Q&A Tuesday: How can I be organized when I have a nursing baby and toddler?


Bridget left the following comment on my recent time management post:

The thought of getting up before my children seems impossible right now as my 6-month-old is still waking up in the night and I feel like I never get enough sleep. He has a feeding around 5 a.m. and then my 2-year-old is up and ready between 6:30-7 am… and I constantly feel like I’m run over by a train. I would love to be more organized but it’s just hard when you never get a set amount of sleep. Any tips would be appreciated! -Bridget

I realized after I wrote my last post on time management that it’s possible some people might think I was saying you needed to adopt a morning routine similar to mine. Or that you need to get up before your children do.

Please know that this is just what is working for me right now. And while it is really helpful, I certainly don’t think it’s for everyone. Nor would I be getting up when I do right now if I were up multiple times in the night with a baby or toddler!

I’m at an easier season of life right now. I’m not pregnant, Kathrynne is old enough to help me with quite a few different things, Kaitlynn is learning how to to help and can do a number of things by herself, Silas is almost weaned and all three of my children are sleeping through the night most every night. So, what works for me won’t work for you because you’re at a very different — and much more difficult! — season of life right now.

However, I can very much relate to where you’re at because Silas did not sleep through the night for the first entire year of his life. In fact, for 12 months, the longest stretch of sleep I got was six hours — twice. It was hard, especially because Kaitlynn wasn’t even two when he was born and she was still waking up at night on occasion for that first year of his life.

Here are some things which helped me (They may or may not be helpful to you. Take what helps you and leave the rest!):

Give Up the Expectation of a Good Night’s Sleep

Instead of getting frustrated over how little sleep I was getting or how often my sleep was being interrupted, I gave up my expectation of being able to get a good night’s sleep and asked the Lord to please give me grace and bless and supernaturally multiply whatever sleep I was able to get. This was hugely helpful to me to realize that God knows how much sleep I need, He’s not confined by a clock and I can trust Him to provide what I need.

Make Sleep Your Priority

At the same time, I think it’s vitally important to do everything you can to make sleep a priority. Let the dishes sit in the sink, turn off the computer and go to bed as soon as you can at night.

I know the temptation is great to use that quiet, uninterrupted time to tackle your list of 997 things you haven’t gotten to in the last six months, but your body needs sleep. If you can squeeze in a nap in the afternoon or on the weekends when your husband is home, snatch the opportunity. Sometimes even a 10 or 15-minute catnap can do wonders!

Lower Your Expectations

This is not the time for tackling big projects, volunteering for ministry opportunities or doing detailed, in-depth cleaning. Stick with the basics and lower your expectations. If your family has clean laundry and food in their bellies, most of the other stuff can wait.

Develop a Simple Routine

Don’t worry about specific times, just make a basic list of 10-12 things you want to accomplish every day in the same (or similar order). Such as:

1. Get up, read Bible

2. Breakfast

3. Start a load of laundry and load the dishwasher

4. Take the children out on a walk.

5. Morning naptime for baby, toddler play with a special toy box or basket in the playpen — put the laundry in the dryer, do one cleaning project*, thaw something for dinner

6. Lunchtime

7. Read picture books and play with the children.

8. 2-year-old watch DVD, baby in swing while you fold and put away laundry

9. Afternoon naptime (everyone naps, including mom!)

10. Quick pick up of the house, finish dinner prep

11. Dinner

12. Bedtime

I’ve found that just having a basic routine mapped out is so helpful. It keeps things calm and more structured and everyone knows what to expect next. Plus, it ensures that the most important tasks get done every day.

*Consider coming up with five homemaking tasks — one for each day of the week — and tackle one per day. Something like:

Monday: Vacuuming

Tuesday: Bathrooms

Wednesday: Mop Floors

Thursday: Dusting

Friday: General Straightening and Clutter Removal

Give Yourself Grace

Don’t beat yourself up over what you’re not doing. Don’t compare yourself to other seeming “supermoms.” Don’t stress over what’s being left undone.

