I initially typed in a few alternative titles for this blog post, including: “six tips for anxiety in motherhood,” and “ten strategies to take care of your mental health.” Those titles just didn’t land; maternal mental health is so much more complicated than those bullet points.
If six quick and simple strategies were going to work, you would have already done those things yourself.
Quick fixes are routinely promised all over the internet, and this simplification of what it takes to make motherhood easier tends to further fuel the guilt and shame that moms feel. Social media would have you think that someone else has it all figured out, and that you’re the only one who just can’t crack the code.
Rather than quick fixes, we are going to talk about principles to help guide you in navigating new motherhood through mindfulness; acceptance; patience; and presence.
If new motherhood has been really hard on you, you aren’t doing anything wrong – being a mom requires a Herculean effort.
If you’ve already struggled anxiety and depression prior to becoming a mom, you are predisposed to experiencing it during the postpartum period and beyond. This is a product of increased stress; constant hypervigilance as you assess for threats to your child’s safety; way less sleep; less time for self-care; hormones; and not to mention the massive identity shift that you undergo while trying to get to know a new little person who has suddenly become the center of your universe.
When you become a parent, everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – changes. Your life as you knew it is gone, and your new life contains so much more intense emotion. The depth of every feeling has grown. Some days are so amazing that the joy physically hurts, and other days the exhaustion runs so deep that you aren’t even sure how you are continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
You’ve changed from the inside out, but you don’t even have the time to really figure out what that means – because bottles need to be prepared, diapers changed and the nap schedule is calling.
There is an undercurrent of confusion that hums in the background of your daily routine about all of life’s big questions (that you once thought you knew the answers to).
Many moms feel overwhelmed and frustrated that they don’t have more time to address these questions and “solve” the riddle of what it means to exist as both an individual and as a mom. It is nothing short of an existential crisis trying to figure out how to exist with a piece of your soul now living outside of your body.
It is, of course, important to carve out “you” time to renew your sense of self: time for that therapy appointment, the yoga class, the hot shower, and the date night. But the reality is, as a parent, that your time is limited, and those brief self-care hours aren’t enough.
There is another path forward that doesn’t involve creating hours in the day that don’t exist. Finding more joy in motherhood is to learn how to approach your daily moments in a radically different way.
Yes, I’m talking about when food is thrown on the floor, naptime isn’t going well, it’s raining outside, the plans got cancelled, the dishes are overflowing, and the laundry is everywhere.
It is in this moment, now, where you can find relief – not tomorrow when things go according to schedule.
That “good” day may feel better temporarily, but it’s more important to adopt a new mindset pertaining to how you look at each and every moment or your life (especially the hard moments). This is where you can sustain long-term growth that will help you experience less stress, more ease, and more joy.
Here are six principles to guide you in finding more ease in new motherhood:
- Remember that every single thing is temporary.
The weather, the runny nose, the nap schedule, and the sleep deprivation. It will all keep changing. Just as soon as you’ve figured out this age and stage, it changes again. This can be freeing when you realize that you are along for a ride with a lot that you can’t control. Submit to what is, rather than what you wish it was, and trust that things will get easier in time. Parenting is lifelong, but you will not be a parent of young children forever. They will grow. You will sleep more. You will have more time again.
- Refrain from labeling things as “good” or “bad.”
Pay attention to how you label things that happen (or don’t happen) throughout your day. If your baby doesn’t nap on time, instead of labeling this as bad, try adopting a more neutral attitude about it without a big story about what this means. Your mind might habitually go to a place like this: “oh great, he didn’t nap and now he’s going to be cranky and our whole afternoon is shot.” Try instead: “He wasn’t in the mood for a nap today. Oh well. Let’s pivot and get out of the house for a bit. Whatever happens today, I can handle it, and tomorrow is a new day. How I can make the rest of the day?” Maybe baby missing the nap means you get to catch more time in the sunshine on a walk, that you otherwise would have missed. The same goes for a really good day. Although celebrating wins and savoring the moment is important, try not to become too attached to labeling something “good.” This can lead to more frustration when the good runs out. Work on the skill of cultivating equanimity and a balanced, non-reactive attitude to inevitable ups and downs.
- Redefine what is extraordinary.
You will romanticize your old life. That is normal. You can also learn to redefine what is amazing and exciting by practicing connecting to your senses. When you go on a walk with your little, can you notice all of the signs of spring? How beautiful is it when the sun rises over the trees, the magnolias are in bloom, and a gentle breeze comes through? If you learn to savor these moments, you can find beauty in the most unexpected places. These moments can breathe life back into you on your hardest days, and bring tears to your eyes as you’re reminded that this life is beautiful.
- Decide that some level of mess is okay.
Even if you spent every hour of every day cleaning and doing laundry, the work wouldn’t be done. If you can accept that some mess is always going to be there and learn to tolerate that sometimes things will just have to be untidy, you will reduce your stress immensely. Sometimes there are eggs thrown at the wall and I won’t get to it for a while. I’ve learned to laugh about it, because that toothy grin and belly giggle when the eggs are thrown is a sign of the health and happiness of my child, and I would trade everything for that.
- Take your kids to things you enjoy (not everything has to be child-centered).
Bring your baby along to places that make you feel good. Babies love a change of scenery and looking at new things. Go get your favorite coffee and walk around Marshall’s. Point things out to your baby and teach them about different words, colors, and shapes. When your baby gets to experience your world, they get to learn, and as you’re checking out some summer clothes, you might even catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and feel like you again. Your baby is entertained, and you get to do something for yourself. Win, win.
- Reevaluate every single aspect of how you spend your time.
The people you talk to, the places you go, the shows you watch, the books you read, the accounts you follow, and the list goes on. If something, someone, or someplace does not bring you joy and add to your life, you do not need to spending time there. Put down the book if it’s bad. Don’t say yes if you don’t want to go. Be okay with letting people down; not living up to others’ expectations; and even quitting something when you need to. Every moment of your free time is a precious gift and should be treated as such.
Integrating these principles is a practice. It involves becoming very clear about matters; becoming extremely intentional about where you direct your focus; and continuingly reminding yourself of transient nature of all things.
These principles take work and willingness. You may have to give up some things in order to make room for what will serve you better in this next chapter.
When you clear out old ways of thinking and open yourself up to some new ways of existing in the world as a parent, you can connect to the whole world in a more joyful, present way.
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