These last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to people expecting their first baby. I got to listen to their excitement, joy, and sometimes naivete. I’ve also spent time talking to plenty of women who are just learning what it is to be a mom, are struggling to adjust to what life with kids is, and feel confused or overwhelmed. And I’m in there with you, even though I’m now a mom of two, I’m really just a new mom myself, my eldest isn’t even three yet.
I feel overwhelmed all the time. Yesterday, I struggled enough that I wound up calling my husband twice at work, just so that he could give me some feedback on my decisions. I also needed his encouragement. I love being at home with my kids, but there are plenty of ways in which reality is immensely different from how I imagined it in my head. But I’ve been a working mom too, I know what it’s like to have to leave your baby and go to work.
Here are some words that I’ve needed to hear plenty of times, as well as some lessons I’ve learned along the way.
For the first time mom-to-be:
Congratulations on your baby! I hope you’re getting told that daily. Waiting is the first hurdle we all have to get over, and for some, waiting takes years for the adoption to go through, or for a pregnancy.
Everyone has their own story and feelings about pregnancy. Personally, I am never more at my worst than when I’m pregnant; I’m grumpy, nauseous, emotional and uncomfortable. During my two pregnancies I’m pretty certain my husband suffered enough to be nominated for sainthood.
Here’s some thoughts for when your baby comes:
Ask for help. Let’s get this one out of the way quickly. Whether you have natural childbirth, get an epidural, get a c-section, and even if you are bringing home a child through adoption, you will be tired, and you will need time to adjust. If giving birth, you will need time to recover from delivering your baby. Your body is going to be moving everything back into its regular place after being squashed, shifted and stretched. I strongly recommend accepting offers of meals, cleaning, and laundry services (and babysitting, if you have kids at home). When you first have a baby, you need to take the time to rest, recover and bond with the baby, not try to keep up on chores.
Don’t always sleep when the baby sleeps. First of all, you won’t be able to all the time, and trying to sleep when you’re too wound up will drive you nuts. And secondly, when you aren’t napping, take that time to focus on yourself and your spouse. You can read a book, play a game, listen to music, just spend a little time doing something leisurely you enjoy.
Appreciate your husband. This man is the father of your child, and his life is changing just as much as yours is. He’s going to feel confused, overwhelmed, exhausted, pressured and frustrated at times, just like you. You’re going through this together, and will need to support and encourage each other. Make time for each other, don’t neglect your spouse. Stay at home dating is an art form worth perfecting, as well as finding a good babysitter.
Get ready to have your world knocked completely off kilter. You can take parenting classes, read as many books as possible, even have college level courses on child development (I did), and your child is going to make you question everything you ever learned at some point or other. (Take the classes anyway.) Especially since, you will be astounded by just how much your little one will need day in and day out. Over time, they will grow into a unique little person, and they will break the mold. You will be so incredibly humbled by the little life you’ve been given.
For the new mom:
Dear Heart, I’m certain you’re doing just fine, no matter how overwhelmed you feel. You will grow into being the mother you are meant to be. And I need to hear this often: having a bad day doesn’t make you a failure.
Talk to your husband and trusted friends and family. Keep lines of communication open, and be honest about your feelings with people you can trust. The people who know you best will know best how to encourage you, and also will be able to tell you if something seems concerning. Post-partum depression is something mothers often don’t recognize in themselves, instead it’s usually family and friends that notice issues.
Ask questions and learn from others, but your family is unique. This is one of the most important things I have to remind myself of all the time. Every baby is different. I have gotten wonderful advice from friends and relatives, and I have learned a lot. It broadens the way you think, and can help open you up to new ways of approaching challenges. However, there have been plenty of times when good suggestions didn’t work; different babies and different parents have different needs. Just because the amazing suggestion your cousin gave you didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean that you’re failing. You are going to grow into an expert on your baby as you grow to know them.
Let your husband be dad. It is so easy for young moms to want to be everything for the baby, I’ve went through phases where I struggled to let my husband be as actively involved in parenting as he should have been. This is bad for multiple reasons. First, it isolates your husband, and can make him feel like he isn’t bonding with the baby. Second, the amount of pressure you put on yourself to do everything is incredibly draining. Third, it isn’t good for your marriage. You are isolating your spouse from one of the most important parts of your household, and it will cause issues. Fortunately, my husband, would calmly pull me aside and remind me to include him in parenting if I started leaving him out. And after he did that, I’d usually find myself relaxing and feeling less overwhelmed with the decisions I had to make. He is my partner in this after all, and I know I can trust him to work with me. He brings a set of skills and perspective to the table that I don’t, and he makes raising my boys so much easier.
Don’t feel like you’re losing your identity. Your identity is just expanding. The changes in your life will shift your priorities, but instead of losing your identity, it’s streamlining it. Parenting broadens and stretches you, and it will make you give up certain things, temporarily or permanently. The things you let go of, and the things you hang onto, will reveal to you what your true priorities are. You will also learn where you need to improve your priorities; I learned about the specific weaknesses I have in my spiritual life and communication with my husband. Now, I’ve been able to put more focus into those areas.
Practice regular marriage maintenance. This is actually something you should do whether you have kids or not. If you’re married, you need to make time to give your marriage a check-up. When Matt and I first became parents, and again with the second baby, we realized just how much we needed to take time to talk, air any grievances, and discuss changes we need to make. We call this preventative care. Sometimes we read books or articles to discuss, sometimes we just arrange a date time when we can get out and specifically focus on talking and making certain we’re doing okay. There have been times when this has really saved us, because we discovered things that had been bothering us which we may not have fully recognized in the heat of the moment.
And here is the one golden rule for resolving conflict that we have learned: argue as frequently as necessary, but play fair. Don’t throw around insults. Don’t ignore your spouse’s point of view. Explain how something makes you feel instead of accusing and constantly putting your spouse on the defensive. Don’t expect the “problem” to be permanently fixed, or heaven forbid, that your spouse is “fixed.” If you do that, all you’ll do is make yourself upset when it very likely comes back. Matt and I come up against the same issues over and over and over again, many of them come down to the flaws in our own temperaments. I get anxious easily, and it can make me a little unpredictable. I can get mad suddenly, or more typically frightened. Matt is extremely introverted, and can sometimes turn in on himself and stop being very communicative. We were having conflicts rise up over these issues, and plenty of others, before we got married. They didn’t miraculously disappear after our wedding, instead we grow each other because of our commitment to each other. God has used Matt to hammer out flaws in me for the last seven and a half years, and I expect it will continue for as long as I live.
Now some people reading this may feel like I’m ignoring them, or saying things that don’t apply to them. Especially single mothers. First of all, you have my utmost respect, and I have no idea how you do it. I hope and pray that you have or are growing the support structure that you need to raise your child, with your family, friends, church, even possibly your ex.
Congratulations on this new phase in the adventure of your life. You’re going to do great. You were given your child, your unique child, with the express purpose to love and raise them. God doesn’t do mistakes. And you are going to grow, mature and learn so much as you do.
Lots of love, and prayers.