It’s just a short season. Now’s the time to just love your little ones, take care of your health and keep your marriage strong. The dust bunnies will still be there waiting for you whenever you’re ready to attack them! :)

Laugh Often

Learn to laugh instead of cry and things will be much better all round. Find the humor in every situation that you can. Surround yourself with positive people and encouraging messages to help build you up.

Don’t Neglect Your Health

Make sure that the foods you are putting in your body are nourishing you — especially as a nursing mother. It’s worth it to spend a little more at the grocery store to stock your refrigerator with healthful foods you can grab for snacks — such as fresh fruits and veggies. In addition, make sure you are drinking plenty of water, eating plenty of good protein and whole grains and taking a good multi-vitamin.

I’ve found that I feel so much better when I eat a big salad at least once a day, drink 8-10 glasses of water, take my vitamins and get fresh air and exercise.

Enjoy Your Family

Your babies are only little once. Take time to just enjoy them. To stare into their faces. To soak up their cuddles and smiles and giggles and firsts. Stop and listen to them, talk with them, love on them. Cherish them.

And don’t neglect your husband, either. You might not have a lot of energy left at the end of the day, but at least meet him at the door with a kiss and a smile. Ask him how he’s doing. Make time for him.

This stuff is so much more important than a clean house or an organized kitchen. And if you’ve got to choose between cleaning or cuddling, always choose the cuddling. I promise you won’t regret it at the end of your life!

What advice or tips do the rest of you have to add for Bridget? Share them in the comments.

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Comments

  1. jill says

    With 13mth old twins and now pregnant with our third baby and extremely fatigued and nauseated, I’m doing good to get the basics done. I used to try and get a project done during their nap. Now I take a nap too or I barely make it through the rest of the day. Hoping by the second trimester my energy level returns as there are plenty of projects around here to complete before this next little one arrives! Crystal is right, everyone is in a different season of life and that can change really quickly!

  2. says

    Thank you so much for this post! I have a 7-week old and a 17-month old. I was just thinking this morning about the time envelope system and how it wouldn’t work for me at this stage in my life. With my girls being so young, its hard to plan for how much time they are going to need in a day, how tired I will be, or how much free time (if any) I will get. I knew the time envelope system wouldn’t work, but I didn’t know what to do instead. This is a great help, THANKS!

  3. Christine says

    I have been there! Do whatever it takes to get through and let everything else go. In another six months your life will be totally different. (I know, my daughter is now nearly 15 months and my son not yet 3!)

    I napped a lot in the afternoons when the kids were down. I also nursed my daughter in bed (something I said I wouldn’t ever do) because I couldn’t keep up with the 2-year-old otherwise. His dad got up with him a lot in the mornings – he was a 5:30 am waker. I found if I could sleep past 7, I always felt better, regardless of the total number of hours of sleep I got.

    And I totally 100% let my house go. :) I helped enormously. My husband and I would clean together on the weekends or one of us would take the kids out for the morning while the other cleaned (or I put my feet up in a quiet place and had a cup of coffee). We also made mommy “spa time” – I’d take a bath on sunday morning before church and my husband cleaned the tub for me. No toys, no pink mold! Having a few minutes to yourself can make up for a lot of other things. Plus, remember by the time your kiddo is a year, you’ll feel a lot better.

    Also, it doesn’t sound like your baby is getting up much and your son seems to be getting up at a reasonable time. The fact that you’re so tired is a bit concerning to me. You also sound overwhelmed. Have you considered going to your dr? There are lots of causes for post-partum fatigue that can be addressed medically – thyroid problems, hormone induced fatigue (OCP use, nursing), anemia from the delivery that hasn’t resolved, post-partum depression. I’d consider seeing your physician. You may be feeling overwhelmed for good reason!

