Whether you’re anxiously awaiting the birth of your first child – or a seasoned parent expecting baby number three – the introduction of a newborn into a home is simultaneously joyous and daunting, exhilarating and exhausting, as natural as it is overwhelming.
So, what’s a parent to do?
I say, prepare for the ride – and the most important job – of your life!
Let’s be real, there’s not much info I can offer that you haven’t read in books or online, heard from your OB, overheard in your OB’s waiting room or gleaned from family and friends who’ve been through it. What I offer here is some proven advice for how to deal with the unprecedented experience of parenting newborns, as well as dealing with the well-meaning (but sometimes misguided) people you’ll come in contact with.
Here, then, are 6 tips essential for a (mostly) positive experience of parenthood.
Tip #1 – Be compassionate toward yourself. Having a baby is incredibly overwhelming. You’re suddenly aware that this baby is completely dependent on you for their very survival – and there’s no owner’s manual!
While your infant will justifiably demand an extraordinary amount of your time, energy and attention, my mantra for parents – even new ones – is always this: “You can’t take care of your child at the expense of yourself.” It’s simply not sustainable, which is why I’ve long advocated for parental self-care.
Rest when you can; take turns catching up on sleep or taking some me time. If there’s no one else to do the vacuuming – let it wait!
Tip #2 – Ask for help (early and often). Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Most of us have friends and family we can ask for help. They may not be expert swaddlers or diaper changers, but just about everyone can help knock out a few chores around the house or bring by a meal or groceries. And in the spirit of self-care, put your partner in charge so you can get some sleep, get in a workout or take a shower.
And remember, sometimes grandparents don’t want to presume you need help and so don’t just jump in and take care of things, respecting your autonomy. But the good ones probably are willing to do whatever you ask. So ask.
Tip #3 – Ignore advice you haven’t asked for or don’t agree with. Most people are trying to be helpful, but it can be overwhelming to get so much unsolicited advice. Everyone offers advice, and it can feel incredibly intrusive. My advice (pun intended!) is to feel free to smile and walk away. Another strategy is to let the advice wash over you, grabbing the worthwhile nuggets and ignoring the rest. And here’s a news flash: even if you ask for advice, know you’re not obliged to take it.
Then there are the reams of studies about parenting. Emily Oster, in a recent op-ed in The New York Times, notes that the amount of data around issues like breastfeeding, sleep training and working moms – while helpful conceptually – may not quite resonate with you or work for your family. Further, the myriad ‘professional advice’ is often contradictory, so use what you want and ignore the rest.
Tip #4 – Trust your gut about your baby’s development. Just about every new parent I’ve known or coached knows that virtually every interaction between parent and baby is a brain-building or attachment-enhancing experience for them – so trust your gut when something doesn’t seem right. Being with your child 24/7 makes you the expert; don’t allow others to mollify your concerns.
Tip #5 – Don’t ignore symptoms of post-partum depression. No mom wants to admit she’s not feeling elated about her newborn or that she’s having unsettling thoughts. Be aware that feelings such as anxiety, excessive emotionality, exhaustion, mood swings, fear and hopelessness are often experienced by new parents. What differentiates postpartum depression from more normative symptoms is their duration and intensity, or if they interfere with your ability to care for your baby or handle the tasks of daily life.
Don’t be too quick to slough off concerns expressed by your partner or other close people, either. Better to see your doctor and be sure than ignore a condition that is relatively common and 100% treatable.
Tip #6 – Celebrate the everyday victories! There is so much that is good and exciting on this wild ride. No matter whether it’s their first smile or their confident wave as they leave the nest, never stop appreciating the joy of being a parent.
The truest and most reliable promise I can make is that your experience of parenthood will be unique to you and your child. And if my experience is a guide, it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done.