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How To Budget Your Time After Giving Birth

A common problem faced by new mothers is the use of time - the spacing of baby care, household and shopping chores, socializing, entertainment, or whatever possibilities your days may present once you are ready to become more active. You may find it difficult to adjust to and work within what seems to be a huge expanse of each day - without chunks of time specifically apportioned to particular tasks or projects as you might have had in previous working situations. Without a schedule or prescribed tried-and-true work plans to guide you, and no adults around to share the workload or even the complaints about the work, you may find the days difficult to get through. When you have an entire day in which to accomplish various things, it is often difficult to decide when to do what and whether or not it really needs to be decided upon in the first place. “Why does planning matter,” you may ask yourself, “if your work never gets done anyway?” “But how can that be?” an expectant mother naively asks. “How can there not be enough time?” Many a new mother will attest to the reality that there is not enough time!

Some women find it helpful to apportion a limited and specific time each day for chores, a time for getting out of the house with the baby, a time for reading or socializing with other adults, or whatever it is you discover you need each day, in addition to the routine infant care - to make it a well-balanced work-and-pleasure-filled stretch of time.

Other women find it helpful to make a list of what has to get done in order of importance (e.g., read, make dinner, fold laundry, wash floors, etc.). Then, the first time they have “free” time, they start at the top of the list and work their way down, leaving out whatever they don't get accomplished by a pre-determined time of day (early afternoon, for example), after which they go out with the baby, no matter what!

Some mothers complain, “How can I set aside a specific time for chores or getting out of the house when the baby has no specific time for crying? I may have to hold him all during my 'chore time' or 'reading time!’”

If you are the type who needs a specific hour-by-hour schedule, perhaps you can plan your chore time to coincide with your child's fussy-time and take him or her with you from room to room as you work. Some chores can be done while the baby is happily strapped to your back or chest, papoose-style (ironing, mending, cooking, laundry, bill-paying). Keeping the baby with you and close to you may be soothing in itself (as well as more interesting than lying unoccupied and alone in a crib) and may afford you the time to accomplish what you'd like.

No matter how you prefer to “order” your day, no matter what happens, stick to your plan to get out of the house daily! Taking a crying or fussy baby out of the house for a ride in the carriage, baby carrier, or the car is often the best way to make you both happy. The change of environment and activity and exposure to other people can be stimulating to both of you. And you will have a good feeling at the end of the day, having had your “break.”

Finding Outlets

Many new mothers complain that aside from their roles in the family, “There is nothing for me,” no outlets for their talents and creativity outside the home. If you feel this way, I suggest you get involved. There are many groups and causes that need good organizers and volunteer workers. Book discussion groups, adult education classes, theater groups, college courses, new mothers' rap groups can be located and/or organized. Some groups have no objections to babies sitting in on discussions; others even provide babysitters during meetings. Although some groups do solicit members through the mail or through telephone campaigns, for the most part you will have to seek out a group you would be interested in joining. Suggestions:

1. Get involved in local community projects designed to solve problems. Join civic organizations that already exist or work to establish one yourself. Find a problem in the community and seek ways to solve it. Does a particular corner need a stoplight? Is an empty lot a health or safety hazard? Is a needed school or hospital slated for closure? Locate the individual governmental organization responsible and work to have these situations corrected.

2. Become a consumer advocate. Join one of the groups fighting for consumer rights, fair labeling, etc. Interested in curtailing environmental health hazards? Want to make hospital emergency room services better? Keep energy costs down? Improve the general welfare of humankind? Join or start a campaign! It can be exciting, invigorating, satisfying.

3. Join a local organization or branch of a national organization whose concerns you share. This might include charitable groups such as the March of Dimes, Cancer Care, or the Red Cross. You might be interested in a local chapter of the National Organization for Women (N.O.W.), or a group working for family-centered maternity care, such as the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics (A.S.P.O.), or the International Childbirth Education Association (I.C.E.A.). You might even get involved in a local branch of a political party, and/or work for the election of a candidate to political office. Telephoning and typing can often be done from your own home; you may enjoy meeting people while circulating petitions or soliciting funds.

4. If you are interested in developing your talents in a particular field but can't as yet earn money at it, use the hits and pieces of free time you have now to gain experience and expertise - which later can be used to contain a paying position should you be interested. For example, offer your services to, a local organization to do free art work for flyers, posters, or other advertising for their special events. Perhaps they'd like a logo or design that represents their own goals and organization. Set up speakers, agendas, programs for an organization. Run a membership drive or a fund-raising campaign. Develop such public relations abilities for your own benefit while you increase an organization's publicity and funds. Offer to write press releases, invitations to meetings, letters of thanks-for-joining-our-organization, letters requesting volunteer help for the group, letters to prominent people notifying them of the organization's existence, accomplishments, and aims. Offer to do public speaking for the organization if you'd like to develop your abilities in this realm. If you have other skills in bookkeeping, accounting, law, record keeping, research, book reviewing - offer them. Both you and the organization of your choice will gain.

