Raising a child for the first time can be one of the most challenging things you ever do in life, which is why I’m publishing this piece where I’ve compiled some extremely helpful advice from a wide range of people. In putting this together, I put out this query on some of the journalism sites I belong to:
What advice do you have for parents with their first child who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed? Looking to hear from parents who learnt from raising children, as well as any professionals with expertise in this area (eg. counsellors for parents). Personal stories welcome. Your submission will be published in a big round-up article intended to provide helpful advice for new parents.
I also individually reached out to a few different experts & asked different parents on what they wished they knew before they had their first child.
As you’ll see below, many of the comments I got back are from people who’ve written a lot on parenting and the challenges of raising a child and run blogs, and/or have written books on the subject.
The below is the best (in my opinion, of course) input I had on this topic, and I really encourage new parents who are feeling overwhelmed to have a read through some of these submissions. 🙂
I think the biggest game changer for me was learning that I didn’t have to stop my baby from crying. I was so stressed with my first child if I couldn’t calm her.
With my second daughter, I learned that my job isn’t to make her stop crying, it is to be with her as she cries. Obviously, if your baby has a need (she’s hungry or has a dirty diaper), take care of it. But if you’ve done everything you can and she’s still upset, just hold her and let her know you’re there.
Being there for your crying baby is important because it teaches her that she is acceptable, even with big, difficult emotions. And it’s perfect training for toddler tantrums and big kid mood swings later!
--Samantha Radford, Evidence-based Mommy
If I could do over any years of my life, it would be the first two years with my first child. Looking back, I was completely overwhelmed. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it at the time.
I went back to work 6-weeks after my daughter was born, she was colicky, I was exclusively breastfeeding and I was so tired that I didn't have the awareness, time or energy to seek the support I needed. I was in survival mode, learning to be a mom on the fly and have a career. To top it off, I think my husband was experiencing postpartum depression. (which I didn't realize till much later)
I was so used to being able to handle anything that came my way, it didn't dawn on me that I was in way over my head until several years later. When my daughter was five and my second child was three, I made some big changes to my life so that I could be the grounded parent I wanted to be. I finally started to take care of myself so I could take better care of my children.
I would encourage any new parent to take a close look at their life and see what kind of support they need. Parenting a newborn is demanding and nobody should have to go it alone. This is the time to rally the troops (friends, family, therapist, helpers, etc.) so you can find time to take care of you as well as the baby.
--Jessica Speer, Author, jessicaspeer.com
I am a holistic parent coach. I would share first and foremost for parents to literally take a few deep breaths and know that they got this. Take it 1 step at a time. Seek your support network. Whether it be your parent, friend, neighbor and of course trusted professional to guide you along the way but only if you feel it is necessary. Know that you are not going to get it all perfect and that’s actually typical. Enjoy your little one. Embrace every moment your little one needs you. They grow up so fast and in the blink of an eye they won’t need you anymore. Even the changing of shitty diapers, waking up every few hours sleep deprived. This too shall pass. Be sure to spend time with your partner even if it’s only for 30 minutes and share a highlight of your day with your little one.
--Amanda L Houle, amandaleighhoule.com
My biggest piece of advice for the overwhelmed parent is to remind them that they are the exact mother or father that was made for their children. As new parents, when we are feeling overwhelmed, it can feel as though we are failing our kids. Again and again we feel we are not doing enough or doing things right! A daily reminder that you are doing all that you can do, that you are perfect in the eyes of your children, and that you were made to be the parent they need is one of the most beneficial pieces of advice that new parents can receive.
--Cameryn Vonbargen, Multitasking Motherhood
Accept that things will be imperfect. You are not expected to know how to handle an infant right out of the gate. You will make mistakes, just like every other new parent. Holding yourself up to an image of the perfect parent you may have in your mind will cause a lot of unnecessary stress. Sometimes the baby will have a diaper on backwards. Sometimes you won't be able to find matching socks. Cut yourself a little slack and run with the imperfectness of it all. You don't need matching socks on an infant; you do need sane parents.
--Raffi Bilek, Baltimore Therapy Center
My best advice for new and overwhelmed parents is to *find something to be thankful for each day. *
It's so easy to get worn down by the sleepless nights and tiresome days. When this happens, more times than not parents will find themselves daydreaming about the days they got more sleep before having their baby (and they'll wonder what they did with all that spare time they had), or they'll find themselves wishing for the day to come sooner when this whole parenting thing will be *easier*.
Studies show that daydreaming about a better time may actually make you more *miserable. *(https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/how-to-focus.html)
This is why I *strongly *believe in the power of finding something - no matter how small it is - to be grateful for right here, right now. Right in the middle of yet another sleepless night - find something you're thankful for.
After you get into the habit of finding things to be thankful for rather than things to complain about, you'll start seeing your attitude and day-to-day life change for the better.
