Survival Tips for First-time Parents
So things are going well in your marriage. You're happy and feeling settled. Your life seems smooth and easy. Then you decide to have a baby.
Your spouse agrees with you (with varying levels of enthusiasm, depending on the couple), and now you're parents. Birds chirp Disney tunes; sunshine soothes your soul. How could anything top this?
Nothing can be that perfect, of course, but many young parents are still shocked when those feelings fade. Suddenly, you're exhausted, overwrought and planning your partner's demise every time he or she walks out the door with golf clubs. And those chirping birds and soothing sunlight? They're sensory blasts to ears and eyes warped by too many late nights spent pleading, "Pleeeeeease go to sleep," to your bundle of joy.
Some aggravation is normal, of course. Nobody can give up that amount of sleep and focus so much on someone else without feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. And since you don't want to dump those feelings on your baby, you need another target: each other.
Trust me, I've been there myself. I was the at-home parent with both of my children, and I loved it. But I also remember moments when I stared out at the window asking myself, "What have we done?"
You can still survive, and even thrive, as a couple during this time. (Really. I swear.) Here are a few tips that might help:
• When someone offers to help you, let them. You'll be tempted to say, "Thanks, but we don't need any help." Yes, you do. (In fact, right now you probably need a nap.) Accept food when it's offered. Say yes when trusted people offer to babysit for an hour. And never, ever turn down anyone who offers to do chores for you. (Trust me, you'll be begging your kids for that in a few years.) Your job is to focus your energy on taking care of the baby and yourselves.
• Take time for yourself, too. You can't be the best parent (or partner) for your family if you're not taking care of yourself. So if your partner offers you the chance to do something just for you, set aside any feelings of guilt and do it. Everyone will benefit.
• Spend time with your partner whenever you can. Sure, you want nothing more than to curl up in bed when your child dozes off (and you need to do a lot of that), but you also need to continue nurturing your relationship. Even if it's a just a five-minute cup of coffee, spend time together so you don't lose yourself as a couple. (Besides, grandparents love babysitting while you nap together at the movies.)
• Give yourself a break. You're not perfect; no parent ever has been. Shoot for good parenting rather than "perfect," and you'll take a lot of stress off yourself and your partner. Before too long, life will start calming down again. (And that's when one of you might even suggest doing it all over again. …)
Carl Grody, LISW-S, is a licensed independent social worker who works with families at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington.