5 steps to de-stressing your life, ditching your guilt and forgiving yourself for being imperfect.

Congratulations – you’re expecting! As your pregnancy progresses and you begin contemplating parenthood, you may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices involved and begin to lose your confidence. Despite all the parenting books and blogs you read ahead of time, you may feel completely unprepared by that wonderful day when you bring home your bundle of joy.  Add in sleepless nights, erratic meals, and a screaming newborn and you may feel like you are just not cut out for this parenting thing.

How do we get around these feelings of inadequacy and deal with all the responsibility of a tiny new life? Here are 5 steps to help ditch your feelings of guilt, embrace your own style of parenting, and forgive yourself for being human.

#1: Let yourself have some “me” time

Before taking “me” time, consider a few things:

  1. Is your baby safe?
  2. Is baby going to stay safe while I do this activity or can someone else watch baby while I do?

If you can answer yes to these questions, then cut yourself some slack. Becoming a parent is hard! Sometimes, you just need to ignore the huge pile of dirty dishes and drink a glass of wine with your feet propped up. Or go on a walk instead of folding the eight-million onesies you just washed. Or catch up with your best friend for 10 minutes on the phone instead of paying the bills – they can wait!

Once you decide to take some time to care for yourself, likely with your newborn in-tow, you may begin to feel guilty for those things left undone. Sometimes, new parents can feel like they must spend all their energy taking care of other people (mostly tiny people!) and forget to take care of themselves. It is hard to take care of others without first caring for yourself.

Just remember: you can simultaneously love your child more than anything in the world while also knowing that if you don’t get a break from him/her in the next 5 minutes you will pull your hair out. This doesn’t make you a bad parent – it makes you a parent aware of your own limits!

#2: Don’t feel like you have to go it alone

There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”. It has become a cliche, but it still rings true. Don’t feel like your only options are to do everything yourself or be a bad parent. Almost everything about raising a child gets easier if you have at least one person to help you when things get rough. Dr. Darcia Narvaez, a researcher at University of Notre Dame who blogs for Psychology Today, wrote a post titled “New Moms Need Social Support.” In that post, she explains: “Support from friends and family help new mothers deal better with stress, and this has been proven to help mothers see their children in a more positive light. Mother’s who have the help of people they trust feel more self-esteem, confidence as a parent, and struggle less to access information that helps them problem-solve for their bundle of joy.” . We think this applies to both new moms and their partners.

We all need support. It’s okay to say you need a break and ask for help!!

Don’t forget about play groups, breastfeeding support groups, and parent support groups. These groups can be found through websites like meetup.com or facebook.com pages, church and community organizations, or existing friend groups. There are reasons that these groups exist! There are other parents who have been there, done that. These other moms and dads can be a great source of advice for your problems (like help with a teething baby or finding a babysitter so you can go to yoga once a week). Even if you don’t want to do things exactly the way they did, they may direct you to a new source of information that better matches your parenting style.

Other parents can also be a source of sympathy for your most recent parenting mishap (“...and that’s when I realized it was a booger, not cream of wheat, that I ate off his face!” or “...and I was running so late, I just went to work with the breastmilk on my shirt and hoped no one noticed”). 

Let us reassure you that everyone is a mess sometimes. We are all just trying to figure out how to raise kids who are healthy and happy.

So why doesn’t everyone go to these parenting groups all the time? Because we’re busy! We have jobs, babies, housework, bills, and groceries to deal with everyday. It’s hard to justify something we want to do when we feel so stressed about all the things we have to do. But Dr. Narvaez addresses this difficulty as well: “Parents may be overwhelmed with the tasks ahead of them and tempted to spend less time with friends and family. But this is precisely what they shouldn’t do. The more parents surround themselves and their baby with loving social support, the healthier and happier the baby will grow up to be.”

a quick note on postpartum mood disorders:

We believe that everyone feels overwhelmed at times and can benefit from support from friends and family during this stressful transition.  However, if you feel like you're more overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious than expected, please don't hesitate to reach out for medical help. Postpartum mood disorders (depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or psychosis) are real, treatable conditions that do improve with medical treatment. While support from friends and family is definitely still important, medical treatment is needed for parents suffering from these mood disorders. If you ever want to hurt yourself or others, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to call a medical provider immediately.

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#3 Give your body a break

The postpartum time is a time of great physical and emotional adjustment. It’s easy to forget to appreciate how awesome your postpartum body is. After all, it has just gone through incredible changes – growing and expelling a tiny human is hard!!

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t lose your pregnancy weight right away. We urge you not even to weigh yourself in the first month after your baby was born. When you are frustrated that you still can’t fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes, remember this: it took your body around 40 weeks (almost 10 months!) to gain your full pregnancy weight. Don’t expect to get rid of it in just 1 month! Instead, appreciate the perks of being postpartum (“I can see my toes and sleep on my stomach again!”) and know the weight will come off gradually, just like it was gained. If you decide you want to lose weight, great. Just be reasonable in your expectations – forgive your body and forgive yourself if you decide it is not worth it. Your body has been through enough trauma lately without a grueling weight loss and mom-guilt campaign.

Remember, your body just did something awesome: bringing a baby into the world! Give it a minute to recover.

#4 Try relaxation and breathing exercises

Many couples use focused breathing to help deal with labor and birth. Have you tried it at all since you came home from the hospital? The American Institute of Stress and researchers at Harvard University both agree that deep breathing and relaxation exercise not only contribute to a feeling of well-being (aka, feeling less stressed!), but also have health benefits like lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

These exercises don’t have to take tons of time – just 10-20 minutes twice a day can make a big difference. You don’t have to be in a particular environment either; you can do these activities while breastfeeding, riding the bus for your morning commute, over your lunch break, or while waiting in the doctor’s office.

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#5 Don’t underestimate the benefit of touch

Many childbirth classes teach the benefits of massage for comfort and skin-to-skin contact for parents and infants. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to realize that touch is still important to new parents!

I recently found two great articles, one in “O”  and one in Psychology Today that discuss the benefits of human touch. Human touch can help decrease cortisol levels (your main stress hormone) and increase oxytocin levels. You remember oxytocin, right? It’s the love hormone and the hormone responsible for childbirth, helping the uterus contract back down to pre-pregnancy size, and helping with milk production.

Although the benefits of touch can be used to convince your partner that you need a back rub, this doesn’t need to be intimate touch.

Simple actions like handshakes, hugs, or touches on the arm give much of the same benefit. In an increasingly digital age, it’s important to find time for physical human contact. The article in “O” in particular discusses easy ways to work non-creepy touch into your everyday life.

So here’s the bottom line:

You will figure out what works for you and your family. Everything might be exactly as you expected when you were expecting… or you might stumble your way through it. And that’s okay. Once you find a way that works for you, embrace it. While you are working it out, try some of these techniques to give yourself (and your partner!) a break and to relax as much as you can.

Share your stories.  What is your “me time” activity? How do you get rid of “parent guilt” and move on to being an awesome parent? What parent group do you use?