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The most radical thing you can do on parental leave: throw out your to-do list

Throwing out your to-do list might sound like a radical idea but, when caring for an infant, simply changing out of your pyjamas is an achievement. On parental leave, free yourself of any pressure to get things done.

I met a local mum at playgroup and we instantly clicked. She was there as an occasional volunteer — her kids were approaching the end of primary school while my son was still in nappies — and I would gravitate towards her to share a coffee and a chat. Her conversation struck a chord, her advice was always sound, and her hilarious stories and wicked laugh cut through the monotony of my parental leave. She was driven and ambitious and unapologetic about being a working parent.

Then one day, she said something that didn’t resonate: “When I was on parental leave,” she reminisced, “I threw out my to-do list.”

My sleep-deprived brain couldn’t make sense of what I’d heard. This comment just didn’t fit with the focused, organised, on-the-go woman I’d come to know. Throw out your to-do list? I thought. How on earth did you stay organised under the tidal wave of household tasks and other responsibilities that hit after a new baby arrives?

I mulled over this idea for days. Was I doing it all wrong? What did she know that I didn’t? If I stopped jotting down the multitude of to-dos filling my thoughts, wouldn’t it keep me up at night? 

In the workplace before baby, I was good at getting things done. I knew every time management hack, my tasks were prioritised and my day was scheduled to within an inch of its life. Over my career, I had invested much time into learning the art of good planning and organisation. It brought greater efficiency, higher productivity and less busy for busy’s sake. I wore my to-do list like a badge of honour. Because I knew no different, I brought this efficient approach to my role as a new mum.

In the heady days of new parenthood, I thought I could keep up. Dirty laundry, thank-you cards, exercise, feeding baby, meal prep, doctor’s appointments, floors you can eat off, bills, settling and soothing — surely there was time for all those run-of-the-mill tasks as long as they were carefully prioritised. But before long everything became a priority. If I just kept up the pace.

Life had quickly turned into a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, leaving me feeling exhausted.

It’s a massive personal adjustment making the switch from working world to parental leave. Looking back, I can best remember those moments soothing my refluxy son in my arms. The way his body snuggled in when I rocked him to sleep or how he cooed at the sound of my voice. Not whether we ate dinner on time or how much laundry I pumped through our dependable washing machine.

What I came to realise, with a little help from my playgroup friend, was that when you first become a parent, it’s absurdly important to free yourself of any pressure to get things done.

You are new at this
Remember: you are new at this so give yourself a break. Any expectations you had about what you ‘should’ be doing or how much you would achieve on parental leave are irrelevant. Show yourself the compassion you would show a child or friend attempting to learn something new.

Go with the flow of parenthood
Try not to resist the urge to just ‘be’ with your baby. Use your senses, follow your instincts. Take the time to rest and recover.

Simplify your life
Say sayonara to any unnecessary tasks and rethink what is necessary. It’s okay to lower your standards around the home and in your social life.

Loving your baby is enough
Forming a connection with your baby is the most important thing early on. Swathe baby in love and get that oxytocin pumping. 

Make the most of the time with your child
As baby grows, find fun activities to enjoy together like an online baby class, park date or time in nature.  Everything is new to your baby, so even if restrictions are holding you back, the simplest activities will be exciting enough for their curiosity and senses. Your being wholly present is the most important thing.

Get your ‘me time’ hit
Take baby for a walk or sneak out on your own if your partner is WFH, read a chapter during nap time or schedule a Zoom date with friends. Build time into your day for activities you enjoy by scheduling them around baby’s routine, and drop any guilt you might have about taking time for yourself. Even if it’s just five minutes a day, that’s a five minute break for your mental health. 

Remember, it’s a phase
From the moment you leap into parenthood, you’ll be forever waiting for the calm that never comes. But keep in mind that every stage is a phase and things do change. The mind-altering exhaustion will pass. Try to enjoy each phase for what it is instead of wishing away the time. 

Go on. Get radical! Before you know it, you’ll be back into the swing of things at work with a million unavoidable tasks and a strict diary to keep. But, for now, throw out that to-do list on parental leave and enjoy just ‘being’ with your baby without the pressure to get stuff done.

Written by Vanessa Geerling, Circle In Content Editor.

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