  4. Renee Kammer says

    This post made me feel alot better about myself, MaryBeth is part of Proverbs 31 ministries. “You don’t need more guilt and I believe that God has a special grace He extends towards you during this season of your life. Isaiah 40:11 says “He gently leads those that have young.” So don’t spend years as I did fretting over your lack of ability to have a morning quiet time in a quiet house before everyone gets up. Trust me, that time will come”
    http://www.marybethwhalen.com/

  5. says

    Something that I wholeheartedly recommend is freezer cooking. Before my three month old was born, I cooked for a week straight and made three months worth of meals, which I am just now using the last of. I’m planning another cooking day sometime soon, it’s exhausting to do it but the fact that you have a freezer full of meals is worth it!

  6. Tiffany says

    My children are 21 months apart, so my now-3-year-old was not even 2 when my youngest was born. He turned 2 when she was 3 months old.

    I’m an organizer by His design, but a couple things that helped me out:

    1. Make breakfast in batches. I would make enough pancakes to last 2-3 days and simply reheat each morning. My oldest would help me make them and we’d all enjoy.

    Recipe:
    1c Bisquick
    1.5c milk
    1 egg
    1/2c oatmeat
    1/2c chopped (small) apples
    1/2c canned pumpkin
    1T sugar
    healthy shakes of cinnamon and nutmeg
    –Mix and cook as directed on Bisquick box. The oatmeal, pumpkin and apple help to beef up the nutrition and I have yet to have one pancake go unfinished!

    Have milk/juice cups filled and ready to go the night before to make breakfast go more smoothly. If your oldest can, let them open the fridge and get their own drink out and then close the fridge. They can take it to the table, climb up into their chair and all you have to do is serve.

    2. Determine what can get done with the kids awake vs. with them asleep. Supervise your kids playing together while you fold laundry (we don’t have cable TV) and then sleep or study while they’re asleep.

    3. Plan every meal ahead of time. Know what you are going to cook so you don’t stress every day determining what to pull out of the freezer. Spend an hour on Sundays to plan out the week; make sure you have everything you need already in the house to eliminate last-minute trips. Incorporate a soup/sandwich night or breakfast for dinner or crockpot night or daddy-cooks-night. If you do all of those once a week, you’re down to only 3 nights to figure out! We do homemade pizza every Friday too, so now that’s only 2 left! LOL.

    4. Keep healthy snacks handy. Kids love to eat and play, so have bananas, crackers, pretzels, etc. handy so they can do just that. It helps to eliminate kitchen messes and you can always hand out a pretzel while nursing, lol.

    5. My oldest wanted to cuddle while I would be nursing the baby. Instead of shooing him away, I let him. He’d sit patiently with me while his sister nursed. It was awesome.

  7. Christy says

    I get up at 5:30 to go to work as a teacher every day. I know that some blogs I have read (not this one) stress the importance of a Christian mother getting up before her children and the 5 AM club, etc. I have even read one blogger who wrote that (in her opinion) you were not a good Christian mother if you stayed up later to do certain things; you were only a good Christian mother if you got up at 5 to do them. She even went as far as discouraging others that said they were night owls and trying to encourage them to get up at 5 instead. She quoted scripture (I can’t remember which one). My theory is do what works for you. I do not do very much before work other than eat, get dressed, get boy dressed on some days (depending on husband’s work schedule), maybe unload clean dishes from night before or start a load of laundry.

    My son helps me with clutter removal clean up on some afternoons and helps me with cooking on nights we don’t pull from freezer. I normally try to spend 1/2 hour cleaning, 1/2 hour on schoolwork, 1 hour relaxing–husband if home, computer, and/or cuddling with my dogs after my son goes to bed; I shower and prepare for next day before going to bed. Whatever doesn’t get done in that 1/2 hour, doesn’t get done. Of course, some nights like the night before report cards are due, I may spend 1 1/2 on schoolwork and no time on cleaning and less time on relaxing. If it is getting done, I don’t see a point in getting up at 3:00 and going to bed at 8:00 to do these things. Currently, I am 3 weeks away from my due date with #2, so I am spending a ton of time getting things ready for my long term sub and the housework is going by the wayside. It’s always a juggling act!

