An unexpected lesson I learned in motherhood: How to set boundaries for myself

Here is one thing I am learning through motherhood: How to set boundaries.

I knew I had a lot to learn when I became a mother, like how to overcome sleep deprivation and how to stop a toddler meltdown. The one thing I didn’t know I needed to learn was how to set boundaries.

Not for my kid (which is important), but for me.

I work. I mother a toddler. I wife. I have other interests. I think I still have friends. The house gets dirty.

Most times I can’t do it all, or things get half done. Not because I don’t have enough time, but because my attention is pulled all over the place.

Do you know how many half-read books are on my bedroom floor? That pretty much sums it up.

I am at a stage in my son’s life where boundaries are difficult. There are always two Duplos stuck together that need to be unstuck or a shoe that needs to be put on. A temper tantrum to be handled or a diaper to be changed.

My son also wants cuddles. Tons of cuddles, which I won’t complain about.

Some days I wake up and I need more order. More room, even if it’s just mental. I know my life is inherently complex (at this moment in time), but I need my own space.

I set boundaries for my son. What about me?

It took me a while but I am finally starting to figure out how to carve out space simply for myself. This change only has been possible with the help of my husband who makes sure I follow through.

In the morning, I now make time to read, to journal or to maintain my spiritual practice. It’s a priority. I have to fight for it some days and sometimes it’s only for a few minutes.

Even a few minutes counts, and I am happier for it.

I have regular gym times that I set aside during the week and I am starting to kick butt. I don’t always want to go but I do. I always feel better.

Last weekend, I spent half an hour reading a book at a coffee shop. It was divine.

Recently at work someone tried to schedule a call to start at 5 p.m., which was too late for me. At that point, I am usually at home with my kid, possibly starting dinner. I usually get 2-3 hours at night with my son. That’s it before bed, and our family time is precious.

This meeting wasn’t worth ruining our dinner time.

I said, “No” to the meeting. It was magical. I could say no. Of course this meeting wouldn’t make or break my career and the meeting time was ultimately changed.

Before I had my son, I would have made it work, even if the call was at 8 p.m.

Damn, it feels good to say no sometimes.

In some areas of my life, I have always had trouble setting boundaries. Now as a parent, it’s particularly challenging. For me, it is easy to put off self-care like exercise, reading, a trip to the hair salon or other things I used to enjoy, because my son (or our home) occupies much of my available physical and mental space.

I am now learning to make space for me.  To read more. To move more. To relax more. It may be easier with just one kid but if we ever have another, it’s probably wise to start this practice now.

It’s starting to feel good.

My first step at decluttering my son’s toys

A few ways I started to declutter all the toys in our houseIt’s a new year, and if you are on social media, it’s hard to miss that resolutions are in full swing. In my feed, everyone is decluttering. There are so many tips and tricks out there that I am having trouble decluttering the decluttering process!

However, I decided to take some of this advice to heart. ZJ’s toys were taking over our living space to a point where we were all a bit unhappy. I definitely had enough.

I would like to think we have an average number of toys — more than some and less than others. My two-year old was still a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of play choices, and they were poorly organized.

How I started to declutter my son's toys!

Help! I am surrounded!

In addition, we were constantly picking up after him. He does understand how to clean, but we can’t expect him to if there is no clear place where to stow his toys.

Since he is still young, we decided it was a good time to clean out the toys.

Here is what I did:

1. We have a toy storage bench in the living room. It works great but we let the toys flow out and take over the living room. I chose his favorite toys and found a place in the bins. Once the bins were full, that was it (for the most part).

Decluttering toddler toys Decluttering toys!

2. I put the leftover toys in a large plastic tub, and brought it to the basement. We also have a few toys in his room. He gets to enjoy them when we are downstairs or upstairs. Every few weeks, we’ll rotate the toys.

3. We put away the toys he has outgrown, or will soon outgrown, or that I simply didn’t like. This includes very loud electronic toys. These are marked to either be used again if we have another child or to be donated or given away.

This isn’t rocket science and this idea is not new. But in the few days since we did this, I can already see results.

ZJ can more easily focus on his toys. I can see a difference in his play and he has a new interest in toys that he hasn’t touched in a long time.

He is even happier and plays better on his own.

We are all happier that our living room is less cluttered.

Everyone has a different philosophy toward children and toys in the house. I’ve seen minimalism work quite well and I’ve seen families work with toys in every corner of the house. We didn’t go gung-ho with this process and kept a lot. We will regularly assess when a toy needs to leave circulation.

But we will keep out only what we have room for.

This one small step is showing us how curating the toys — even just a little — is working for us. And I got part of my living room back!

I found some good tips in these articles:

From one of my favorite bloggers, Janet Lansbury: Play Space Inspiration

Tame the toys: 5 great ways to manage the messes

Dear mom who is about to give birth

Dear Mom who is about to give birth

Recently, a good friend was gathering advice to share with a soon-to-be mom who was expecting any day. It’s been almost two years since I’ve been at that point but it made me think. What advice did I receive? What helped me through the beginning of this journey?

It inspired me to write a letter. I may need this advice again sooner or later.

