Keeping your head above water when you’re exhausted and/or going through a major life change

As a parent with an infant at home, I haven’t been getting much sleep. Oddly, though, I’m incredibly happy to be exhausted. Even when she’s screaming at 2:00 in the morning for a bottle and a diaper change, I’m smiling. We waited so long for her and having her in our family is an incredible blessing.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the exhaustion is taking its toll, however. I wrote an email to my mom, never hit send, and then wondered for a few days why she didn’t respond — all the while the drafted email was just sitting on my computer’s desktop, staring me in the face. Clean laundry is hanging out on the bed in our guest room, waiting to be put away. And, those of us in the house with teeth, well, we have eaten more pizza for dinner in the last month than we had in the previous six months combined.

Thankfully, I know this exhaustion will pass as our daughter gets older. She’ll start sleeping through the night and I’ll stop trying to open the front door of the house with the car key. In the meantime, there are steps I’ve been taking to keep things from spinning out of control that I thought might be able to help other new parents as well as anyone going through a major life event or bout of exhaustion.

Embrace chaos in the minor priorities

I have an infant, a four year old, a full-time job, and numerous other responsibilities to care for right now, and very little energy. The energy I have is going toward the things that must be done, and pretty much zero energy is being spent on other things. I’ve resigned from a committee I was serving on that I enjoyed but that my participation isn’t essential to the success of the committee. I haven’t made my bed in the last month except for the two times I’ve changed the sheets. My pile of filing and scanning is three inches high. When my energy levels return, I’ll resume taking care of the minor priorities in my life. Until then, oh well …

If you are unclear as to which priorities in your life are major and which are minor, take a few minutes to list them. What deserves your attention right now? What doesn’t? Be honest with yourself and remember you’re only human and you lack super powers.

Hire, accept, and ask for help

My mother-in-law stayed with us the first week after our daughter was born. A cleaning crew has come to the house twice to clean the toilets and floors and to dust. Next week, I’ll be hiring the neighbor boys to rake the leaves in the yard and do the last mowing of the season. I can’t do it all and I’m not about to let pride or having things done my way get in the way of my family’s sanity.

Also, it’s a good idea to remind yourself that people cannot read your mind. If you need help, you have to ask for it. If someone offers to bring your family dinner, you have to respond to the person who made the offer that you think this is a great idea and then provide them a date, time, and information about any food allergies. Now is not the time to be polite for the sake of being polite and decline the offer if you actually would like the help. If you are overwhelmed by a project at work and everything else going on at home, you need to tell your coworkers/boss that you are overwhelmed and ask for help to rectify the situation. Don’t just wish for someone to help you, ask for help if you need it.

Simplify tasks

I have an inbox for each of my children that is collecting stuff I want to keep or remember for later, but don’t have the time to process right this moment. For my daughter, I’ve been writing important milestones on notecards and tossing the notecards in the box to eventually be recorded in her baby book. “Rolled over unassisted first time 10/16″ is on one of the cards, for example. Yes, I could just write the information into the baby book now, but getting out and putting the book away each time I want to record something isn’t going to happen. Writing on a note card is more my speed. It’s all about the bare minimum right now.

On the television show Holmes on Homes, host Mike Holmes often points out that other people’s work has been done to “minimum code.” He means the contractor or plumber or whomever only did the work the law required, and nothing else. This phrase has made its way into our family’s regular dialog when we want to refer to doing something as easily as possible, and nothing more. Minimum code is now how we make lunch and dinner — a protein and a vegetable. Minimum code is how we take care of the car — put gas in it when the tank is low. Minimum code is how we maintain the house — put stuff away after using it, but let a cleaning crew take care of the rest. Be realistic about what you will do and simplify tasks to minimal code.

Hit pause

Now is not the time to become commissioner of the softball league or volunteer to spearhead the silent auction for the annual PTA fundraiser. It’s also not a good time to make a major life decision. Get through this period of exhaustion and then start adding new things to your life and contemplating your next move. This wave is temporary and you just need to ride it out.

Obviously, the advice doesn’t stop here. Please feel welcome to share valuable lessons you have learned from being ridiculously exhausted in the post’s comment section. I’m certainly looking for even more ways to reduce stress and streamline processes right now and I know there are many readers out there who could benefit as well.

16 Comments for “Keeping your head above water when you’re exhausted and/or going through a major life change”

  1. posted by Rita on

    Congratulations! So many good times ahead of you. As a mom of 2 year old twins I am STILL trying to get into the groove in many ways. My advice is to always choose sleep over getting little things that can be done later. Sleep will make things better. Sandwiches and frozen vegetables are your friends. Invite friends over for pizza because parenting an infant can feel lonely.

  2. posted by Sara on

    What perfect timing. I have a 6 week old and a 3 year old. I find that keeping in mind immediate priorities helps (for example, bills needing to be paid) so I can act quickly when I am free. Also, small time investments can pay off. I made a casserole that not only provided a hot dinner, but lunches for a week. Pizza is good too, buy the large and plan for leftovers. I use my smartphone to make lists and organize myself while I put the baby to sleep.

  3. posted by Amanda on

    I like the idea of ask for help if you need it, as it applies to so many things. One cannot be a martyr in peacetime.

