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Books in the Time of Exhaustion

Reading Mom to SleepEvery expectant mother goes through a period of anxiety when she imagines what life will be like after the baby arrives. Will anything be the same? It’s one of those rubicon moments that you can’t totally fathom until it happens. Most of us realize that life will never be the same once a child enters the picture but understanding the enormity and permanence of that change can take some time to process.

One of my chief worries during pregnancy about life as a new mom was wondering how I would keep reading. Compared to concerns about the baby’s health, it’s a little trivial but reading is my only lifelong hobby. I’ve never been dedicated to crafting or outdoor pursuits or any other recreational activity. Reading has been one of the constants in my life since childhood and the one thing I truly love to do. Like many moms-to-be, I was trying to figure out how I could hang on to some small part of myself during an intense life change.

Now that I’m almost four years into this parenting gig, I can say two things for sure: 1) I’m surviving and 2) I still read. Of course, my life looks very different to the one I lived before motherhood. Do I read as much or as often as I would like? No way. I used to be able to juggle reading multiple books without missing a plot point and could remember my place in all of them without deigning to use a bookmark. I used to read for hours at a time. I could read for more than twenty minutes without falling asleep. And I certainly never woke myself up by dropping a book on my own face. I don’t know that life anymore.

But I’ve made some adjustments and figured out how to keep reading as a parent. Here are my top tips to you keep reading when you feel like you’re too busy running after little ones or carting around older kids!

  • Lower your expectations: This is decent advice for all areas of life once a baby arrives on the scene. You will not be able to read like you once did. You may not be able to read every day. You may have to change what you read or when you read. If you expect your reading life to remain unchanged, you are wrong. Allow me to phrase it as our Disney overlords do: “Let it go! Let it goooo!”.
  • Get the right equipment: Buy an e-reader. I know many of you book traditionalists will roll your eyes or try to resist. But using an e-reader or a tablet is truly the most convenient way to read as a parent. Firstly, e-readers and tablets are extremely lightweight and allow you to read one-handed, a necessity when your baby won’t let you put him or her down. In addition, these devices have backlighting so you can comfortably read in the dark, perfect for late night feedings or marathon “will you stay with me until I fall asleep” sessions with older kids.
  • Change up your format: If you’re in the car a lot, either commuting to work or waiting for kids at activities, try books on CD or downloading e-audiobooks to your phone. You can turn your drive or wait into productive reading time! If you download or stream e-audiobooks on your phone, you can also make the most of nap time or housework and listen to a book with your headphones while you get things done. The library currently provides e-books and e-audiobooks through our Overdrive catalog and Hoopla streaming service.
  • Change your style: Maybe your tastes run toward Tolstoy or Dickens or sweeping fantasy sagas with hundreds of characters. You might need to consider shorter, lighter reading material. I’m not saying parenthood kills off your brain cells but it certainly consumes most of them and you may not be able to remember all the Game of Thrones plotlines as accurately as you did before kids. If reading has become a chore or too much a challenge, you won’t do it.
  • Give yourself a break and try something new. Maybe it’s time to explore some short story collections or tear through a fast-paced thriller. Maybe it’s time for something light, something that gives your brain a vacation. Or, perhaps, you can go with the kid theme and re-read some childhood favorites or read some of the recent Newbery Award winners. Reading kid-lit can also give you an idea of what your child might be reading in the future or give you ideas of books you can share together as they grow up. Whatever you do, put those parenting books down! They’ll only make you feel bad and you need a break from the anxiety of parenting small kids.
  • Set a goal: I have my husband to thank for this one. He’s a very disciplined person who finds it easier to create a habit by setting a hard and fast goal rather than just hoping he’ll read more. He reads ten pages from one novel in the morning and another ten at night. It’s not a huge commitment but this habit has allowed him to read twenty books a year, a feat for any parent. Setting a goal can keep you focused and force you to tae time for yourself as you develop a new reading habit.
  • Find an excuse: Many parents, especially moms, can feel guilty about taking any time for themselves. When you find yourself feeling guilty for taking time to read, remember that studies show children who SEE their parents reading usually become readers themselves and are more likely to engage in reading as a leisure activity as they get older. So by taking time to read, you are modeling the behavior you want your children to emulate.
  • Make it fun: Join a book club or an online reading group. This gives you an excuse to read, get out on your own (sans kids), or at least be social. If you can’t get out, try joining GoodReads or another online reading challenge. Even using Facebook to ask for book recommendations will generate some great feedback and inspire you to get back to reading. If reading becomes a conversation point or a social outlet, you’ll be dying to get into your next book.

To me, reading is as essential to me as breathing. It’s both my escape and my way to understand the world around me. It is my lifeline to the rest of the world when my everyday life feels consumed by making mac ‘n’ cheese and potty training. It gives me something interesting to talk about with my husband and other adults. It keeps me sane and I hope it’s something I can get my daughter to love. My little one isn’t reading yet but I can only hope she gets as much enjoyment out of books as I do. And the only way that will happening is if I keep on reading!

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library  in Norwood, Mass. Read her column in the May 11, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Kate Tigue

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