Reader Nichole submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
My husband and I both have large families that we need to travel to see. We also have a large network of friends. We both value these relationships immensely and [try to] make them a priority in our lives. We are expecting in August, my husband is finishing up a degree now, and I am working full time and a doctoral student on the side. We also have 2 dogs that we love to pieces and we enjoy spending time at home with them.
Many of our friends and family members are celebrating big events this year — weddings, graduations, etc. They would also like to see us as much as possible before and after the baby is born. My question is do you have any tips to balance the needs and desires of ours and our loved ones to visit and spend quality time together without overrunning our weekends and our budget? I feel pulled in too many directions. We have stuff to do at home, have a very tight budget (that I manage well, but still), and enjoy being home together, we would like to see our local friends and leave time for impromptu summer BBQs and hikes, but the people and the events that also require our attention feel too important to miss.
I don’t know if this is an issue of priorities, budget, or too many close relationships (that has always been such a blessing in the past!), but it is stressing me out having to choose between my loved ones and feeling like there is not enough time left for myself. Any ideas?
The truth of the matter is that all of this will naturally work itself out, regardless of any advice I give. When you chose to have a baby you prioritized your growing family over your friends, and the changes that are to come will reflect this decision. You didn’t decide to get rid of your friends, but your relationships with them will be different — some friendships stronger, and others will weaken. So, instead of advice, I’ll explain what the next three years of your life will probably resemble (something I wish someone would have done for me):
In your last six weeks of pregnancy, you’re simply not going to be able to travel long distances to see friends and family members. Even if your doctor gives you permission to travel that close to your due date, you likely won’t have the desire. You won’t be sleeping well, you’ll constantly feel like you have to pee, and standing on your feet for hours on end at a wedding reception won’t be something you’ll want to do. You also might have a strong desire to nest and spend time getting the house ready for its newest addition. Plus, your little one could decide to arrive early and thwart all your last-minute plans. All of my friends who have been pregnant say the last few weeks of pregnancy are physically draining, and I believe them.
Then, your child will arrive and life will be hectic for two months. You may go out a couple times with local friends, just to prove to yourself you can do it, but mostly people will come to you during this time. If friends and family members offer to make you dinner or do your laundry or wash your dishes during this time, take them up on their offers. (You can return the favor at some point.) Your dogs will probably be very jealous that there is a baby getting all your attention, so be prepared to spend daily time with them to help keep their behavior under control.
If you and your child are healthy, things become easier during the three to nine month range in comparison to those first two months. Your social life will perk back up and traveling will be relatively simple. The Holidays might be a perfect time for you to travel to see family — but if you plan to go by airplane, be sure to check with your child’s doctor first. A long car ride might be better suited for your specific little one’s ears (and easier to transport all the baby gear).
The big hit to your social life will most likely happen when your child becomes mobile. Even though your child-less friends will say they love your baby, the novelty starts to wear off when your kid can break their stuff. Family members and friends with children seem to be less annoyed by toddlers, so your social life will probably veer toward these relationships. As a result of this period, I’ve certainly become closer to my parents, which is a wonderful benefit. Also, this time is so much fun with a little one because they start to be less like a blob and more interactive with vibrant personalities and crazy preferences.
There are babysitters you can pay to watch your child in the evenings and on weekends while you socialize with friends (ranging between $15 to $20 an hour where I live) — and I recommend having a date night with your husband at least two to four times each month and some alone time for yourself, too — but you probably won’t use a babysitter as much as you think you will. It’s not just a money issue, but a priority issue, especially if you both work outside the home and your child is in daycare for eight to 10 hours a day. Time with your child will be rare (maybe only two hours when he/she is awake each weekday), and passing up those awake moments can be difficult.
You’ll notice another shift in your social life around age two and three, when your child starts demanding play dates with specific friends from preschool and getting invited to birthday parties. You’ll befriend your child’s friends’ parents, and you’ll start to hang out all together. Your social life will be active again, but in a different way. Your family will also demand that all major holidays and vacations are spent with them (because they want to hang out with your cool kid), and they will be hurt if you don’t come to visit or have them to your place. (This is often less of an issue if your parents already have a slew of grandkids.) This also might be when you decide to have another child and start the cycle all over again.
Children are amazing, and you and your husband will love being parents, but your social life will change to reflect your new priorities. My advice is to jam pack your social schedule this May and June, ask friends and family to come to you July through October, make plans to see family at the Holidays in November and December, and then expect to see more of your local friends in January through May of next year. After May 2012, you’ll just have to follow your little one’s lead. Schedule daily time with your pets to keep their jealousy under control. And, most of all, enjoy the blessing of your larger family as much as possible.
Thank you, Nichole, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Check back in with me in a couple years and let me know how things worked out for you. Also, check the comments to see what other readers have to say and if their experiences are like what I described.
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