baby chicks hatching from eggs

Ben Werdmuller may not be alone in finding it quite a challenge raising a baby while also having a life. Here are some thoughts from my own experience of parenting very young children.

tldr; I think I just about got away with it.

It’s just a phase

First, you will get through it. Though the feeling of being (over-) stretched and (completely) grounded may seem permanent, it really is just a short phase of your life. Before you know it, it will be over and you’ll miss it. So the important thing is to lean into the constraints. This is now, and even though it may seem like an eternity it won’t be like this for very long. Children grow very fast and you miss every stage as they outgrow it.

Plan on returning to the things you abandon

Second, because it’s just a phase, you can afford to let go of a few things - even things that seem indispensable. A bit like how at the end of the day you go to sleep thinking “that will just have to wait till tomorrow” - some things will have to wait till the kid grows up a bit and is a bit more independent. I noticed that even as pre-school arrived, my kids needed much less of me and much more of their peers. Then, at the age of about 5, they had a less independent phase. It goes in waves but in general they need your time less intensely the older they get. I did a graduate diploma in psychology when they were teenagers and they didn’t even notice. Those things you really need to do this year? Well, you prioritised kids (theory) so now you need to prioritise your time with kids (practice). Create a three or five year plan which includes ramping up the things you do without the kid, so you know those days really are coming, with a little patience.

Find something nurturing in every little thing

Third, “If you have a young family and you are managing to spend time on creative work…” Yes, I’m getting to that! Even though you’re now travelling at the speed of a baby, you can still experience something for yourself in almost every activity. I remember visiting Seattle with a toddler and a baby. We saw every children’s playground and not much else really. But hey! I visited Seattle! There was a fish ladder too, as I recall. The Bumbershoot music festival? There was a ride where you go round and round slowly in a large toy car. Oh, and space noodles at the Space Needle. Most importantly though, I did it with my tiny children. Thomas Merton said it more eloquently:

“if we have the courage to let almost everything else go, we will probably be able to retain the one thing necessary for us — whatever it may be. If we are too eager to have everything, we will almost certainly miss even the one thing we need. Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the “one thing necessary” may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest.” - Thomas Merton,No Man Is An Island.

Find the others

Fourth, find some allies and make a community of peers. You can’t actually do it all on your own. That trip to Seattle? We were on a journey across the world, emigrating to Australia, to live in a town where I knew precisely no one. Very quickly we set up a baby-sitting circle, then on the back of that a local economic trading system (LETS) for the same families, using washers as credits, and I joined the community garden toddler group, and before long we had a group of adults to do baby activities with together, so the baby stuff wasn’t just baby stuff - it was social activity for the adults too. By sharing the load, both my partner and I managed to get a lot of writing done in the time we had very young kids. Also, some of those people we met through mutual desperation weren’t just temporary allies. They became our close friends. Yes, raising children slowed us down, and not all of our aspirations were fulfilled (putting it mildly), but both our kids are young adults now and though this is fantastic, I miss them as babies terribly. Would I go back there? Yes, in a flash.

To sleep, perchance to dream

Fifth, sleep and tiredness? Absolutely. It’s actual torture. Easy to say and hard to do, but sleep when the baby sleeps. Far from perfect, and usually far from doable, but wherever possible, get those micro-sleeps in. Compared with chinstrap penguin parents, who sleep for 4 seconds at a time throughout the day, human parents have it easy. They might get at least ten seconds at a time. Well, that’s obviously no help at all, but to refer back to point one: you will get through it. And I found meditation really helped, though YMMV.

Baby advice is absolutely the worst advice

Well no one ever benefited from offering unsolicited baby-raising advice. I mean, either it sounds unbearably smug, as in “just be a good parent and it will work out fine”, or completely unhelpful, as in “have you tried just turning the light off?”, or “it’s just a phase” (sorry about that).

Now you’ve seen my poor attempt at being the exception to the rule, what are your top tips for annoying your friends who have young babies?