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Five Tips for Surviving as One of the #ZombieMoms

My son turned one this month. He is walking, running, pointing, gesturing, saying words like “come” and “sister,” laughing, playing jokes, and learning about boundaries – his own and those of other people. He is not, however, sleeping through the night.

In fact, after 40 weeks of pregnancy and 12 months of baby, a “good night’s sleep” for me is still a three-hour chunk of uninterrupted slumber followed (or preceded) by a couple of 90-minute chunks.

I’m exhausted, and the get-your-toddler-to-sleep routines touted by many don’t work for us. I can’t night wean him, because he is underweight, and I can’t delegate a night feeding to dad because he won’t take a bottle. I can’t leave him to soothe himself to sleep, because his cries typically only escalate (and I’m not an advocate of CIO anyway). And, prior to this week, I couldn’t get him to fall asleep without being on the breast.

So, for now, the only recourse to my severe lack of sleep is learning how to survive as one of the sleep-deprived #zombiemoms. Luckily, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that enable me to continue working and existing as a quasi-human, despite my lack of zzz’s:

1) I’ve become a huge fan of the 20-minute power nap. Even if I don’t actually fall asleep, I’ve found that just resting my eyes for 15-20 minutes can really help fight off exhaustion and increase my cognitive functioning.

2) I’ve figured out how to make the most of my coffee intake. I LOVE coffee and the ritual of drinking it is one of the biggest morning pick-me-ups I know. Unfortunately, I’m still breastfeeding, so I can only have about a cup of the caffeinated stuff per day. In order to make the most of the small amount I’m allowed, I brew four cups (my typical pre-pregnancy serving) of 1/4-caf coffee first thing in the morning. (I use one scoop of regular caffeinated and three scoops of decaf.) That way, I feel like I’m getting the same amount of caffeine as usual, even though I’m only getting a fraction of it. Also, by drinking it in the morning, I get a pick-me-up when I most need it, and I don’t keep myself from sleeping later.

3) I learned how to nurse lying down. This was something I figured out with my first child and used again with my son. It allows me to drift in and out of consciousness on those inevitable nights when he decides he wants to eat from 2 to 4 a.m.

4) I carry a liter of water with me at all times. Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to boost energy (and keep migraines at bay), but it’s difficult to remember to drink water all day long, especially when you’re chasing after a toddler. A large-sized bottle cuts down on the number of times I have to refill my glass and ensures there’s always water at hand when I need it.

5) I cook and freeze individual-sized breakfasts once or twice a month. Eating a healthy breakfast has been shown to increase alertness, but cooking first thing in the morning (before coffee) with a toddler on hand is anything but easy. To make sure I don’t settle for something less than satisfying (or worse, nothing at all), I cook individualized baked-oatmeal bites, mini egg and sausage quiches, and breakfast burritos once or twice a month and freeze them. Then, in the morning, all I have to do is stumble from the freezer to the toaster oven and wait 20 minutes.

I have high hopes for a solid six hours of sleep some night in the future, but, for now, these five fixes will have to do.

Reader question: What do you do to combat mommy exhaustion?


Flexible Scheduling for the #Homeschooling #WAHM

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My life revolves around a schedule. It isn’t because I want one. (I’m not a natural planner, and I chafe under rigidity and obligation.) It’s because I need one.

With an unpredictable chronic illness, an ever-changing infant on the cusp of toddlerhood, and a sweet-but-sometimes-explosive adolescent girl, my schedule keeps me sane.

It helps me pencil in time to work, read, and relax. It ensures I get a shower or bath more often than every 72 hours, and it reminds me that (eventually) I will have a break. In short, my schedule is often the only thing that keeps me from jumping off a cliff. The key to maintaining it though, and not allowing it to become just another rigid set of rules, is to keep it flexible.

For example, I don’t pencil in my son’s naps at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I don’t force him down if he isn’t tired, and I don’t mind if lunch is served at 1:30 p.m. instead of noon. Instead, I have a loose set of guidelines that help me know when to run errands, when to head to my office to work, and when to put my kids to bed.

To develop this schedule, I spent about a month monitoring our days and activity levels. After about two weeks, several important things became abundantly clear:

  • My son generally wants to nap about 1.5 to 2 hours after waking in the morning and then again about 2.5 to 3 hours after he wakes up from the first nap.
  • If I try to get him down outside of these parameters, he usually won’t sleep.
  • If I get him down at the right time, he’ll sleep for approximately 90 minutes each time.
  • My daughter does her best work in the morning.
  • If we run errands before her school work is done for the day, she is likely to have a meltdown while doing it.
  • My son won’t eat between about 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., no matter how much or how little he’s had to eat that day.

Knowing these things has enabled me to craft a loose but predictable schedule that ensures everyone in the house gets what they need on a daily basis. It doesn’t work for specific events planned by other people (e.g., library story times and yoga class at the local YMCA), but it works wonderfully for things I plan or schedule myself.

Based on these guidelines, I know to schedule appointments and errands between approximately 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. or after 3 p.m. I know not to expect any significant undivided work time until the afternoon (when my husband gets home) or the evening (when the kids are in bed). And, I know that I’ll likely spend my son’s morning nap gearing up for the day and helping my daughter with her schoolwork.

It isn’t perfect (I haven’t yet figured out how to make it to the 10 a.m. Zumba! class down the street), but it works for us.


Tools and References that might help if you want to try creating something like this for yourself:

Baby Connect App (perfect for monitoring infant and young child eating and sleeping habits)

Educational Leadership: Giving Students the (Right) Time of Day


Making Time for the Unexpected

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Having grown up in the U.S. to remarkably independent self-motivated parents, I internalized the idea that hard work equaled success from an early age. But, working hard doesn’t have to mean working 24/7. In fact, working constantly is a sure-fire way path to burnout: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

As a homeschooling work-at-home mom to a breastfeeding infant and a special-needs, pre-teen girl, I’m constantly fighting the urge to spend every minute of my day engaged in one task or another. Between writing books, juggling clients, teaching my daughter, and caring for my son, my house, and my husband, there just never seems to be enough time to get it all done. But, I’ve learned the hard way that trying to do it all without taking the time to rest and recharge means getting less done overall.

It is invariably the days and weeks on which I am over-scheduled with work projects and other must-do tasks that some unplanned event or catastrophe throws a wrench in my plans. My baby gets sick, cuts a new tooth, or refuses to eat and requires my constant attention, or my daughter has a meltdown that takes hours of time and most of my energy to get under control. Or, I get sick and simply can’t work any more that day, no matter how much I’d like to do so.

In short, things happen that I can’t control, and it means I have to be able to adapt. And, I can’t do that, if my schedule isn’t flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen events. To make sure I have the flexibility I need, I created the 75% rule: However many hours I want to work in a week, I cut it by 25%. Then, I fit my work assignments into only the hours I have marked as available. No matter what.

When I first implemented this system, I really had to work against my tendency to fill in the empty hours on the calendar. If a new client popped up with a potential assignment, I would see the empty slots in my mind and automatically say “yes, I have time.” It took me months to realize that the empty slots weren’t really empty. They were full with events, outings, and setbacks that I couldn’t possibly foresee. They were my fail-safes. And, in my life, they are absolutely necessary.

What about the rest of you? Do you fill your schedule, or do you purposefully leave some time for the unexpected?

Other links on working smarter by working less:

The 80% Energy Rule: An Old Secret to Success

Blogger Justin Jackson talks about The Principle That Changed My Life

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive