Life in lockdown for a working mom of a one-year-old

Those of you who have a one-year-old will know that they really do fall into a unique category of their own – ‘Tabies.’ They are no longer babies, but nor are they toddlers just yet. ‘Tabies’ have a mind of their own, are extremely needy, cannot entertain themselves and require your full attention 24/7 to make sure they haven’t eaten the pot plant soil or the nearest bug on the floor. This is a full-time job on its own. Throw into the mix two working parents with deadlines and meeting requests, no nanny or grandparents for help and the recipe spells the need for some wine (if only we still had some).

We started off lockdown celebrating my little girl’s first birthday – hooray, we had kept her alive for one whole year! I told myself that having her birthday in lockdown will be one for the history books, but any mom would understand the disappointment that comes with cancelling your child’s first party and having to celebrate without friends and family. It really was a let-down, to say the least, but overall she got a cake with a candle to blow out, presents to open, a balloon, Zoom calls from family and friends – and that made for a great first birthday after all.

So how have we survived lockdown thus far?

‘The spreadsheet’

With my husband being an engineer, constantly working with spreadsheets, he came up with the suggestion that in order for us to survive this lockdown without any help and without killing each other, we were going to have to map out our responsibilities in a spreadsheet. I have to be honest – I was a little reluctant at first and it sounded like this was going to be a lot of effort but once done, it became our daily ‘go-to’ document.

We have divided the day into three-hourly shifts. If it is your shift with our baby girl then you are responsible for her meals as well as putting her down for naps in that time slot. It is also your duty to do one formal activity with her and supervised ‘free play’ for the rest of the time. ‘Off slots’ are for work, exercise and a nap if you are so lucky.

The cooking of meals and household chores are also added to this spreadsheet, making it a jam-packed day. I must say, though, it has worked out really well for us and has given us a routine that we very much needed. In life after the lockdown, I would like to implement parts of this spreadsheet going forward for chores and cooking, as it has helped bring structure to our household and divide the workload in a fair manner for working parents.

Activities

I had to turn to Google to come up with some activities for my little one during this time to prevent boredom and make sure she was worn out by nap times. We try and do one to two formal activities per day, with the rest of the time being ‘free play or ‘free crawl’ mostly. Most of the activities we have done include the use of household items such as cardboard rolls, empty formula tins, pegs, empty egg boxes and paper plates. Not being able to get to the shops easily forced us to get creative with what we had at home, which was economical and great for the environment too.

Toy animals taped to round metal tray
Toy rescue. Image supplied.

Some examples of activities we have done thus far:

  1. Posting penne noodles and cards into slots made into the lid of an empty formula tin.
  2. ‘Toy rescue’ – taping her toys down on a tray and allowing her to explore the sticky tape to pull them off.
  3. Muffin Tray – filling a muffin tin with various household items. This one is great for repeating by changing the items each time and getting them to explore different items.
  4. Peg a whole lot of pegs onto a paper plate and get her to learn to pinch off the pegs.
  5. Messy play outside in the garden with a water table, mashed potato and edible playdough.
Muffin tray filled with various household items
Muffin tray filled with various household items. Image supplied.

Meal planning

Being the dietitian in the house, I have been the one to plan the meals more effectively, which is another skill I always teach my clients to do and one that should continue after lockdown. I have two lists printed on the fridge which include a list of ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and treats for which we have ingredients. One list is for my hubby and I and the other is for our one-year-old. Each week, I take stock of what ingredients we have or need and plan the new meals from there. This has made grocery shopping more efficient and it has ensured that there is little waste, particularly of fresh items.

Tray of smoothie ice lollies with fruit
Tray of smoothie ice lollies with fruit. Image supplied.

Dietitian tips

  1. Use your fresh fruit and vegetables first and then move to the frozen vegetables. There is nothing wrong with frozen veggies. They are actually quite nutritious as often they are flash-frozen near to the farms, which means their nutrients are retained. If you see your fruit going off before you can use it then chop it up and freeze it into zip lock bags to make smoothies. I made my daughter some smoothie ice lollies with fruit that would have gone off and she loved them.
  2. Keep meals tasty and exciting. You are less likely to deviate from healthy eating if your meals are something to look forward to.
  3. My daughter got a sensory meal this week, which she loved. This is where you take a muffin tray and fill it with all sorts of colours and textures of different foods and encourage them to explore the different foods. This is a great way to get fussy eaters to warm up to foods they do not normally like.
Muffin tray filled with assorted healthy foods
Sensory meal. Image supplied.

All in all, my advice to other working moms during this lockdown period is to not set yourself lofty ideals for things that you want to achieve in a day. Every day doesn’t have to be full of motivation and be productive – and it’s okay to have an unproductive day once in a while, where all you achieve is a load of washing. Give yourself a break!

There will be life after lockdown, so make the most of the quality time with your little ones – the time we as working moms often have a lot of ‘mom guilt’ about. Plan efficiently and use tools to reduce stress and anxiety and try to implement healthy habits into your households that remain long after the coronavirus does.

Kelly Ansley, registered dietitian
Kelly is a registered dietitian and owner of Smart Eating Registered Dietitians Kelly is a registered dietitian in private practice. She gained valuable experience in the government and private sector before starting her own practice, ‘Smart Eating’, in 2015. She is currently a guest lecturer to the third-year dietetics students at the University of Pretoria and consults from practices in Houghton and Fourways and Morningside Mediclinic. Since becoming a mom in 2019, Kelly feels passionate about educating and informing other moms on nutrition-related topics and empowering them to provide a healthy balanced diet for the whole family. Kelly understands the stress and pressure that come with being a working mom and she supports her clients and assists them to achieve sustainable health goals. In her private capacity, Kelly enjoys baking, travelling and spending time with family and friends.