Maternity leave was a whole new world from my customary 40-hour work week at an office. Once I kicked the baby blues and got into a groove, I was on the fast track to a surprisingly enriching lifestyle change. It was neither a "relaxing with a book all day" experience, nor was it "living in a dump because there's no time to do anything non-baby-related" - either of which would have surprised me less than reality. Instead, it was an exercise in prioritization, productivity, and perseverance that taught me these five important lessons, among many.
1. The magic of multi-tasking.
It turns out it is possible to be a good housekeeper and a hands-on mom at the same time, thanks to baby wraps and carriers. Once I discovered that I could wrap my baby on and do dishes, vacuum, or even fold laundry, my productivity went through the roof. I always felt very accomplished at the end of the day, and I scoffed at the pre-mom-me who used to waste her free time sitting around with her computer in her lap.
2. How to make naptime count.
Once I started being able to predict the normal timing and length of my baby's naps, naptime became sacred. Whether I finally enjoyed my daily cup of hot tea, worked on some household chore that just couldn't be done with baby in tow, or seized the opportunity to exercise, I learned to make every second of naptime count. In fact, I learned to be such an effective time manager over maternity leave, I'm pretty sure I was a better employee when I returned to work because of it.
3. The worth of "early to rise."
I'm not talking about rising early for night feedings (although I did plenty of that). I was quite tempted to sleep until my baby got up for her first feeding past sunrise each morning, but the quiet dawn of each day became a lovely time for me. I could mix formula, feed the cats, and even possibly take a coveted shower, which helped me feel all the more ready to tackle the full day ahead.
4. What not to wear...
...And how to sell expensive wedding dresses. And all about life with 19 kids. If you hadn't guessed, I tuned into TLC a lot. I learned there is not all that much choice when it comes to daytime programming, and it mostly revolves around themes that stay-at-home moms might stereotypically be interested in: babies and family life, cooking, and interior design, to name a few. I'm not sure whether I fit the stereotype or whether I made the best of what was offered, but I found that daytime programming provided the kind of comforting, family-friendly background noise that complemented the substance of my daily schedule.
5. The value of a partner.
As much as I loved having the time to spend with my baby and keep the house in order, I was always excited to hear my husband pull in the driveway at the end of a day. Just being able to pass the baby off for a few minutes or get a hand with dinner was a sanity saver. The true lesson I learned was a deep respect for single parents who may have no one to relieve the 24/7 burden of responsibility.
I have enjoyed going back to work and adjusting to the working mom lifestyle, but maternity leave gave me a taste of what the alternative life could be - and, much to my surprise, I really liked it. I felt in tune with my baby and the rhythm of my house in a way that I could never achieve as a working mom. Despite having my baby with me at all times, I felt a sense of freedom from the rat race and power to make of my day what I wanted. My day's work was trying, seemingly endless, and required I relinquish any ounce of selfishness that remained, but I also went to bed each night feeling an unparalleled sense of accomplishment and pride in the lessons I'd learned and progress I'd made.
More from this mom: