How To

How to Read After You Have Babies

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Rachel Smalter Hall

Staff Writer

Rachel Smalter Hall may be a professional Book Rioter, but she still hangs out in the public librarian clubhouse. Two of her top three loves include audiobooks and knitting, and her favorite song is Cold Hearted Snake as performed by Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese on season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She co-runs a boozy book club in Lawrence, Kansas, in her spare time. Twitter: @rach_smalls Website: Rachel Smalter Hall

The night my son was born, I was reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Henry had just pushed Bunny off the cliff. And then my baby boy came, and my reading life completely changed.

But my reading life didn’t stop. It doesn’t have to stop. You can have babies AND keep reading, as rioter Amanda has pointed out with much kickass-ery. Here are some lifehacks I’ve stumbled on while figuring out how to be a reader while also being a parent.

a-tale-for-the-time-being-21. It will be slower. Don’t get discouraged.

Before I had a kid, I could fly through two books a week. Now I’m lucky if I read two books a month. I’m sure things will pick up as my son gets older, but for now it feels like a bummer that I can’t read as fast as other book lovers and that I’m not staying on top of my new release game. But in a way it’s nice to have that pressure taken off. I feel more freedom to read older titles that I’ve been curious about — I finally got to read (and love) A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki from a couple years ago. So just roll with it.


yes please2. Read while your baby’s eating.

Babies spend around two hours a day — every single day — eating. You guys, that is a LOT of time to just sit around nursing, bottle feeding, or breast pumping. This is a seriously golden opportunity to bone up on some good books. While some parents have mastered the whole feeding / page-turning trick, I like to listen to audiobooks while I feed my kid. Lighthearted memoirs like Yes Please by Amy Poehler and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield have worked really well for me.


stone mattress3. Listen to books while your baby is bouncing and playing.

If your baby is like mine, you’re spending a ton of time those first few months just walking in circles and bouncing your baby. Damn, that can get monotonous. Why can’t babies just let you sit down already?? And other mysteries of parenting. When a friend suggested that I could listen to audiobooks while walking in said circles, it was a game changer. Short stories like Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood are perfect for this.


bone clocks4. Listen to books while going for walks and drives.

It’s uncanny how most babies are instantly soothed by the motions of walking and driving. We didn’t know this universal secret of parenting until we discovered it by accident. When you just need your newborn to fall asleep already, or you need a change of scenery from the home you haven’t left for days, bundle up your kid and take a good audiobook. Long audiobooks, even. I knocked out some serious chunks of the 24.5 hour (!) recording of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell while out on walks with my sleeping babe.


land of love and drowning cover5. Read after your baby goes to bed.

During those first few weeks, a lot of newborns are very sleepy during the day — enough to squeeze in an hour or two of reading. I used this time to finish library books like Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty before they were due! When they get a few months older, many babies settle into a regular bedtime with predictable naps throughout the day. After my son goes to bed at 7 p.m., it’s grown-up reading time.


Station+Eleven6. Take turns having free time with your partner, and use your free time to read.

This is by far my FAVORITE parenting lifehack. If you’re in a co-parenting situation, you can set up chunks of time where you both take turns watching your baby. My husband and I take turns in the evenings and all through the weekend. He uses his free time to play computer games, and I use my free time to read. Thanks to my awesome baby daddy, I’ll be able to go to my book club this month without fearing spoilers for Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.


fourth of july creek7. Learn how to DNF.

If you’re not super digging whatever book you’re reading, I have three words for you: DO NOT FINISH. This is always good practice, but especially when you have precious little time to read. Every bookish second becomes more valuable. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson? Probably an AMAZING book. But my son’s first months of life weren’t the right time for me to read it, and it was slowing me down. It’s OK. DNF that bad boy, and come back to it later if you must.


8. Some things are going to give. But it doesn’t have to be reading.

Becoming a full-time parent changes your life, and there’s no way around it. You have less time to do the things you used to, and those things take infinitely more planning and coordination. But that means becoming a parent is also an opportunity to figure out what’s most important to you, and to make space in your life for those things while letting others go. I go out for coffee and window shopping a lot less. But reading? Yeah, I still make time for that.

Got any experience with being a reader and a parent? Let us know what’s worked for you!


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