Q: I need some advice on how to raise a 3 1/2-year-old and a 2-month-old, without feeling guilty all the time. As hard as I try with the routine of housework, cooking, finding time for each child and for my husband, I'm burned out, and feel guilty about not spending enough time on one or the other.
I tend to stay up late (usually until 3 or 4 a.m.) when the house is quiet and I can get a lot of cleaning done and find some time for odds and ends. But then I feel a little tired the next day and still unorganized. I spend as much time as possible with the children but it doesn't seem to be enough. Now, all of a sudden, the older one wants more attention and the baby naturally needs a lot, especially since she is quite fussy.
My husband works long hours but tries to be helpful. He is often tired and needs time to relax, which I understand but don't like.
We do get out once in a while and we each have one night a week to ourselves but I also feel guilty being away from the children at those times.
Between the baby crying so much and my older one always wanting me, I often feel guilty and short-tempered with each of them. I love my children dearly and only want the best for them. So why do I feel so inadequate? Is this normal? What can I do to remedy this routine?
A: There are times in your life when you need a clean house more than anything else, but this isn't one of them. If you have to make a choice, it's better to be good company to your children and your husband than it is to be a good cook and a good housekeeper.
Chores aren't important enough to keep you up most of the night. The fatigue will only get worse and so, inevitably, will the tension and the guilt.
What you need is sleep. You're still recovering from pregnancy and delivery, which can be as depleting as major surgery. If you don't get enough rest in the first few months, you'll be exhausted for many more.
Since you're up all day with your 3-year-old, you have to go to bed earlier, even if you're a nighttime personality.
Ask your husband to care for the children while you soak in the tub, and then get yourself in bed by 9 or 10. Only get up to nurse the baby, with your husband taking at least one of the night feedings if she's on formula, or rocking her through a fussy period.
It may be hard to fall asleep or even rest easy at first, but warm milk, soft music or meditation should help.
You'll probably need to break your morning habits, too. Get out of bed quickly, get dressed and put on your makeup before breakfast. Start your housework as soon as you've fed and dressed the children. A contented, efficient household is run like a contented, efficient office, with the hard work done in the morning; the easy work in the afternoon.
The dishes are done right after breakfast; the wash is started; the living room tidied and, if possible, one room is vacuumed each day.
Make your bed if there's time (a messy bed makes the whole room look messy) and sort the jumble of clothes in your room, with the dirty ones going into the hamper and the rest either hung up or divvied into two stacks: his and hers.
To keep the children reasonably happy while you work, get a portable Swing-o-matic (about $20) with a soft sling seat, to rock the baby when you wind the handle. Ask your older child to work with you from time to time, so she won't feel left out.
By then it's lunchtime and anything that can't be done by then will have to wait another day -- including any of the above.
Use the afternoon for a nap, if possible, and for walks and visits; for playing with the children and cooking dinner -- and for a 15-minute housekeeping blitz when you and your daughter run around picking up toys and other debris until the timer rings.
If you have the time -- and energy -- you'll also want to accomplish something each afternoon that can't be undone by another day of dust. A hem raised or a letter written is about all the time you'll have to do it, but the results will boost your spirits.
Ask your husband to supervise your daughter's bath after dinner, and while he's there, to clean the bathroom. You'll feel less resentful if you can count on him for regular, specific help. And when he works late, let it go. The child -- and the bathroom -- can wait another day.
If this schedule doesn't leave your house clean enough, find another mother who will take a day to help you clean your house one week, while you help her the next, with your children playing together while you work and visit.
You also need to go out with your husband more often, so you'll feel like a couple again, and when you've established a reasonable routine, perhaps take a part-time job. It will broaden your horizons, and if you work a full day, rather than two half-days, it shouldn't fragment your time too much.
You'll also profit by a slim book called Surviving the Crisis of Motherhood by Paula Lubke Kolltedt. It's $4.50 from St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1615 Republic St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45210.
If none of this helps, you may need psychotherapy. It may be the only way you can learn to love yourself enough to take care of yourself.