Postpartum

When does life feel normal again after having a baby?

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veryone loves telling prospective parents what life will be like for them after the baby arrives. Friends, family, neighbors, the grocery store clerk – they all have advice for the parents-to-be!

“Get sleep now, because soon that’ll be over!”

“Say goodbye to your love life!”

“It’s the most wonderful thing that will ever happen to you!”

These messages might be intimidating, or they may be supportive—but the truth is, you have no idea what your experience will be like until it happens to you.

Every person has a unique experience of what it means to become a parent. The reality of being a new parent covers a wide range of different feelings: love, fear, exhilaration, exhaustion, confusion, and chaos, to name just a few.

There’s one thing, though, that I hear again and again from new parents I work with: “Everything is different now, and I don’t feel quite like myself anymore.”

Ready or not, having a baby changes everything

It’s common to feel a bit lost, to not be entirely sure what your new normal is, and to worry that you aren’t doing this whole parenting thing “right.”

It’s nearly impossible to be surrounded by so many messages telling you what you should think, feel, and do, without starting to worry that you aren’t measuring up as a parent. This self-judgment, placed on top of all of the stress you are experiencing from lack of sleep, physical recovery, and a steep learning curve, makes an already difficult job that much harder.

As an adult, you’ve gotten used to knowing what you are doing (most of the time), and it can be unnerving to feel so completely out of your depth, wracked by doubt, anxiety, and guilt that you aren’t cutting it. You may feel like you’re so far outside your element that you really aren’t sure who you are now.

It’s common to feel a bit lost, to not be entirely sure what your new normal is, and to worry that you aren’t doing this whole parenting thing “right.”

But, I want you to know that it is possible to climb out of the chaos, find your path as a parent, and start feeling like yourself again.

Debunking first-time parenting myths

Before we dive into some practical tips for feeling like yourself again, let’s talk about where all of this stress and judgment is coming from.

On a straightforward, practical level, having a baby involves a lot of physical, mental, and emotional investment. You are up in the night, you are rocking, bouncing, singing, feeding, holding, and changing them at all hours. You are sore, and your body may still be healing. You’re cradling a crying baby, sometimes for hours, trying to figure out what to do.

You’re also dealing with a whole new level of love, which naturally carries with it a new set of fears and anxieties. You’re trying to understand who you are now that you’re a parent, and what it means to be unable to do all the things you used to do.

These physical and emotional changes create more than enough stress to be getting on with, but the biggest hurdles I see nearly every new parent struggling with are the myths in our society about what it means to become a parent.

Some of the myths I’m talking about:

  • Having a baby will be the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened to you
  • Having a baby is tough work, and you just have to suck it up and deal with it
  • You’ll naturally bond with your baby from day one and know what to do
  • You’re a parent now, so it’s time to set aside your own needs
  • You should be able to do this without outside help

These myths are incredibly pervasive—and whether we want them to or not, they shape our expectations of what having a baby will be like, and how we should behave as parents.

When our expectations don’t match up well with the reality of being a new parent, that disconnect causes us to second guess ourselves, and start questioning whether we are doing things “right.” For example, now you aren’t just tired because your 4-month-old isn’t sleeping well, you are tired, and you worry, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, I must be doing something wrong, she should be sleeping better!

Cultural expectations and high-stakes parenting

So how did these myths get started in the first place?

As a society, Americans tend to value success, achievement, individuality, and self-improvement. We believe in being able to do things on our own without help—we like to put our best foot forward, and we don’t want to share when things aren’t going well.

You don’t post on Facebook that your baby has been crying for 2 hours, you don’t know what to do, and you wish you could just leave and escape. No, you post the cute picture of her posing next to the dog! We expect a lot from ourselves, and we aren’t nearly as good at sharing the bad as we are at sharing the good—it creates a false impression that everyone else has this figured out, and you’re the only one who is struggling.

We expect a lot from ourselves, and we aren’t nearly as good at sharing the bad as we are at sharing the good.

In modern parenting, it feels like the stakes are incredibly high. When you make decisions about your kids, you want to know that they are the right decisions—that by doing this you are making things better for them.

This results in a lot of black and white thinking: right vs. wrong, good vs. evil. We want to believe that what we are choosing for our kids is right, and so we try to convince ourselves and others that doing it another way would be wrong. This leads to an awful lot of parent-shaming, with everyone trying to convince each other that their way is best.