I remember when we first brought my daughter home from the hospital she spent the entire first night crying. Her wails were SO MUCH louder at home than the hospital. At home everything was completely silent except her crying and crying and crying. I remember panicking when we couldn't get her to calm down and I felt probably the most overwhelmed I've ever felt.
My best advice is simple, though hard to follow: Relax. The hardest part of the newborn phase is temporary, and your baby is a lot tougher than she looks. There's a lot of information out there designed to scare parents into buying products you don't need, and a lot of pressure to do everything by the book, but chances are if your baby is healthy, everything will work out fine if you just do your best. Step away and breath every now and then and try to stay calm!
By the time you're ready for a second kid, this will all feel like a breeze and you'll be a grizzled veteran!
--Evan Porter, Dad Fixes Everything
I have heard people say that having their first baby was a breeze and that life didn't change much until they had multiple kids. For me, it was the opposite. My first baby completely changed my life. I went from feeling capable and competent in my life to feeling like I had no idea what I was doing - ever. I felt lost all day long while I was trying to take care of this baby who was colicky and miserable and made my life miserable. It was overwhelming - I wasn't getting any sleep and I was overwhelmed all the time. I was drowning in my expectations of myself that I couldn't meet.
I finally realized that I didn't need to worry about to do lists or trying to be some perfect mom. What I needed to do was take it back to basics. Make sure I was fed (simple meals - not time-intensive food prep) and got some sleep. I needed to help my baby sleep and make sure he was fed. Get a shower. Make the bed each day.
Small things that didn't necessarily need to be planned out but made a world of difference in how I felt that day. I realized that everything else would fall into place over time, but by focusing on the smaller stuff that was right in front of me, I could take small steps of action that reduced my feelings of overwhelm. As my baby got older, I was able to naturally add more into the day a little at a time. It all comes in time, and it gets easier with time and experience.
--Heather Behrends, Made In A Pinch
Just remember- NO ONE knew what they were doing the first time they became a parent. That mom who juggles her four kids with a smile on her face? Well, she didnt know how to do that when she was pregnant with her first.
We all start from square one when we have our first babies. Small those capable parents you see started exactly where you're starting, and you will get there, too.
--Jaymi Torrez, The Salty Mamas
A lack of sleep most often is the reason moms and dads feel exhausted, stressed or overwhelmed. A good night's sleep may be difficult at first, but will help keep you calm and relaxed.
The ideal time to rest is when your baby is asleep. Since most new parents are sleep deprived, it is highly recommended that you rest when the baby rest or is taking a nap. Even if you can't fall asleep, your mind and body will appreciate the quiet time.
Here are a few things to help you counter stress before it comes. Exercise.. It's important that we exercise, and especially important for mommies. Proper exercise gives the body energy, and gets those endorphins flowing naturally. Inhale deep breaths of fresh air early in the morning, if possible, when you wake up. Early morning is the time of day when our air is most pure.
Stretch upward, sideways, and diagonally before, and after you get out of bed every morning. It helps the body when we stretch; and the body responds positively. You will find a brisk walk, or 15 minutes of exercise, is even more invigorating. This gets the juices flowing and tones your muscles too.
Finally, look to each new day as a new beginning, and a new opportunity to enjoy the little surprises that come as you observe each stage of your baby's development. This is a time to enjoy and rest every chance you get; and reflect on each milestone your baby achieves in the first few years of life.
--Patrice Lee, Author of "Mommy, Are You Listening? ? ?", www.Leep4Joy.com
I am a first-time mom, working from home full-time with my daughter who is 2 ½. My husband is an essential worker so while he heads into work daily, my daughter and I work as a team to meet the challenges of the day.
What I’ve come to learn during this time is, you need to accept things as they come. Right now, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to execute all of your duties at work and home to perfection at the same time. It’s not going to happen.
My advice to parents right now is simple, do the best you can in the moment. You might be on a conference all and your kid decides to throw their milk across the room. Take a deep breath, finish your call and then clean it up. Or, hand a towel to your child and teach them an important lesson in cleaning up after themselves.
In contrast, if you’re feeling the pressure at work to meet a tight deadline and your child just wants a moment of your time to snuggle or sing their favorite song with them, do it. The 5-minute break will allow you to step away from the stress and give and receive some comfort.
While the balancing act is tough, it’s important to remember how you act and respond to the situation at hand will determine the tone of the day. This situation is temporary and we’re all doing the best we can. Show your child and yourself some love and patience.
--Mary Koczan, Gift Card Granny
ADVICE: I know firsthand how overwhelmed and stressed you can feel as a parent, but especially with your first child. I now have a newborn and toddler at home and while it's still not easy, I've learned one positive way to cope with it all!