  4. posted by ET on

    What great advice. I am the mother of a 23 year old and our family is preparing for her wedding in January. We are busy to say the least, with caterers and florist and wedding favors, but I wanted to just encourage the new moms and dads out there. Enjoy every minute of every day with your young ones. Play with them. Care for them. Love them. They grow up so fast. When my daughter was little, my house wasn’t the most ‘spic and span’ but it was livable, and full of love. My husband and I were and are full-time working parents too, but I didn’t go crazy because I couldn’t keep everything perfect. I learned to “let go” during that season of my life. As my daughter grew up, our home resumed a more organized pace, but I don’t regret those early years and I know you won’t either.

  5. posted by Daryl @ sarasota cleaning service on

    We are in the process of looking for a home while preparing our home to sell. That along with our busy schedules has created a very stressful time for us. Thanks for your helpful tips. I especially like the Pause button.

  6. posted by Mary on

    When I had my kids each time I bought baby books that came with calendars and stickers. You could fill in the months and number the days after the baby was born. There was a sticker for each milestone including some I never thought of. So I could just slap a sticker on the calendar or write my own notation and at the end of the year write the dates in the book when I had time.

  7. posted by Deb on

    Thank you. I have felt so guilty for being exhausted when there are soooooooooooo many important things going on right now. I never stopped to think perhaps I was exhausted because so many things were going on right now. Minimum Code demands I not take time to list all those things.

  8. posted by Janet on

    If you do find yourself inexplicably with a small amount of free time, don’t rush to fill it up with an item on the to-do list. Use it to renew or refresh yourself in some way.

  9. posted by Thekla Richter on

    Beautiful advice, Erin. Congrats on your little one and hang in there – it truly gets easier!

  10. posted by Marie on

    My first thought was (and I don’t mean to be unkind, just giving you a gut reaction) “must be nice to have the money to hire out household chores”. Hiring someone to clean and maintain the yard is so far beyond our budget, it’s not even in the same country.

  11. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Marie — Fair point, it does take money to pay for these services for three or four months. However, things like children provide you with at least nine months to save for these expenses. In our case, we had eight months of adoption paperwork and then a year of waiting to be matched with our daughter to save money for these types of services. In an emergency, you wouldn’t necessarily have time to save, though I am in favor of putting a little money aside each week for an emergency fund. What I have found, though, is that people have offered to do these acts for us for free out of friendship. I mowed a neighbor’s yard earlier this summer after he had a heart attack and then that neighbor fed our cat while we were gone for a week to pick up our daughter. Friends have shown up at the house with food to stock the freezer and then tended to the baby while I took care of chores (like unloading and loading the dishwasher). Another friend has even offered to come over and watch our kids while we take much-needed naps, freeing us from having to pay a babysitter. We’ve done all these types of things for our friends when they have had babies or gone through some other major life change. Our church also has a “helping hands” program where members of the committee help anyone in our church community who needs assistance. I’ve made lots of casseroles for church members through this program and even cleaned a few toilets. No one pays for the services except to give back when it’s possible for them to do so. We aren’t using the services now, but if another type of emergency were to arise we would certainly ask for help if we needed it. I just see these types of acts as being parts of friendships and being part of a community … when you help out others, they usually return the favor free of charge when it’s something as simple as mowing a yard or scrubbing a toilet.

  12. posted by Patty@homemakersdaily.com on

    Great advice. I especially like the comment about people aren’t mind readers, so if you need help, ask for it. And the paragraph about “minimum code”.

    Congrats, by the way. Things will get better – raising kids is all about seasons.

  13. posted by Danielle on

    THANK YOU, it was nice to hear that someone else is going through a tumultuous period of life, and that the only things getting done are the bare necessities. I just started my dream job after years of college education, and it is awesome and fulfilling, just like I expected. It is also a total drain on my energy. I wake up at around 4:30 or 5:00 AM, start working, and return home at 4:30 or 5:00 pm. Apart from work, I need to prioritize exercising with my dog, for her and for myself.

  14. posted by jim on

    Ladies,
    QUIT working yourselves into an early grave – grow a pair of ovaries – or whatever. My wife did exactly what you’re doing now. If she had ever just TOLD me, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to get off my a## and help out more, I would have done it in a nano-second.

  15. posted by Syed on

    Great post! Have a little infant myself and I’m feeling the exhaustion thing. Sleeping when I can is very important but one thing I also like to keep up with is exercise. I really have to schedule time for it and I can’t do it for as long as I used to but it really does help, especially with all the pizza I’ve been eating!

  16. posted by rjp719 on

    I am mother of 2 grown sons, 29 & 22 (in 3 wks), who both just asked the girl of his dreams to share her life with him. i am so happy for them but so overwhelmed with all the planning to be done. we are also in process of building house next door to my 87 year young father who really needs us there NOW rather than later. we help with making sure medicines get taken & dr appts are kept. i am a cfo at ace hdwe store & have private payroll & bookkeeping clients as well as trying to keep us in clean clothes & dishes. life happens in phases–but it happens so quickly. do the minimum code on things that wont matter a year from now. but spend the time & effort witj your kids &vfamily-loving them, playing with them & making the memories that will last the rest of your lives. just my 2 cents…

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