  8. says

    I would recommend inviting another SAHM with similarly aged kids over for the day or afternoon. I love being able to visit with my friend while I’m cleaning up in the kitchen or working on dinner. When the older boys (both almost 3) are napping one of us can run a few errands. When the two babies get fussy it’s great to have an extra pair of hands to cuddle for a bit until we can get ready to feed them. Plus the boys get to work on their sharing and communication skills :-) :-) Doing this has been my lifeline recently.

  9. Beth says

    I’d recommend cutting yourself some slack too, realizing that maybe while you don’t feel like you’re functioning as well in some areas as you used to, you may not be disorganized. I remember when my son was born someone asked- “aren’t you amazed at how much more organized you are now?” I thought they were crazy, but then once he got a little older and things just fell into place I realized that the organization had been there, it was just distorted by the overwhelming number of things to do.

  10. Aimee says

    I wish I could give you a hug because I so know how you feel. Some people seem to do just fine with the sleepless nights and never ending feedings but I really struggled with it both times. The first thing that I would say is that I promise you it will get better. I would lie awake with our first child wondering if maybe, just maybe, I had ended up with the one child who never learned to sleep through the night! Alas, she turned out just fine and is a fantastic sleeper. :-)

    The second thing that I would suggest is to consider sleep training (talk to your pediatrician first!). I know a lot of people have strong feelings both ways but I’m a huge proponent (as have been all of our pediatricians) once they’re at an age that they do not have a physical need for the middle of the night feedings (i.e., they get enough calories through daytime feedings). We started sleep training around 5 1/2 – 6 months with both kiddos and used a modified Ferber method (read the Sleep section of Baby 411 for the condensed version). It only took a few nights and I felt like a new woman both times.

    For the 5 AM waking, I’ve found the advice from Baby 411 to be useful which is to wait 15 minutes the first day before going in, then 30 minutes, and so on and see if you can get him/her to sleep until 6 over the course of a few days. It may not happen but 5:30 is better than 5!

    Lastly, you’ll have to decide how comfortable you are with schedules and how strictly you want to follow them. We made the decision to work toward a feeding schedule with our kids (this takes time and dedication) but were so happy we did. Since they eat at roughly the same times every day, we were and are able to plan our days accordingly. I do not accept invitations during naptimes and plan errands, etc. to not coincide with feedings. Everyone needs to do what is right for them but I’ve found that structure goes an awfully long way in reducing chaos. Taking a tired, hungry baby to Target is a no win for everyone involved.

  11. Robyn says

    I had to laugh a little when I read this, because I think God is taking a 2×4 to my head with this message! I have a 2.5-year-old and a 5.5-month-old and while my house has never been pristine, it’s certainly less so lately than it has been before. There are so many things I feel like I should do or that I want to do or even that other people wants me to do, and I’m learning that often the answer is just “no.” God’s been using several people in my life to remind me to simplify and lower my expectations for myself, and I’m struggling with it. I’m going through the list of demands on my time and thinking seriously about each one and why it’s there and whether or not there’s a better way to handle it.

  12. Aleic says

    Good thing you post this. I have a two year old daughter and a home based work right now. It is so hard still living under the roof of your parents when they would ask you to clean up all my kid’s mess, clean the bathroom, etc… This post encourage me to spend more time and love my daughter more and avoid the usual bickering of my father…

  13. Jennifer says

    I so needed this right now, I am one month away from having another baby with an almost 2 year old at home. I keep wondering how I am going to do it all. I feel like I cant get it together now as it is, let alone with a newborn. I am no supermom and that is ok, I will just do what I can.

  14. says

    This is one of my favorite posts after reading you for years!! I am only half way through the comments but plan to come back and read more.

    My children are almost the exact ages as yours so I am getting a little break right now too (so I started a blog). But didn’t do as your advice stated. I took TOO MUCH ON and was very unhappy. Kudos to you for encouraging women in the right direction.

  15. Tracy says

    I haven’t the time to read through all the comments so please forgive me if someone has already mentioned this, but as I read through Crystal’s post 2 things came to mind:

    Firstly: to focus on the basics is most important. Making a list of what is actually important helps.

