Last week, I had the chance to stay home with Anastasia on a day when she was full of bouncy, happy, pre-toddler-stage energy. Realizing that I hadn’t spent a full day with “normal” (read: not sick) Annie all by myself since she was literally five months old, I quickly fired off the following text to some of my closest mama friends:
I have a question for you, and this is going to sound crazy and probably sad, but I was just wondering…what does a typical day with ________ look like for you? I have tomorrow off, so I will be with Annie on my own, and now it’s making me anxious for summer because I realize I haven’t spent the whole day with her alone since she was little and essentially immobile so…just looking for ideas on how to spend your time!
So not only was I worrying about this one singular day on my own with my daughter, but I was looking ahead to the summer, a vast expanse of empty days, staring me right in the face. As I waited for my dear friends’ responses, I wrestled with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach – I don’t know how to spend time with my own child. All of them promptly wrote back with reassurances – not crazy, not sad, just a good mother wanting to love her baby well! They also shared some excellent, simple ideas on how to spend time with a baby, so I’d love to share them with y’all, especially for you working mamas who need some ideas in your back pocket for those occasional days off or, if you’re a teacher like me, summers off!
Story Time, Music Circles, Craft Classes, etc.
Every Monday and Wednesday, my mother-in-law watches Annie. On Mondays, she takes Annie to the local library for story time, and on Wednesdays, they go to a music circle, both specifically geared toward babies two and under. When I was off with Annie, I got to take her to story time, and I was so impressed – and thankful! These activities are wonderfully engaging for littles, and allow you to take a step back while someone else leads your baby through age-appropriate books and lively nursery rhymes and songs. I still interacted with Annie the entire time, but I also got to see the joy on her face as she heard new stories, explored shaky eggs and colorful scarves, mimicked hand motions, bounced to familiar melodies, and crawled after other babies. Plus, exposure to books and music are top priorities for our family, and this is a great (read: free!) way to encourage a genuine love for reading and the arts from the start.
I’m also on the look-out for craft classes, since Annie’s daycare makes the most adorable crafts with her about once a week. I’ve found a couple of options that require payment, but this could even be something that you set up with a group of other mamas and pitch in collectively for supplies, rotating where you meet each week, and trying out your best Pinterest finds. 😊
Play dates/Mama dates
When I was on maternity leave with Anastasia (birth to five months), I met up once a week with a good friend who has a daughter of similar age. I looked so forward to our meetings, because it got us all out of the house – we often treated ourselves to a coffee at a cute café after a nice stroll through the neighborhood with the babies – and it gave us both the chance to pour into each other our perspectives on and many, many questions about parenting, marriage, family, work, postpartum self-care, you name it – we talked about it! Making sure that you have a solid network of likeminded friends really does wonders for your sanity levels – it takes a village, y’all!
They have to get done, so take baby with you! I love taking Annie grocery shopping and telling her about all the colorful foods throughout the store. As she’s gotten older, she’s even started to point out and “request” certain items, giving us the chance to kind of have little conversations with her as her curiosity blossoms. In fact, I think running errands has been the biggest window into starting conversations with Anastasia in a genuine way. While we’re still at home, I tell her what we plan to do and where we plan to go, as I gather all our things, I tell her what I’m getting together and remind her of where we’re going, as I’m strapping her into the carseat, I tell her we’re going in the car for a ride to the place we talked about earlier – you get the idea! Talking to baby is so important for developing language – right up there with reading as many books as you can – and it even helps me to see errands as “adventures” rather than boring chores to trudge through.
One of the best pieces of advice I got from another mama was to space out your errands throughout the week. This gives you a little something to do each day (or at least a few days out of the week), and ensures that baby doesn’t get too overwhelmed with being carted around and out of the house for too long.
Go for a walk and/or spend time outside
Whenever I’m home with Annie, we go on two walks a day and, now that the weather is turning, she gets to spend some time outside just scooting around and digging in the dirt as well. Whether your walks are with baby in the stroller or a carrier/wrap, long or short, is up to you, but again this is a critical piece to keeping a clear head. The fresh air brightens and resets my perspective, the sun pumps that Vitamin D into my skin to keep my feelings warm and heart happy, and again, Annie gets to see and experience new sights, smells, and sounds that I can talk about with her – are you sensing a trend? 😊
This is a big one for us, and for some babies – like Annie – this is a skill that needs to be taught and continually practiced. Personally, I do not enjoy sitting on the floor and playing with the toys that Annie points out or hands to me. I don’t think it’s beneficial to her learning and it’s not the best opportunity for us to bond since it’s not all that exciting for me, which she can sense, and reacts to by becoming fussier or more demanding than usual. At this stage in her development, she is more than capable of pulling out the toys she wants and playing with them independently for decently long stretches of time. In my opinion, children do not need constant stimulation from adults, nor do they need adults showing them the “right way” to play with a toy or engage in an activity. Let them explore! Let them try to put the round ball into the square nesting blocks. Let them push their walker backwards. Let them mix toy sets. Let them fall down. Let them experience struggle. Let them collect dry grass and dead leaves and loose stones. Let them dig in the dirt. Let them be little.
And who knows – in the process, you might enjoy the time to yourself!
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to spend those blessed days off with your littles, but most of all, I hope it’s an encouragement to you to rest assured that any time spent with your littles is time well spent. Relax, mama – you’re doing a good job!