Bringing a child into this world is a life changing experience. You will never be the same again. Before your child is born, you can never really know the immense shift in every aspect of your life. And while each child and each family is unique, there are some general things that I think soon-to-be parents ought to know before that seismic shift comes. Here is a brief survival guide to help you land more softly.
- Caring for a child is exhausting. Yes they are beautiful. Yes they light up your eyes and melt your heart more than you could ever imagine. But caring for a child—especially the first year or two—is incredibly challenging. So just come to expect that and your transition will be ten times easier.
- Reprioritize your life. In your childless life, you may have had a top ten list of things that you love to do and that you need to get done. Before your child is born, shrink that list to three. Higher expectations create more anxiety, frustration, and struggle, which in turn ripple through your baby and all of your relationships. Turn the whole situation around by shifting your mindset from one of entitlement to a mindset of service and gratitude. Focus on the absolutely necessary and anything else you get to do beyond that will feel like a blessing.
- Keep your perspective. Sometimes taking care of a baby can feel like your “other life” is over—like you are slowly withering away and giving up on your dreams. And I know you will hear this a thousand times from as many nostalgic parents on the street before it is all over, but seriously absorb these words: “It goes by so fast. Enjoy it.” In the middle of the night, this refrain will sometimes make you want to curse them all. But do your best to breathe, to open beyond your self-concern, and remember that your little ones will be wiggling out of your arms and running away from you before you know it.
- Use humor and playfulness to break the spell. Keep yourself sane by creating humor out of the frustration. Make-up funny little endearing names for your little tyrant. If you have a partner, do your best to amuse each other through the exhaustion. Recount to them in the morning your sleepless night and all the nasty and vicious thoughts, feelings, and schemes that were running through your head at the time. Accepting these “dark” thoughts and feelings as natural and normal, and adding a bit of humor and playful drama to them can save you from insanity and from actually hurting your child.
- Create a support cast and accept help. Before your new baby is born, make a list of a few people you know you can count on to help you when the going gets rough. This is especially important for single parents. Have a friend set up a “meal share” list so your community can gather around you, feed you, and care for you in whatever way you need to be cared for after the baby is born. Giving up on doing everything yourself and trying to be a superstar or rugged individualist is one of the healthiest (and sometimes most difficult) things you can do during this transition. The feeling of having support all around you is incredibly nourishing, but you have to be pro-active about asking. And don’t worry; people love to help out when a new baby comes into this world.
- Keep your eye out for post-partum depression. Most women—and many men—have some degree of the “post-partum blues,” so just be ready to feel down, exhausted, and know that you will probably shed some tears. Let the tears come—they are incredibly healthy! Partners—watch out for the more severe symptoms and get professional help if you think that the symptoms are becoming a real threat to any member of the family. Getting over this early hump is crucial for establishing a healthy family dynamic going forward.
- You may not fall in love with your baby right away. We often hear, “As soon as I looked into those eyes, my heart just melted and I fell in love like never before.” But rarely do you hear the truth that many other people experience: sometimes it takes a weeks or months to really fall in love with your child. If this is the way it happens for you, don’t worry. There is nothing wrong with you and things will work out just fine. Just continue to care for your baby the best you can, be patient, kind, and non-judgmental with yourself, and eventually that “love-glue” will start to take hold.
- Be flexible and pragmatic. Most of us go into parenthood with big ideas of how we are going to raise our kids, and almost all of us come out the other side with radically re-organized views about children and how to raise them. It is great to set intentions for healthy living and loving relationships, but be flexible and pragmatic. Holding on too tightly to any belief can cause enormous pain and frustration for you and your loved ones. Stay with the reality before your eyes more than the one in your head, and be willing to be grown up and changed by life’s lessons.
- Don’t make parenting into another goal-oriented project. The parents that get the most stressed and worn out are the ones that are going for the gold in the Olympic sport of parenting. To enjoy your family, it is better to put your achievement motivation into endeavors other than your children and your parenting. No one enjoys being made into a project.
- Be ready to get triggered in unforeseeable ways. We all have traumas—undigested packets of overwhelm—stored in our bodies and our nervous systems. Most of us are unaware of these until they become flushed out of the dark by triggering events. Having a child is one of the most intimate and profound experiences you may ever have, and mark my words—it will unearth some traumatic feelings. Simply know that you will get triggered, that this is entirely normal, and seek help in understanding the “anatomy” of your traumatic landmines so that you can make them conscious. Not only will this protect your child and your partner from harm, but it will also grow you up and change you in ways you could never imagine. If you are being triggered often, contact me for the possibility of parent coaching.
- Practice self-soothing methods and mindfulness. One of the hardest parts of parenting is the physical and emotional discomfort that this 24/7 relationship of service brings on. Find some tools before your baby is born to help calm and soothe yourself when you feel your nervous system is getting fried. Mindful breathing, yoga, meditation, and other grounding practices are really helpful in “bringing yourself back from the brink” before you act out in ways you will later regret. Here are some of the practices we use in Essential Parenting classes.
- Trust yourself and the process. As new and absolutely overwhelming as this experience can be, deep down you know how to love, care for, and nourish your child. Sure, parenting books and sites like this one can be helpful in giving you insights and pointers, but ultimately it’s your own wise and loving heart that will guide you in doing what is right. You are the expert when it comes to your family. Trust yourself. You are exactly what your child needs.
I hope this list will help make your transition into parenthood as easy as possible. Despite all of its challenges, I still believe that raising children is the single most profound thing that I have yet to do with my one precious life. I hope that you too find family life to be as awe-inspiring, heart-opening, and transformative.
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