We all get so tied up in parenting that we often forget to address our own emotions in the process. That can contribute to you feeling significantly overwhelmed. One suggestion is to write down what you're feeling when you do find yourself stressed. Remind yourself it's OK to feel those emotions and then immediately write down three things you are grateful for. Then, take a look at both lists and more often than not, what you're grateful for will make the things you're stressed out about seem a lot less significant. It's good to remind ourselves of what's truly important in life and so I've found this is a great exercise to do when you're having a tough day as a parent.
--Olga Zakharchuk, Baby Schooling
The first thing that I'd always say to any new parents is: You can be it and you can do it. Parents often try to do things perfectly, especially with their first child. I'd like to tell you that perfection is the wrong way to go. There is no right recipe for parenting. Let go of the pressure and know that you can't do anything wrong.
Don't look for answers from others, rather allow yourself to be you and connect with your inner wisdom. When you are connected with yourself and with your little one, you will have so much more ease getting the signs and seeing what your baby requires.
The most stress and overwhelm are caused by not yet knowing what your child needs and how they communicate. Though from my experience, parents have that wisdom in them. Rather than reading a millionth book on parenting techniques, ask yourself: What is required here for my little one? What's required of me, and how? Don't go up in your head and try to figure it out. Signals will appear, and your body intuition will know what to do.
I've worked with many new parents, and after seeing all these struggles, I can truly tell you: The only thing which is required for this is to get out of your head. Get present and ask your heart. Put your barriers down, and stay as open as possible to receive your inner knowing, your vulnerability, your gratitude for having this beautiful gift in your life. When you are connected with your heart and your little one, you'll know what is required. Be in allowance no matter what happens and trust your inner knowing.
As a parent myself, and having worked with newborns very often, I can tell that the babies have an amazing awareness and are totally open. Their entire system is so receptive to everything which is going on around them. Very often, the parents' emotions, stress or insecurities are what triggers your baby. If you have already fed your baby, changed diapers, let her take a nap and she is still crying, don't panic and stress, trying to fix something. Breathe. Come back, reconnect with yourself and open your heart again by thinking of something you are grateful for. Once you are truly in balance, you'll see that your little one will get still again, too. When you are stressed, angry or sad, your child is going to pick up on that. Own your emotions, don't let them spill out on those around you.
No matter what is going on in you, have it. Even if you are so angry and frustrated by your crying baby, don't judge yourself and push the feeling away - you can't hide anything from your little one anyway. Instead, allow this feeling in you without thinking that it's wrong. Once you acknowledge how you feel, the feeling will most likely go away anyway, and you'll be there, present with your little bundle of joy again.
Always stay connected with yourself, be conscious and present, no matter what shows up. Children don't need games and entertainment to distract them. They just require your presence. Don't change diapers and be elsewhere in your thoughts. That is dishonoring you and your little one. The more present you are, the bigger smile your little one will have!
--Katherine Bihlmeier, katherine-bihlmeier.com
Here are some tips for new parents to help with the overwhelm:
1. Develop the mindset of putting on your oxygen mask first. In other words, make sure you are placing priority around your own physical and mental health. This includes minding what you eat, sleeping when you are able, connecting with your significant other, keeping simple hygiene routines, engaging in some form of movement, setting some boundaries and creating a schedule that allows for brief periods of alone time.
2. Make meals easier by investing up for a few months of a meal-delivery service or something similar. It removes the need to grocery shop and meal prep and can help you eat healthier than nightly fast food.
3. Accept help and ask for what you need. This isn't the time to worry about whether you can do it all. The offers of help will dissipate over time. Welcome them while they last.
4. Get rid of any idealized vision of yourself. This could be the ideal parent, ideal spouse, ideal housekeeper, etc. Let it go and lean into enough. Just this simple shift makes you less stressed and better able to cope with any role you find yourself in.
5. Don't compare yourself to others. The story you make up about how everyone else is doing is just that...a story. Our brains are wired for story, but they are also wired with a negativity bias which can lead us to believe we are not enough or not as good as.
6. Feel free to set boundaries and limit visits from or to friends and family if this wears you out or wears you thin. There will be plenty of time for gatherings in the years to come.
7. Find a tribe. This could take different forms, such as an in-person, Facebook, or other online new mom support group. Here, you are free to ask questions, discuss concerns, offer encouragement, and celebrate wins with people who are traveling similar terrain.
--Natalie Mica, Natalie Mica LPC
Parental stress can have effects on the child in terms of both attachment of the mother-child relationship and behavioral adaptation. From this we deduce how important it's to manage parental stress both to achieve greater personal and couple well-being, but at the same time, to establish a good mother-child attachment relationship and not to affect the development of your child.
Some strategies to contain stress levels are: get help from a relative or friend or babysitter in the daily management of the child, share the tasks and responsibilities with your partner, establish priorities with respect to the daily activities to be carried out and not worry excessively if not all of them are carried out adequately and according to your standards, also devote yourself to pleasant and leisure activities, preferably in company, to reduce stress levels and practice physical activity.
It is also possible to request specialist support help.
--Matteo Rocca, stresscoach.it/