The Art of Being a New Parent
“Everything’s under control,” I said to my wife. The two of us were kneeling in front of a flooding dish washer, trying to mop up the water before it made its way under the fridge. The garbage disposal was backed up and flooding the sink as well, all while our toddler ran around behind us, yelling for a snack. Being a new parent, can one find any balance?
Common Stages of the New Parent
Every new parent is different, just like every kid is different. Even still, there are a few constants when it comes to parenting:
- Exhaustion: Whether you’re the full-time parent or trying to balance work and parenting, exhaustion is always with you. There’s something about chasing around a little human and pouring every ounce of love inside you into another person that wears you out!
- Confusion: Is this normal? Have they eaten enough? Why are they making that sound? The questions of a new parent are many, and they don’t stop.
- Stress: Unless you’re a robot, you’re going to be feeling some stress. Stress usually strikes somewhere between stopping your little one from falling off a chair and wondering why they’re smearing pasta into the carpet.
If you’re currently a parent, you’re probably nodding along at this list. Not yet a parent? Don’t panic! I can’t say everything is going to be okay, but I can offer you some ways to find a sense of balance in your life and focus more on enjoying being a parent.
What’s a New Parent to Do?
As parents, kids come first. Naturally. You want to give your kids the world, and anytime you feel you’re doing less than that, you’re going to beat yourself up over it. I can tell you time and time again that you can always find a clean solution to every problem. I can tell you that you’re always going to have the answers.
But I’d be lying.
Parenting is downright messy. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can focus on making sure YOU are also being taken care of.
Think of it this way: if the pilot of the plane is sleepy, frustrated, and stressing about the behavior of every single passenger on the plane, will they be able to fly well? Probably not.
So, what’s the pilot do? They realize the only thing immediately in their control is the plane, and all they can do is fly to the best of their ability while keeping an eye on the weather.
Note: I’m not telling you to look out the window at the sky and ignore your kids.
In short, the pilot finds a balance amidst the potential chaos of flying a plane full of strangers by focusing on what they can control. Now, it’s time for you to find balance as a parent piloting your household full of kids.
How to Find Balance as a New Parent
Making sure your life has balance is difficult even before you have kids. After kids are in the picture? It’s a whole new ball game. Not to mention, there’s a 68% increase in the depression scores for fathers during the first five years of a child’s life. The cards truly are stacked against new parents, at first.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to maintaining a balanced life as a parent, there are some steps you can take to ensure you’re not TOO stressed.
Step One: Write Down Your Pre-Parent Schedule
Does your day consist of diaper changes, countless loads of laundry, or chasing a wild little version of yourself around the house? Unless you run a daycare, your schedule probably looked nothing like that before your entry into the parenting world.
Get out a sheet of paper or open a doc, and jot down a rough outline of your pre-parenting life. Be sure you note every hobby or “selfish” thing you liked to do. If you can’t think of any off the top of your head, try to recall any moments where you felt at peace and more yourself than ever.
Step Two: Sketch Out Your Parenting Schedule
Now, it’s time to tackle your current schedule. (If you’re not yet a parent, simply write down what you think your schedule will look like.)
Make sure you cover every single aspect of your day, from the moment you get up, to the moment you finally plant your head on your pillow. It’s especially helpful to note what time each event occurs at, and to note how long each task or event is. If you have some downtime regularly, note that as well. (And consider yourself incredibly lucky!)
Step Three: Create Time for Yourself
With your old and new schedules drafted, place them next to each other. Look at your current schedule and see if there’s any area where you have even a little downtime. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, naptime is usually your best bet. If you’re a working parent, things get a little tricky. Most importantly: make time to do something you enjoy. Grilling is my happy place.
For you full-time parents, if naptime isn’t looking good or is your time to catch up on cleaning and chores, perhaps you need to look at the bookends of your day. Because I work remotely, I have a similar schedule to many stay-at-home parents, despite my wife also being a stay-at-home mom. Where I found my perfect “me” time was either at the beginning or end of the day.
