Being a parent is hard. While we hear a lot about babies and cuddles, there are big challenges in the early months and years of parenting. Even though my babies are all in school now, I work with clients who are still in the trenches of early parenting. It’s hard work, y’all.
There are three pitfalls of early parenting that I experienced myself and I see my clients struggle with all the time.
Lack of sleep
Y’all, my three babies have so many gifts. They are all very healthy, intellectually capable, and display relatively age-appropriate understanding of caring for others. But, oh my goodness, they are terrible sleepers. All of them.
My oldest just flat out doesn’t require much sleep. I had a baby with a serious case of FOMO. He was an information junkie. It was as if his brain could not shut down; he wanted to collect every bit of data out there and store it away for future reference. This meant sleeping was not really on his radar.
But enough about him. Let’s talk about ME. While my baby was perfectly happy on his not-sleeping-much schedule, I was a WRECK. It was also emotionally exhausting worrying about how much my baby wasn’t sleeping.
I read sleep books. Tons of them. But my kid didn’t seem to care what the experts said. Gah! I was trying everything, and still he never slept. (And neither did I.)
In the end, despite my exhaustion, I decided to follow the advice: parent the child you have.
(Guess what? At 14, my baby is still this way. He is an information collecting machine. Even after two nights of being up past midnight for marching band events, he “slept in” all the way till 8am.)
All that to say, new moms with your so-tired-you-shouldn’t-be-allowed-to-drive-a-car fatigue, I FEEL YOU….
But, really, that old advice to sleep when the baby sleeps? It’s truly the golden nugget of surviving early parenting.
Social isolation that accompanies the early months (and sometimes years) of motherhood often strikes unexpectedly. While we have visions of people clamoring to come adore our new baby, the reality is that people are busy. And while having a new baby has absolutely rocked your world, life moves on around you for everyone else.
Being aware that this tendency to social isolation exists can help moms-to-be brainstorm ideas before the baby as to how they’re going to cope when baby arrives.
I hit the jackpot with my first baby. Although I was living a continent away from my friends and family, I was fortunate to fall into a friends-group of women also becoming mothers for the first time. We met in our childbirth class. That was nearly 14 years ago, and I count several of them as good friends to this day.
At our final childbirth class, our instructor passed out a calendar with weekly hostess duties on it for the next six months. We were to meet weekly as an ongoing support group as we transitioned into motherhood.
Most of our outings included sitting in local parks and drinking tea and eating cakes. We admired each other’s babies. We listened to each other kvetch. We supported each other through the challenges of breastfeeding.
Of course, living in London where my friends could take a full year of maternity leave was a key part of keeping our community strong. When I returned to the US and my second child was born, I had a much harder time seeking out a similar community. (I never found it.) It made me realize just how special my girlfriend buoys were in my transition to motherhood.
I urge you to seek out a new moms group. Yes, it can be awkward to go at first. But I guarantee you every other woman there is also nervous about going. Be support for each other.
We women are at our best when we lift each other up.
Guilt for self-care time
Shifting priorities once women become mothers often means less time (FAAARRRR less time!) for self-care. Furthermore, many women feel guilty when they do commit to self-care, thinking that their main priority at all times should be their child.
And maybe it should, but self-care is an integral part of being the best parent you can be. Like the old saying goes: you can’t pour from an empty cup.
So whether your self-care involves a regular exercise habit, taking time to read a juicy novel, or just enjoying your morning cup of coffee in peace, know that honoring your own needs is vital.
Have a conversation with your partner about the support you need in order to keep self-care on your schedule. The more communication you have about this, the more likely you’ll be to keep it up. If both of you understand that things may (read: WILL) change, you will in a good place to have a realistic approach to self-care in the early days of parenthood.
Support for new moms is essential to finding contentment in early parenting.
I urge you to seek out support for the physical and emotional demands of motherhood. I know your time and sanity are limited right now, but you’re worth it!
And if you’re one of the lucky mamas experiencing early parenting and perimenopause at the same time– I feel you! Our modern life of having children in our late 30s and early 40s is totally out of synch with our evolutionary biology. Knowing that doesn’t make the day-to-day any easier, but it may explain some of your feelings!
If you don’t know where to start with supporting the physical and emotional challenges of early parenting, drop a comment below. I’ll help you find some groups or resources in your area.