Dear future mom,

Your son or daughter is already a part of your life as she kicks and hiccups and does somersaults in your tummy. I’d love to give you solid advice on what you are about to go through, but I can’t. This particular journey is individual. It’s unique and special to you and your child.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned since my son’s birth is that there is no one-size-fits-all guidebook to giving birth and being a new mom.  However, my friends helped with some key points which I will share with you:

1. The Birth: It will likely be different than what you imagine.

No matter how you give birth — in a hospital, at home, in a tub, in a operating room, in a car, with drugs, without drugs, with a midwife, or even adoption — you can’t predict your exact childbirth experience. It’s easy to get disappointed if you do and you’ll miss the beauty of welcoming the new one to your family.

Your baby is going to come out at his or her own speed. Just focus on providing warm and accepting arms for your new one, no matter how it occurs.

2. The meeting: Don’t be upset if you don’t immediately fall head over heals in love with your child. For some, there will be an instant bond. For me. I cared for my son immediately but it took months to fully bond.

You may need time to get to know your child. Or you may not. It will come. Let that bond happen on both of your timelines. Don’t let TV or a friend’s experience set the bar for what you feel.

3. The first month: It’s okay if your first month is a little difficult. You may panic. You may not. But if you do, get support. Pray or meditate. Hug your child. Call a friend. And know it will get better. Get more support if needed.

Again, it’s an individual experience and you shouldn’t compare it with anyone else’s.

I was told that something magical happens one month after the birth and it did. Breastfeeding became easier. The baby’s sleep was a little more predictable. I became more confident as a mom. You have a little more time to make better meals for yourself.

You start to remember who you were before you gave birth.

At the beginning I fought this journey. I did not gracefully enter motherhood and it’s comical that I am even writing this letter now. I was not a model first-time mom.

But now I see how my life is changing for the better — how I am being pushed to grow in ways I didn’t know I needed to.

I’ve learned to give up expectations of how my days should go. They rarely follow my plans, and at first this frustrated me. Well, it still frustrates me a little, but I’ve learned a bit more patience, and a bit more grace.

I also learned that a hug from your child is much more rewarding than a clean living room.

Now I love my new life and I would not have it any other way.

So the best piece of advice I received: Just let go of your expectations and enjoy the experience. Just wait long enough and whatever circumstance you are dealing with will likely change for the better. At least, it did for me.

Enjoy the journey!

P.S. Yes, in case you were wondering, you will sleep again.

Three incredibly fantastic gifts for a new mom

When I was a new mom, I found that taking care of a newborn was pretty darn tough.

Then you add in daily activities, like cleaning and cooking. Making my bed? Forget about it! I never knew when I would be able to sleep next. My bed had to be ready to go.

During this time, some good friends and family thoughtfully provided some basic but significant gifts that made the transition easier. I am ever so grateful and I hope to pass on their generosity in the near future.

Here are three gifts that meant a lot to us:

Three incredibly fantastic gifts for a new mom

1. Food.

A new mom always welcomes food. I underestimated my ability to cook or provide for the family during that first month.  I didn’t understand that my son would constantly want to eat, which tied up my hands.

Freeze ahead. If I would have known better, I would have prepared freeze-ahead meals. At the time, I preferred to make everything fresh and I assumed I could continue. It wasn’t that simple.

When my sister visited the first week, she cooked us large dinners and froze the leftovers.These dinners were fully cooked meals and we could just heat them up. Yay, sister!

Snacks. One friend stopped by the grocery store on the way home from work and dropped off a bag of healthy snacks. Hummus, carrots, wheat crackers, cheese, fruit. It was heaven.

Here is the key — and this is SO important — the snacks should require little or no prep AND you should be able to eat them with one hand.

Cooking Dinner. Another good friend, and excellent cook, came over and prepared a meal for me. She also made a fantastic fruit salad topped with mint leaves that was divine. (I still dream about it; it was so yummy.) While she cooked, we talked. Great gift.

Meal service. New meal service and food delivery companies seem to be popping up all over the place. You can have almost anything delivered — a box of fresh fruits or vegetables, Chinese take-out, groceries. The possibilities are almost endless. A friend sent us a cooler of Omaha steaks and burgers, along with sides. It required that we fire up the grill, but it was relatively simple. My husband especially enjoyed that gift.

Three incredibly fantastic gifts for a new mom

2. Cleaning.

We had the house cleaned before the baby was born but a few weeks of neglect eventually started to show. Two friends pitched in and hired a cleaning service for us. It wasn’t just a normal cleaning but a spring cleaning. The inside of my fridge was shining. The toaster oven was crumb-free. It was pure joy.

Of course you can clean yourself — you don’t need to hire a service.

3. Organizing.

I am a fool for a fantastic organizational system but organizing doesn’t come easy to me. It takes me forever to get things placed right and create a functional home system. The nursery was mostly done when ZJ was born but it lacked functionality. Frankly, I didn’t know what needed to be organized until ZJ was born.

My sister swooped in and finished the organizing. She created a clothes and diasper system that made sense for our house and our life. She implemented some simple tricks and improvements that really helped keep his room in order.

We are very grateful for the support we received as new parents. The first few weeks as a mom can be a bit harrowing. Luckily, our newborn grew into an infant, then into a toddler, and we all sleep and eat a bit better in our home now.