When you’re preparing for the arrival of your first baby, you get a lot of advice – some of it sticks and some of it doesn’t. The most popular were the classics: “sleep when the baby sleeps” and “enjoy it – it goes by so fast!” Makes sense, I thought, and I made a mental note to do both of them.
What I didn’t hear very often -and what I wish I’d paid more attention to – was the advice about taking it easy, about not aiming for supermom on day one, and about letting the dust fall where it may (literally). I wish I’d paid more attention because, as my pregnancy drew to an end, I decided to do the exact opposite: I would be the new mom that could do it all. I set myself up for success by preparing two weeks worth of frozen meals and loads of baked snacks. I cleaned the house from top to bottom and washed everything that could be put in a washing machine. I packed baskets of swaddles, cloths, and diapers, and left them in strategic places around the house. I was ready.
When the baby arrived, things went really well at first. The frozen meals and snacks were a godsend. The house practically sparkled, so my cleaning efforts were minimal. Thanks to my husband, the laundry piles were nonexistent. And then, after the two-week honeymoon, my husband went back to work, the food stores ran out, and the laundry suddenly ballooned out of nowhere. And, my god, can newborn babies ever create a lot of laundry in a matter of minutes.
Nevertheless, I stayed determined and carried on cleaning the house and doing multiple loads of laundry everyday, as well as entertaining guests and cooking dinner when my husband got home. After a couple of weeks, my husband sat me down and asked how I was doing. He said that he thought I was taking on too much, that I was putting myself at risk, and that he was worried. “You just had a baby. You need to take it easy for a while and let yourself recover,” he said,”I know you want to be able to do everything but, just for now, why don’t you try limiting it to one thing a day?” I almost laughed out loud. Me, do only one productive thing a day? Not likely. I’ve been a compulsive cleaner and organizer for my entire adult life. I get stressed out by a single dish left unwashed or one shirt tossed out of place.
He was right though: I was pushing myself too hard. I wasn’t getting the rest I needed and I was starting to feel the physical effects of overdoing it. After letting out a huge sigh, I suggested a compromise of limiting it to five things everyday. Those five things, we agreed, would include anything that went beyond feeding and dressing myself and the baby. So, showering, bathing the baby, going for a walk, having visitors, vacuuming, doing dishes, cooking dinner, doing a load of laundry: it all counted towards my five things. And, just like that, the Rule of Five was born.
During our discussion, my husband also suggested that I needed to start taking more time for myself each day and doing things that I found relaxing (and, no, he said, cleaning doesn’t count). So, I decided pretty quickly that having a shower and going for a walk would be standing items. That left me with 3 slots each day. At first, it was a legitimate struggle for me. I could no longer get everything done at once. The dust lingered for a few days longer than I would have liked. The laundry piled up more than usual. The dinner shift was often taken over by my husband (I love the man, but he’s no master chef). But, you know what? After a few weeks, I grew to love The Rule of Five. I felt such a sense of accomplishment knowing that, if nothing else, I had done 3 things each day and still managed to take care of myself. I came to really appreciate that I now had time to breathe, time to cuddle with my newborn babe, time to enjoy the fall weather on our daily walks, and – perhaps most importantly – time to heal in all the ways that a woman needs to after birth.
Now that my daughter is older, I could tackle more each day if I wanted to. But, surprisingly (to me, at least), I don’t want to. I’ve come to love the slower pace of life and being able to spend more time in each moment with my husband and daughter. Sure, I still get annoyed when the dishes pile up and the laundry hasn’t been done for a few days, but it doesn’t cross my mind nearly as often as it used to. Despite what I thought, having a child has actually caused me to slow down, to pack less into each day, and to breathe more. Life is more chaotic and messier, sure, but it’s also filled with more smiles, more hugs, and more memories now.