Becoming a new parent can be tough. Becoming a new parent during a pandemic—even tougher.
And while I have previously written about how it does not take a village to raise a child, there is no doubt in my mind that it would make it a little easier.
How nice would it be to know that you can have a friend or relative watch your baby while you indulge in a little “me time?” How much peace of mind would it give you to know that if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can call up your mom and ask for an extra set of hands the next day? How much relief would you feel knowing that you can go out into the world and share face-to-face experiences with other parents and go home satisfied that you and your baby aren’t going to catch a deadly illness?
While things might be a bit more difficult for those of us who were lucky enough to become first-time parents during this unprecedented time, it doesn’t have to be all bad. Not only can you survive this time, you can flourish in it.
Here are five easy and actionable tips to keep you feeling fine:
1. Make Time to Shower Every Day.
One of the first things to do when you find yourself busy with a newborn or a young baby is taking care of yourself. This isn’t an intentional oversight—you sometimes simply don’t realize that an entire day has gone by in your baby’s cycle of napping, eating, and changing before you notice that you haven’t gotten out of your pajamas or eaten a full meal, let alone had a shower.
Getting in some nice, hot water is a simple, great way to care for yourself. It really only takes up a few minutes of your day but can totally change the tone of it. A shower is a great way to help wake you up in the morning and make you feel fresh and productive, even if you’ve had virtually no sleep.
It might seem like a small detail that won’t really affect your energy or mood, but it could be just the ticket to going from having a difficult day to a good one. Even if you step out of the shower to a crying little one, you’ll feel more up to the task than if you didn’t take those few, blissful, minutes to yourself.
2. Get Some Fresh Air.
Another simple cure for what ails a new parent but that is often overlooked is getting a little fresh air. Although it can be easy to come up with excuses of why you can’t get outside (you have no time, you’re not dressed, it’s too cold or too hot, the baby is napping, needs to eat, and so on), you will thank yourself if you just do it. It doesn’t have to be for long, and you don’t have to go far, just get out the door and take some nice, deep breaths.
You might find that once you’re out, you don’t want to go back inside. It can be so good for your mental health to get a change of scenery, be in nature, and move your body—not to mention the great benefits for your baby. The change of scenery for them is stimulating to their little brains, and the fresh air can help tire them out, setting them up for a nice, restful sleep.
A little bit of advice, though: when you do go out, if you’re going further than your yard, bring the change pad and whatever you need to feed your baby, a snack, and some water for yourself. That way, if you find yourself enjoying the outdoors, you won’t have to rush back home in a panic because you don’t have a diaper for the inevitable blowout that happens as soon as you’re unprepared.
3. Hold Your Baby…Really Hold Them.
Having a baby can feel like you don’t ever have a free hand. So much of your time is spent feeding and rocking your baby, and when you’re not doing that, there’s a million other things to do while they’re napping.
Sometimes, it’s like you’re on autopilot, just doing what needs to get done to keep everyone healthy and happy, but not really taking in the moment. At the end of the day, you could collapse with the exhaustion of it all. But while you are doing all of the necessary things for your baby, do you ever take the time to just hold him or her?
It feels so good to cradle your little one, to look into their eyes (not at your phone or the TV), to hug them close to you, touch their soft skin, and breathe in their perfect, little smell knowing that these moments aren’t going to last forever.
As with the other tips, it is such a simple thing that can totally change your day. To hold and be present with your baby, even if it’s just a few minutes of undivided attention, can take you from frustrated, stressed, and overwhelmed to quiet, peaceful, and overwhelmed with love.
4. Don’t Give Up Your Interests.
When you become a parent, you learn the true meaning of putting someone else first. This is a necessary thing for your baby; however, as the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” While this does not mean ignoring your hungry baby so you can get in a manicure, it does mean that you should still make time to do things you like to do.
If having your nails done is going to make you feel like a happier, better version of yourself, then you should definitely fit it into your schedule. Becoming a parent should not mean losing your identity or being a slave to your child. Yes, you might have to compromise your time a little more, but compromise does not mean getting rid of your own life altogether.
Instead of getting in your workout whenever you want, maybe fit it in during your baby’s nap. If your hobby is something outside of the home, include your baby—which leads us to the last tip.
5. Include Your Baby in Everything…Not Because You Have to, But Because it’s Fun.
Children are like little sponges—they watch everything you do and learn all day from just being around you. While there are many toys, TV shows, apps, and books geared toward helping develop your child’s brain, just hanging out with Mom or Dad can be a great way to build your relationship all while helping your child learn.
There is definitely something to be said for having a little alone time as a parent, but that isn’t always possible. Instead of stressing about trying to fit in your activities, interests, hobbies, work, or chores while your baby is with another adult or napping, include them in what you’re doing! If you are cooking in the kitchen, set your baby up in a high chair or a safe place so that they can watch you. Talk them through every step—even if they can’t understand the words yet, know they are listening and happy you’re paying attention to them.
Same thing goes for any other activity you’re doing around the house, whether it’s putting on your face creams at the start of the day, doing your hair, or feeding the dog. Your little one will learn from watching and listening, and as they get older, they will want to participate too. It’s a great way to start building life skills for your child, while getting things done for yourself.
There is no “correct” way to parent. Despite all the advice, mom-shamers, wives’ tales, and how-tos in the world, you are the person who knows best how to care for your child, and at the end of the day, your child just wants to be loved by you.
Part of showing love to your child, at any age, is showing love to yourself. Having a new baby can be a whirlwind, but if you break each day down to little moments, making sure to fit in these simple acts of self-care, things that can feel overwhelming become manageable, and you will be able to get through all the tough times and be able to fully enjoy the many, many wonderful times.