Parenting - finding space for you with a baby
There is nothing like becoming a parent – it is transformational. Sometimes that transformation can feel like being a butterfly and other times it may feel like being a meercat, a lion or any other animal or insect that might match the myriad of feelings and experiences parenting brings.
For first time parents the experience of having someone else completely reliant on you can be all consuming: joyful as well as overwhelming. It is possible that your experience of being an individual with personal time, personal needs and aspirations might feel like a distant past, lost in the experience of being Mum or Dad. Trying to keep everything running, have a shower or a bath in peace, to having a full or fatigued mind from continually learning on your journey of parenthood, can mean that looking after yourself becomes low on your possibility or priority list. Those with multiple children may feel all these things too, regardless of having been a first time (or 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc) parent before, or even because of it.
There is a reason why in the event of an emergency on a plane, you must look after yourself first and then tend to your child – it creates the best possible outcome for you both surviving. This is true also for parenting - it is vital you take care of yourself, so that you, your child, and your family have the opportunity not just to survive, but to thrive.
How you show up for yourself and care for your body and mind, how you claim and re-claim old and new parts of yourself can look quite different for each of us. However, it is important to start, to develop some consistency, build routines and habits, because you are in this for the life.
You could start with some you time in a bubble bath or a warm shower! You might light some candles, remove all the bath toys, and use a soap, bubbles or wash that is just for you. Take your time and endeavour not to be interrupted.
You could catch up with a friend, go to a café, walk around a park without a pram or having to supervise a minibike rider. Perhaps you could book a massage or a hair appointment and when you are there, book in the next one ahead of time.
You could schedule some outdoors time either alone or with mates, or you might just sit out in your garden or on a balcony or porch and read or listen to music whilst your baby sleeps. You can always sleep too when your baby sleeps, putting on your cosiest pj’s or bed socks, maybe an eye mask or heat pack.
Exercising is good for not just for your body and your fitness, but it is great for your general health, wellbeing, and mindset. Moving your body can change your mind, improve your mental health, and increase your energy levels. A good starting point is going for a pram walk, or walking your dog, or even walking or exercising by yourself. or with a friend.
Starting where you are at is helpful, asit is important to make exercise a daily habit. Moving mindfully is also key to your experience, and to reconnecting your body and mind, to claim and reclaim yourself.
You also need to fuel your body, so eating well and sitting down to eat is also important. It is common for parents to eat on the move, or to not eat regularly. Practising mindful eating can really make a difference to your experience. Eating whole, healthy foods, rather than grab and go snacks will also assist you in not only keeping healthy but will provide adequate nutrition for you to have the energy and concentration levels to parent.
Noticing that you are breathing and that your breath is a bodily process can help you to notice your present state and possibly enable you to pause and notice your experience. If noticing your breathing is overwhelming, you might notice the connection of your body parts to the hard surfaces below you, like your chair, or your feet on the floor. Alternatively, you might notice you are breathing when you move – when you are exercising, walking, or when you are rocking your baby in your arms, you might notice that your breathing might synchronise to the rhythm of your movement.
Treating yourself as your own best friend…
Sometimes being a parent throws off your path to embracing self-compassion and you might not be talking to yourself nicely or treating yourself as your own best friend. If you notice any negative thought patterns or self-criticisms, you might practice talking to yourself like you would talk to someone (or something – a pet), that you really loved or cared for. What would you say to them if they were in the same situation as you – what advice would you give them, and in what tone of voice would you deliver your words?
Your friends and family…
Your social life will inevitably change and so might some of your friendships, and the activities you socially participate in. It is important to keep connected to friends and family who support you, and to meet new friends, as you will have opportunities to socialise with your baby, or because of your child.
You and your partner…
If you have a partner or want a partner in the future, it is important to nurture and tend to this relationship, although the same rule applies here about your face mask on a plane - you are the priority. Date nights and doing activities together that you enjoy are so crucial to maintaining your identity before kids, and to be able to be on the same page. Your relationship is forever changed when you introduce a new love into your life, your baby. If your relationship is not so healthy, it is important to seek professional help, either by helplines, or via seeing someone in person, as well as reaching out to a supportive friend or family member. If you are in a healthy relationship, it is important to also nurture the love you share with your partner – everyone will benefit.
You only have one you, so take precious care of yourself and ultimately that will help to take care of the other precious beings in your life.