When I learned this month’s blog theme is “Purposeful Parenting,” I thought I could offer a slightly unique perspective: that of a first-time newborn parent. Since becoming one in April, I’ve had a lot of time over these past few months to think about this topic: wanting to be the best possible parent to my little guy.
I thought I could share my experience of what it means to be a (newborn) parent from the perspective of a mother and a therapist-mother in particular. These are a few lessons and by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure there are many others and many more to come. This list may be helpful to those about to embark on this journey, those currently in it, or those who have already been through it and can relate.
1. Newborn parenthood is all-consuming. It’s OK to want a break.
From the minute your baby is born, their life totally and literally depends on you. Your life is now merged with that of your baby, and being an independent self (who is used to doing what you want, when you want) has to necessarily take pause. Of course, you think about this and prepare for it as much as you can pre-baby, but it still comes as a shock when your baby is here and you are living it. That said it is NORMAL AND HEALTHY to want a break at times (responsibly, of course). A break can look like a daily walk to get out of the house. Or something as simple as a long shower. Or something as great as a much-needed date night. This does not make us bad parents, nor does it mean we don’t love our babies. It also doesn’t mean we aren’t grateful (someone once insinuated this to me early on). To me, it’s quite the opposite. These breaks are necessary for our mental health and well-being so that we can continue to provide optimally for our babies.
2. “Mom guilt” is everywhere. Be easy on yourself.
As a new parent, I’ve found it’s easy to get sucked into feelings of guilt over every little thing (i.e. see Lesson #1 above). While in small doses, this can motivate us to be good parents. However, in large doses, it simply becomes unproductive at best and mentally exhausting and damaging at worst.
When these feelings arise, it’s best to pause and critically and objectively, evaluate if the guilt is warranted and proceed accordingly. This is admittedly easier said than done, but it’s worth practicing and granting yourself some kindness.
With the example from Lesson #1, it took time for me to realize that taking a break was not only good for ME, but it was good for my baby. Happy (and stress-free) mommy – happy baby.
3. ACCEPT ALL THE HELP.
Being a parent during these first few weeks and months is HARD. I honestly did not expect it to be this hard. If help is offered, TAKE IT! You don’t need to be a martyr. Accepting help is a sign of good parenting. It means you know your limits and are willing to take action to help you and your baby. I’ll share a personal example. There was a time early on where I felt stressed and overwhelmed; my baby was particularly fussy for two weeks straight. It was taking a toll on my husband and me. I did not want to ask for help, nor did I even consider it (Why was this the case? This can be a discussion for another time.) As fate would have it, I was speaking with a friend who said her best piece of advice was to ask for help during the nights if possible. A lightbulb went off in my head–a relative had offered this early on, but I had immediately shut it down. But now, at just the thought of accepting that help, my body felt immediate relief. I called up that relative and, thankfully the offer was still on the table. It granted my husband and me a few nights of uninterrupted sleep and the physical and mental comfort of having an extra pair of hands at home to help us. The lesson I learned was this: sometimes we feel we need permission for help, but we don’t. And this is especially true, as parents when it is up to us to make the right decisions for our family.
4. Don’t cry over spilled milk.
Literally. Milk WILL spill, you won’t be able to use it, you may cry, but ultimately you will figure it out and it will be OK. And larger picture: don’t sweat the small stuff. Things can’t be perfect 100% of the time and THAT IS OK. Accept that it will be messy and feel out of control at times. Next time the milk spills, sometimes it’s just easier to laugh, shrug it off and move on.
5. The newborn stage is temporary. This can be both good and bad.
When the days (and nights) seem long, just remember: this is temporary, this too shall pass. Soon baby will be sleeping longer, soon I’ll be able to get more done in a day, soon things will be easier. On the same token, savor this time. It is precious and it goes by way too quickly. I already miss my baby being so little from those first few weeks. Try to cherish this time, even though it can also be a very hard, frustrating, lonely time.
6. It’s a ripe time to reflect.
Becoming a parent can make you reflect on your own parents and childhood. Do I want to parent how I was parented? What will I want to do differently, what will I want to replicate? It may make you appreciate your own parents more; it may make you realize you did not get the parenting you wanted or needed. It may make you crave your parents’ love and attention more; it may make you want to put up more boundaries. This time is ripe for thinking about these types of things, and engaging with a therapist to help untangle and sort out these feelings can be very helpful.
7. Postpartum depression and anxiety are very real.
If you are feeling more down or anxious than usual, you may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA). Symptoms of PPD include feelings of sadness or feeling numb, excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness, insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability, and difficulty bonding with the baby. PPA symptoms include constant worry that can’t be eased, feelings of dread about things you fear will happen, insomnia, and intrusive and/or unwanted thoughts. PPD and PPA (or some of their symptoms) are entirely common, but unfortunately not talked about enough. It is critical to voice these feelings or concerns to someone trusted, whether to family, friends, a therapist, or your doctor. Seeking help can make you feel less alone and less “crazy”; it can also help relieve your symptoms so you can feel as good as possible. The postpartum stage is already hard and isolating enough, so please do not forget to take care of yourself during this very vulnerable time.
So those are some lessons that have come to mind for me over these past three months. If you are a parent, what comes to mind for you?
QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
“Your first breath took ours away.” Unknown