People say your life will change when you have a baby, but it’s hard to know exactly how this new, sweet commitment will affect your time. While you’re pregnant, take advantage of spontaneity, sleep, and luxury dinner dates before your child arrives.
Even if you’ve spent time with parents of young children, it’s difficult to imagine how your days will flow after you have a baby. You may notice your friend’s slightly grayish look after a tough week when the entire family has had a cold, or you might wonder if she really needs a jam-packed diaper bag to go around the block—but the logistics are not yet yours to master.
What changes drastically with the arrival of a child is your relationship with time. Where your days used to be yours to plan, now another person—small and dependent—determines much of your schedule. You can try to maintain your old habits, but most of the time you will be happier following your child’s sleeping and eating schedule.
Here are ways to enjoy your free time while you are pregnant. After becoming a parent, you can still make room for anything that is truly important to you, but be prepared for your priorities to shift.
Sleep, Glorious Sleep
When I was pregnant and heard new mothers say that, given a free hour, they would rather sleep than do anything else, I scoffed a little. What about going out with your husband, reading a dishy magazine, or calling a friend? Yet now, on days when sleep deprivation has reached a critical peak, I want nothing more than a quiet hour in a cool room with clean sheets. And while an hour-long nap used to be my goal, now a 10-minute snooze feels like victory.
So sleep in while you can! Feel guilty about nothing. On weekends, make all your appointments in the afternoon, and don’t set your alarm for anything. If you find it hard to sleep at night because your baby kicks or you wonder about what kind of mother you will be (a great one!), take multiple naps. It is a myth that sleeping a lot before the baby comes will help you weather the impending sleep deprivation—it’s like encouraging someone to gorge on a steak dinner to prepare for two months on “Survivor.” But you will remember with fondness these dreamy, pregnant days throughout babyhood and toddlerhood.
Completely spontaneous trips become the stuff of dreams with a young child in tow. Before having a baby, I was invariably punctual. With my son, I’ve given myself a few minutes’ leeway. Even if I have already packed the diaper bag with snacks, bottles, wipes, toys, and books—a late diaper change can derail the best-laid plans. In addition, my husband and I often took walks together in the evening before becoming parents. We still do, but only when we have given a babysitter both of our cell phone numbers and a detailed primer on how to put our son to bed.
When you go out while you are pregnant, take as few items with you as you can and leave as quickly as possible, without telling anyone. Do you really need a large purse, or will a palm-sized wallet suffice? Do you want to run out for the best ice cream in town, a half-hour’s drive away? Is it mid-afternoon and you feel like running along the beach? Is it 11 PM and you want to check out the neighborhood Christmas lights? Then go. No one is stopping you.
Efficiency Goes Both Ways
Once you become a mother, a graph of your efficiency over the course of a day will look like someone’s hare-brained scheme. When your child is asleep and you are not, you will often accomplish more in five minutes than you previously did in 30, whether that means responding immediately to an email or folding laundry double-time. Before my son’s birth, I often waited for inspiration to strike before planning curriculum for my middle school students or brainstorming for writing projects. Now the idea of such free-floating creativity seems quaint.
When your child is awake, on the other hand, your five-minute unloading of the dishwasher will likely stretch into half an hour, with stops along the way to read a board book, grab a toy he can’t reach, and cut bananas into bites. Often you will not want to be efficient. A walk in a stroller for exercise is much more fun if your child stops to run her hand along a brick wall or watch a cat sit prettily on a doorstep.
Before you have a child, then, savor inefficiency. Consider long restaurant waits, airport delays, and post office lines chances to chat with the person next to you, be alone with your thoughts, or read a good book. Visit three gourmet stores to find an imported smoked salmon or a particular brand of tomato soup. You may feel you have no time for such frivolity—after all, life and work consume your entire day as it is! Trust me in believing that, after you have a child, you will wonder how you ever filled all of your free time.
The Zen Zone
One of the most frustrating aspects of caring for an infant or toddler is the sense that few tasks can be completed in one sitting. And uninterrupted time is unpredictable: your child could nap for one hour, or two, or not at all. When you work on a project with your child around, such as cooking a meal or putting photos into an album, the process divides into stages. For instance, I’ll cut the vegetables at one point, mix a marinade 20 minutes later, and throw the meal in the oven when we return from the playground.
While you are pregnant, seek out activities that require sustained focus or energy. Cook a complicated gourmet meal over an entire day. Read a complete book in one sitting. Go to a three-hour movie in the theater. Rearrange every cabinet in your kitchen. You have only yourself to interrupt you.
It might seem that you will have time for little besides parenting after having a child, and this is true for about the first three months. After that, you can create space for your favorite hobbies or leisure pursuits—but you’ll find your priorities will change because you won’t have enough time for everything. If exercise is your top ambition, it might squeeze out reading the newspaper every day. If you want to cook a homemade dinner each night, you may not have time to keep up with email. You will continue doing what matters most to you, and what doesn’t you probably won’t miss anyway. In the meantime, enjoy these last months of relaxation as you look forward to a rich future with your new family.