never know what’s going to happen, so you genuinely cannot plan your day down to the letter.
Fortunately, newborns typically sleep between 8-18 hours every 24 hours, and not all at night, which should give you more than enough total time during the day to fulfill your work responsibilities – if you can stay awake, that is. Perhaps much coffee and a couple of short nap breaks throughout the day might help do the trick.
It’s quite possible that the most difficult obstacle to overcome is your sporadic sleep patterns after the emergence of your new family member. Like with any medication, the efficacy of sleep in maintaining cognitive function is not only determined by dose, i.e., quantity, but also by regimen, i.e., how regularly it is taken. The trick here is to identify what ultimately settles your child so you can settle yourself and your sleep habits.
Typically a full belly, a clean diaper, and having already had a satisfactory amount of mental stimulation should help create and support a sleep schedule. Furthermore, because babies are effectively learning supercomputers, micromanaging these rituals in the evenings and applying them in quick succession at the optimum time before bed will help ease your baby into the swing of healthy sleep habits, preparing them for the land of nod in a way that taps into their subconscious and influences them to fall into sleepiness – all thanks to the ritualistic steps in their pre-bedtime routine.
As with any ideal world, however, it is rarely that simple in practice, nor do babies speak English or have the capacity tell you what it is that they want so badly. Their lack of speech ability and your inability to speak ‘ga-ga’ thus demands a degree of self-forgiveness, which is necessary when failure inevitably occurs in the first several attempts to effectuate a sleep routine that lasts.
Mental First Aid
With one’s own children especially, the mind will effectively become a powder keg of anxieties. ‘Will I need to call the doctor to ask them if this skin peeling is normal?’ ‘Will I need to ride back out to the supermarket again because we’re nearly out of formula, and I haven’t slept in two days?’ and ‘Will I need to call Robertsons Family Law Solicitors to arrange a divorce settlement because my spouse is doing my head in!’
Rest assured, these are all normal things to be thinking and feeling and often do not have any basis in reality, nor are they significant grounds for concern. Nevertheless, communication with a good support network and a degree of self-applied cognitive behavioral therapy are essential because – make no mistake – being a parent is hard, and you should not believe anything your friend’s Facebook profile says to the contrary.
When All Else Fails
It is inevitable that even the best-laid plans will fall flat on their face occasionally, and you will be faced with a situation where you cannot get your kid to sleep despite having a looming early-morning zoom meeting in three hours’ time.
In that situation, if you’re awake anyway, then you can at least put your laptop on the kitchen table and read through some of your notes with one hand whilst holding your baby in the other – multitasking, after all, is one of the primary skillsets of any parent.