    I am days away from delivering our 3rd baby. I found the first and second babies very easy – they were 4 years apart, we lived in a very small home without pets or a garden and since I didn’t even have a car, life was slow and simple. That was 10 years ago! I now have a very full life – large home and garden, work-at-home husband and 2 homeschooled children, aged almost 10 and 14. When I think about what the basics are, it seems daunting at first because its so hard to choose what is more important that something else. But, when I think really hard, and when I submit my thoughts and fears to the Lord, the answers get clearer. And I feel much calmer!

    Secondly: this is also a reminder that we need to be gentler on ourselves AND each other. I easily fall into a panic over the “what if” scenarios. What if my mother inlaw arrives unexpectedly and the last time I vacuumed was 2 weeks ago? I wouldn’t think this way if I didn’t fear her judgement, and I fear her judgement because she is so vocal about her opinions. She’s not the only one…..

    Lets remember that its not just what is said TO us that affects us either. If we hear a friend or relative saying unkind things about the state of someone else’s home, we’ll know exactly what they’ll think of ours in a similar circumstance!

  16. Stephanie says

    Thanks for the post Crystal! It was published the day I brought my new baby home from the hospital, and I have a 26 month old at home! I’m going to print it and hang it on my fridge as a reminder when I get overwhelmed!

  17. Becky says

    Thanks for this post, it was very encouraging! I have a 3 1/2 year old, 2 year old and 6 month old. I too would feel so overwhelmed sometimes but I have learned also to just take it easy. Set a few goals for yourself each day and try to accomplish them but I also realized that if I didin’t get it done then that is ok too. Having teachable moments with my children are much more important than getting the floor swept. The days are long but the years are short with our children!

  18. says

    Thanks. I have read and searched and made my own list of things to do daily, but something never quite fit right. I’ve tried it again and I’m already seeing more success.

    I can’t honestly say that it was because your system was unique to what I’ve seen or tried already. My lists were even very similar to yours (including time spent with the Lord each day). I think the kicker was the statement you made about not getting overwhelmed by the stuff you don’t have done yet because you know there is a time slot for it. For some reason that has really stuck with me and I’ve made it my mantra!

    Thank you again!

  19. Renee says

    Right there with you Bridget! Since June 2008 I have only slept through the night five times due to two pregnancies and two babies. My oldest is 20 months and my youngest is 5 months. My youngest one eats every 3 hours. Right now my sleeping schedule is I go to bed at 10 PM and get up at 8 AM and take a nap.

  20. Sherry says

    I appreciate you posting some of your prayers. I never would have thought to ask the Lord to “bless my day and multiply my time” or to
    “bless and supernaturally multiply whatever sleep I was able to get”. Since I started this, I have seen a difference in my day too. Thank you!

  21. says

    I love you and I love your readers. I have a 6, a 4 and a 15-month and I work 40+ outside the home and I love hearing how other women handle it all….. here’s my list….

    Take your vitamins, supplement with Vit D & iron, drink lots of water, brush your teeth and just let go and cry once in a while.

    Let the dog mop the kitchen floor, buy a roomba for the carpets, forgive yourself for making chicken nuggets and frozen corn for dinner…. again, and put a laundry basket in the bathroom (so you have someplace safe to plop the baby while you pee… hands free!).

    Let the kids wear their jammies all day sometimes, pass a kid or two through the shower while you are deep-conditioning your hair, play “doctor” every day (you, the patient, must recline on the couch and rest while the littles take care of you), and invest in a couple 20-minute cartoon dvd’s for the “witching hour” around 5 pm.

    Hug the babies, take lots of pictures and save emails back and forth with someone that you talk about your kids with (we call this the “baby book” at our house…. completely honest, detailed and dated). Oh…. and get pictures of YOU with the kids…. I regret not having any pics of ME with my babies…. lots of other people but I always wield the camera.

    I also find sleeping at red lights a viable option. Right?

    Most of all… remember you aren’t alone and this too shall pass!