Parenting is the most challenging, as well as the most rewarding, job. And nothing can prepare you for becoming a first-time parent.
For the majority of people, it is intense in every sense of the word. There are few things that will cause you greater joy and deeper love, followed closely by feelings of intense frustration and utter despair -- other than the first few months with your newborn. This is made all the more intense by the sleep deprivation that comes with these tiny packages. And nothing can prepare you.
There are many things you hear about, such as the sleepless nights, the inconsolable crying and the struggles many women encounter with breastfeeding, as well as the indescribable feelings of love and total adoration for a tiny being who literally doesn’t do a lot.
But what most people don’t talk about, or prepare you for, is the isolation and loneliness that can come from being cooped up day and night with a relatively non-interactive little one. It can feel even more difficult if none of your friends or family members are in the same situation.
This article offers advice on ways to manage the disconnection and loneliness for first-time parents.
The first few weeks and months of a new baby’s life are exhausting. Because you can seldom control how much sleep you will get at night, grabbing a few 15- or 20-minute power naps throughout the day, when your baby is napping, will do wonders for your mental health and your energy.
Once you find them, go to them. These groups will keep you from becoming lonely and isolated. That’s because people who have had babies know the secret: Being a new parent is difficult and one of the best ways to thrive is to surround yourself with other people who actually care about what color your baby's poop is or how many hours straight your baby slept for the first time.
These people actually do want to hear about what you’re going through and want to tell you what they are going through. It is critical to meet other new parents, talk to them and see them as often as you can.
It is vital to take turns staying with the baby, so each of you can get out and do your own thing. Go on a walk, to the local grocery store to wander the aisles, or out for a coffee with a girlfriend. The goal is to go somewhere without your baby at least 3 times a week. Remember being a complete person before you had your baby? This is about respecting and honoring that person--and about getting a break with some space for you.
This goes for everyone – not just new parents. Research shows there is very little that is better for your mental health and wellness than regular, moderate exercise for at least 20 minutes, 5 to 6 times a week. That’s just 3 times around the block.
Your partner is a parent to a new baby – just like you. You are in this together, so you must not feel guilty for sharing the parenting responsibilities with your partner.
Don’t feel bad about passing off the baby while you go out for a jog or a coffee. This is not them doing you a favor – it’s part of what they signed up for in having a baby together. This is actually parenting that baby.
Even if your partner is working all day, you have been as well. Staying at home with a baby is a full-time job, so it only makes sense that you share the baby responsibilities when you are both home in the evening or on weekends.
This causes isolation. Although you might feel exhausted and overwhelmed, it is important that you leave the dishes in the sink, the burp cloths flung over the sofa, the garbage full of dirty diapers and the over-flowing laundry basket--and just get out!
Throw on the snugly or strap the baby into the stroller. Even if it’s just for a saunter down the block to get a strong coffee or a drive to the grocery store for milk. It all counts--and it will stimulate your brain in a new and different way that can be surprisingly rejuvenating.
People want to help, and a lot of people actually love to help new mothers with their babes. There is nothing like holding and snuggling a tiny sleeping baby, so let your girlfriend or mother-in-law or co-worker come over for a snuggle and give yourself a break.
Also let people bring you food whenever they can, and whenever they offer. There’s nothing wrong with having a freezer stacked full of ready-to-eat meals.
You were an entire person before you had your baby, so it’s completely unnatural to totally abandon that part of yourself. Let your baby wiggle around on the floor, while you catch up with a girlfriend on the phone. Have brief texting conversations while your baby nurses. If you are able, spend some time while baby is napping or while you are nursing to read for pleasure. Although a new baby does get a lot of you, it is very important to find at least a few moments to honor the other non-parent parts of yourself.
You will make yourself crazy and not benefit in any way. If you think you have to appear to be a one-mama-wonder, you will not only get totally stressed and worn out, you will also repel other mamas who want to be around someone who gets it. It is important to be someone who understands how hard parenting is and can be present during the ups and downs. Not someone who is threatening or intimidating.
Never turn against your partner--even when you are feeling totally exhausted and frustrated with the baby. For many women, their partner is their biggest supporter and ally. And the number one rule in persevering over any challenge is to keep your allies on your side. Although it is often easiest to hurt the ones we love the most, this does not help your cause. If you want to keep their support, empathy and understanding, you need to keep them in your corner.
Yes, parenting a new baby is challenging. Yes, some days you might feel like putting the baby back in your (or your partner’s) belly for a day, so you can have a few moments to yourself and feel like a normally functioning autonomous adult. And not a poop cleaning, spit up wiping, milk producing, cry consoling version of yourself.
But then that warm, snuggly, tiny bundle nuzzles into your neck, falls asleep in your arms, or coos and smiles up at, and suddenly it’s all totally worth it. Yes, some days are hard, but they are much much harder if you stay cooped up in your home with little social, emotional or physical outlets.
Some cultures adhere to the notion that raising a baby takes an entire village. Not just because babies need a lot of tender love and care, but because moms and dads do as well.
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Photo Credits: Mother And Baby In Park Portrait by Mitrofan via BigStock; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com