If you’re a night person, staying up an extra hour or two a few times a week can be a great way to find a little time for yourself. If you’re an early riser, maybe you simply start waking up an hour or two earlier every other day so you can write, do yoga, or pursue whatever hobby it is you miss.
Working Parents with a Partner
If you’re a working parent with a partner at home, finding a little time for yourself can be a little difficult and requires a lot of additional care on your part.
If your partner is at home with your kid(s) all day, the last thing you want to do when you get home is to go have some “you” time while they continue to watch the kids. Moms are already feeling tons of stress, and with many dads also facing increased levels of depression during those early years, parents need all the support they can get. (New dads, moments like this during the early years are a great time for you to shine!)
Instead of tossing your keys on the entry table and going to your study, go directly to your partner, take over as the parent, and talk to them. This alone will be a great stress reliever for both of you.
Next, look at your schedules together and see if there are any places where a little downtime for yourself would be appropriate. Like the full-time parent previously mentioned, you may have to take some time in the morning or evening to pursue your interests. If your job is already wearing you out as is, maybe a little early or late time on the weekend would be more doable.
If you simply can’t afford to wake up any earlier or stay up any later, talk to your partner about hiring a babysitter for a day here and there, or see if there’s a family member that can occasionally help out while you have some “you” time. The added cost of a sitter can sting, but your mental health is worth far more.
Working Parents without a Partner
Are you a single working parent? My hat is off to you. Give yourself a pat on the back, as you’ve got more strength and endurance than the rest of us!
Finding time for yourself when you’re single AND working is no walk in the park. Just like the working parent with a partner, you’ll likely need to look into having a sitter, or see if a family member or friend wouldn’t mind helping out here and there.
If a sitter is out of the budget and you don’t have any family nearby, take inventory of your hobbies and passions and see if there isn’t a way to integrate your passion into your everyday life. Are you an avid reader? Download some eBooks on your phone and read a little in the evening or during your kiddo’s naptime.
Are you a sports fan? Take your little one to some local games after work and share your hobby with them! This can be a great bonding experience on top of also ensuring your mental state is in the right place.
No matter your hobby or passion, we’re fortunate enough to live in the digital age, where nearly anything is possible via smartphone. No matter how busy your life is, you can always find little moments for micro-breaks throughout the day.
Step Four: Take Care of Each Other
While the focus of this article is to make sure you’re getting the time you need, it’s important to remember you’re all in this together as a family.
Your son, daughter, wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend—there are others in the equation that make up a family. If you’re feeling too stressed, don’t be afraid to lean on one another. On the other hand, if you feel your partner or your child are stressed, let them lean on you. The family unit only functions properly when all the gears are turning, and that only happens when they’re all being tended to.
Put your phone away and focus on your child. If your child is particularly stressed, don’t be afraid to gift them a new awesome toy. Set the remote down and turn to your partner. Recognize that you’re overworked and allow yourself to set chores aside and nap while your child naps once in a while. To put it simply, be cognizant of yourself and those under the umbrella of your family and make sure you’re all happy.
Love Your New Life
You will be stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed as a parent. There’s no getting around that. Know your limits, know your partner’s limits, and know what it is you all need to stay functioning.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help, whether you’re the parent that’s home all day or the parent that’s working 9-5. Everyone stumbles, everyone makes a mess, and everyone needs support at some point.
The sooner you allow yourself to be a little vulnerable, the sooner you can truly enjoy your life as a parent. It’s an amazing, messy, insane, and wonderful journey unlike any other.
If you or a loved one is ever feeling too stressed or overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to seek a professional. There are countless resources available for you, from professional helplines to parenting groups online. No matter how you feel right now, know you’re never truly alone in this, and never without options.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255)
Child-Help USA Crisis Line: 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453)
Crisis Text Hotline: Text HOME to 741741
Dial 211 for Local Services