How to break free and find your way

Now that you understand what’s making parenting so much more stressful than it has to be, the million-dollar question remains: What do you do with all of this, and how do you break free?

As it turns out, it isn’t all that complicated. It’s really just about learning to take care of yourself, learning to accept help, being kind to yourself, and shifting your expectations. These steps aren’t complicated, but they take real time and commitment.

If you make the time and space in your life to do these things, they will help you kick everyone else’s expectations to the curb, find your own path as a parent, and remember what it’s like to be you.

Make sure you’re taking time for yourself

It’s easy to fall into the pattern of putting your kids’ needs ahead of your own—this makes sense, especially in the very beginning when they are so little, and they need so much physical attention. But, you don’t have to put their needs ahead of yours every time.

We have a habit of thinking that putting our needs first means doing something harmful or neglectful to our kids. But the truth is, putting your needs first actually looks like taking care of them in a slightly different way, so that there’s room for both of your needs in the equation.

To take good care of your kids, you really do need to be taking good care of yourself too. This can mean small things, like taking a nap, or having a relaxing bath—or it can be more significant, like having a night off each week to do something you genuinely enjoy that’s just about you.

Make physical activity part of your routine

You’d be surprised how connected our minds and bodies are, and it’s important to remember to take good care of both. Frequently, new parents – and moms in particular – see eating well and exercising as very low on the totem pole regarding things to spend time on, but when you do the effect on your mental health is incredible.

You don’t always have to take time away from your baby to take care of yourself. Get outside together, run with the stroller, join a local fitness group for moms like Fit4Mom, or do yoga on your mat while your baby plays on hers! This isn’t about being a certain size or weight; it’s about doing things that honor your body, get you moving, take you outside, and remind you that while your body may feel different now, you’re still totally capable of doing awesome things!

Spend time with your spouse or partner

Nurturing your relationship is an essential part of self-care. Be sure you’re taking time for connecting with your partner, and that you’re still spending time together without the baby. Schedule date nights in advance (spontaneity is not really a thing as a new parent!), make time for each other, and don’t forget to spend some love and affection on each other, not just on the baby!

Taking time for each other is a great way to connect with that version of yourself that your partner is attracted to—remember that the whole reason you have a baby is that you like each other!

Get help when you need it

Don’t forget to lean on others for help. You might be surprised how much your friends and family often want to help. Be clear about what you need, and then let people help out with some of those needs. This includes your partner – make sure you are balancing parenting responsibilities in a way that feels fair and allows you both to take breaks.

Once again, new moms often suffer under the false impression that they’re the only one who is struggling, but it’s just not true. When you reach out and ask for help, not only are you making things better for yourself, you’re also normalizing the struggle of new moms and helping to show other women that it’s OK to need help sometimes.

If you feel like you need more than the help that friends and family can provide, never hesitate to reach out to an experienced couples therapist – therapy is a great place to get support and learn new strategies for improving your mental, emotional, and physical health.

Adjust your perspective on what’s normal

The other big piece of finding yourself as a new parent is learning to make a mental shift in how you are evaluating yourself and your parenting. It’s important to remind yourself that there is no such thing as “normal.” Every family, parent, baby, and situation is different and requires different styles, strategies, and ideas. What you choose to do as a parent is your right way, but it is not everyone else’s, and that does not make you wrong, it just makes you different.

This is why it is time for us to stop judging ourselves and each other as moms, and remember that what most of us have in common is the desire to do right by our kids. You are doing your very best every day, and sometimes that means just making it through this day, one step at a time. Remind yourself that this is a hard job and that at times you can be fed up with the responsibility of being a parent without loving your baby any less. Trust yourself and do what fits your family – what works for you.

Becoming a parent is a wild adventure, and it is like nothing you’ve ever done before. Of course you feel lost and confused – no one can fully prepare you for this, and it’s so easy to forget yourself in all of the messages that exist telling you how this should, or shouldn’t be.

But the truth is, you can do this. You are not alone. You are not the only one who feels lost and out of your element sometimes. You are figuring this out, one day at a time.

You are still you—just a new version of you that can now hold more inside of you that you ever thought possible – boundless love, crazy stress, and the ability to carry fifteen things in one arm. Give yourself grace, take care of yourself, and keep reminding yourself that you don’t need to be perfect. You are doing your best, and your best is enough.

This post was originally published on Fit4Mom.com

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