5. Your local school district might need adults to tutor students who are having difficulty with their subjects. This can often be done in your own home.

6. You might consider doing volunteer work at a local hospital or old age home. If you have musical talent, you might arrange to entertain patients on occasion, or read to blind patients or take them for walks.

7. If your local library has no Read-Aloud program for children, consider volunteering to start one. (You might even be paid!) This involves reading stories or poems to a group of children for an hour or so and is most frequently done on week-end mornings.

8. If you love animals, volunteer to help out in a pet adoption agency or veterinary hospital.

9. Join a club through your church or synagogue.

10. Join a bowling league, exercise program, dance class, adult education program. Take a course in yoga, painting, sculpting, ceramics, great books, etc.

11. If you have a particular talent in cake decorating, bread baking, guitar, piano, or speak a foreign language, ask what the requirements are for teaching a class at a local adult education enter.

12. You might give art lessons in your home - to adults, teenagers, or younger children. Choose your medium: pastels, oils, acrylics, charcoal, pen and ink. You could give guitar or piano lessons - or lessons in knitting, crocheting - practically anything. You can hire a sitter to care for your baby while you are at home and classes are in session.

13. Try to locate a Big Brother or Big Sister program in your community. These organizations pair an adult with a youngster in need of warmth and companionship. You would be involved with taking the youngster to local community attractions and being available for discussions and sharing.

14. You can volunteer to read textbooks to blind students at a local school, or perhaps to record books on audio devices for blind college students.

Babysitters

There is no “right age” at which to begin leaving your child with a babysitter on an occasional or regular basis. It depends on your feelings and needs and those of your baby. Some women find they need to get out without the baby occasionally or frequently from the early weeks onward - others find they do not have this need. Some couples appreciate being able to leave the baby with someone in whom they have confidence and go out. Others are content to take the baby with them and/or stay at home. Others feel that it is a good idea to leave the baby with a sitter now and then so the baby will not be totally dependent on being with them.

It's important that any babysitter share your philosophy of child care - should a baby be fed on demand or schedule? Be allowed to cry it out or be held? Be given a pacifier? Before you hire a sitter, even on an occasional basis, discuss these questions with her or him, and if you are interviewing an individual recommended to you by someone other than a close personal friend, ask for the names and phone numbers of other people the person has worked for. Call and ask them if they were satisfied with the sitter's services. Ask the prospective sitter for a list of days and hours she or he is generally available for babysitting and what the hourly charge is. Ask how much experience the person has had caring for infants of your baby's age - perhaps she or he has helped care for younger siblings.

For a new baby, I recommend you locate a person familiar with handling newborns. The usual teen-aged sitter may not be right for your baby at this stage of life. You might contact a local nursing school and ask if there are any students experienced in infant care who might be interested in babysitting. Through a nursing agency, you might locate a licensed practical nurse who specializes in infant care. If so, be prepared for her fee to be somewhat higher than a non-professional's. If you have a relative or friend you have confidence in and who is willing to help you out, this too might be a good idea. Your baby nurse may be willing to babysit or may know someone who is qualified, or you can even ask your pediatrician's nurse or lab technician if they babysit or know someone who does. It's good to locate several reliable babysitters so you'll have several people to choose from when you want to go out.

No matter what the age of your baby, it's important to leave instructions for any sitter you hire. What will the baby most likely want the next time he or she awakens? Where are diaper and feeding supplies kept? How should a bottle be prepared? Where are flashlights and candles kept in case of a power failure? If you have fire or smoke detectors, alert the sitter to their presence and instruct her or him not to investigate if one goes off, but to take the baby, leave the house, and contact the fire department from outside. Does your house have burglar alarms? Alert the sitter to their presence and how they operate. If the sitter must leave the house with the baby in an emergency and does not live close by, to which neighbor should she or he go while trying to reach you? If at all possible, leave instructions on how to reach you - the name and phone number of the people you're visiting, restaurant, theater, store, etc. Also, leave the name and phone number of a friend or relative who will be home while you are out, as well as your pediatrician's name and phone number. Make sure the sitter knows where your emergency phone number list is posted. Put all instructions in writing so they will not be forgotten at a crucial moment.

On a separate piece of paper write the baby's name and birth date, the name and phone number of your pediatrician, what immunizations the baby has had and where you can be reached. Also list any allergies your baby may have and any medications you or your mate are allergic to. Write: “In my absence I hereby empower (sitter's name) to authorize emergency medical care necessary for my child” and sign your name. Instruct the person to bring this if she or he takes your baby to the hospital in an emergency.

Tell the sitter what you expect regarding the use of the telephone, phonograph, television, radio, etc., what snacks you've left, and whether you mind if a friend keeps her or him company. Also, let the sitter know at approximately what time you expect to return home. Instruct the person to open the door to no one, no matter who they say they are or how insistent they become. Leave a pencil and paper for phone messages and call at least once yourself during the time you are away to ask how things are going.

It's a good idea to have the sitter come and “meet” the baby before he or she is left in the sitter's care for the first time. It will give you an opportunity to demonstrate how you hold, feed, and play with the baby. You might even consider hiring the sitter to care for the baby for an hour or two while you're home doing household chores letter-writing, or whatever. This will allow you to gain confidence in that person's abilities, allow her or him to get to know your child and ask any questions that may arise, and also may help ease any anxiety you have about leaving the baby. The first time you do go out, plan to be away for a brief period - an hour or two to do shopping, visit a friend, etc., and come back before the time you're expected. Evaluate what you find on your return. Does everything seem under control? Has the baby obviously been screaming for some time? If there are minor problems - unchanged diaper, items out of place, discuss them with the sitter and try again; but if the person obviously is not caring for your child as you would like, find someone else.

You might consider setting up a reciprocal babysitting arrangement with another mother for daytime hours, or with a couple for evening hours. This would remove the cost of babysitters. One afternoon each week, for example, you can offer to care for a friend's baby while caring for your own, in exchange for her caring for your baby on another afternoon. This, of course, is only feasible if both mothers feel confident enough to handle two infants. It might be easier for you if both babies are close in age, or, depending on your preferences, if they are a few years apart. This takes trial and error until you find the right match for you. Any reciprocal babysitting agreement should be entered into with the understanding that either “partner” can terminate the arrangement without hard feelings for any reason whatsoever.

For an evening arrangement, you and your mate can care for your friend's baby in your own home for several hours and have this reciprocated on another night. If there is more than one child in both families, an evening arrangement would involve your sitting in your friend's home and caring for her children while your mate stays home with yours. When you and your mate want to go out, you reverse the arrangement.

You might discover a babysitting co-op in your neighborhood involving several mothers or perhaps start one yourself. Members can be solicited through your obstetrician, childbirth educator, or pediatrician. You might even consider setting up a new mothers' rap group to discuss common feelings and problems in addition to your babysitting arrangement.

How To Start A Reciprocal Babysitting Service

A reciprocal babysitting service has the advantage of providing reliable babysitters to all participants. It is cost-free. No one need feel tied down and no one need feel she is imposing by asking someone to babysit for her. Of course, the “rules” listed below can be changed to adapt them to the needs of your group. They're just guidelines to help you get started. The group should have several meetings to enable all members to get to meet and gain confidence in one another.

1. The job of bookkeeper is rotated monthly.

2. A list of who is generally available at what times is drawn up and given to each member. This is not a commitment to babysit during those hours, just a useful guide.

3. It is the responsibility of the person who needs a sitter to call someone on the list at least twenty-four hours in advance. Forty-eight hours would be appreciated. Of course, in an emergency, this rule could be waived.

4. Points are earned and spent as follows:

a) 1 point is earned for every 1/2 hour you sit for someone else (or fraction thereof).

b) 1 point is spent for every 1/2 hour someone sits for you (or fraction thereof).

5. Points are owed to the group as a whole, not just the person who sat for you.

6. Double points are spent/earned for sitting after 5 P.M.

7. 2 extra points are spent/earned for sitting that includes giving a meal.

8. Sitting will be done in the sitter's home.

9. It is the sitter's responsibility to notify the bookkeeper how many points were spent/earned.

10. Examples of the bookkeeping:

a) Alice watches Mary's child for two hours. Alice=+4 Mary=-4

THEN:

b) Sally watches Alice's child for one hour, while Mary watches Sue's child for one hour.

NOW: Mary=-2 Sue=-2 Alice=+2 Sally=+2

All points earned/spent are simply added/subtracted from current totals. It is advisable to agree on the maximum number of points a person may accumulate before spending some and also the maximum number of points a person may spend before beginning to sit for others. I suggest 10 in either case.

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