To those without children of their own, who one day want to become parents, the thought of "motherhood" can be nothing short of exciting and magical. At least, this is how it was for me. There was just something palpable that even the thought of motherhood produced and, well, that palpable feeling was special. Little did I know that motherhood is also something that can make you feel like you're simply "surviving," and that there are rules every new mom needs to follow if she wants to get through those survivor-mode days. I mean, for as beautiful and miraculous as motherhood is, it's also exhausting and difficult and can leave you in a puddle of self-doubt to the point that just getting through a day can seem impossible.
Maybe it's because I looked up to my own mother; Maybe it's because I imagined a tiny baby in my arms, cuddling them and watching them grow up and play pretend; Maybe it's because I saw how joyful my mother was, and I wanted to experience that specific kind of joy, too. Regardless of why the word "motherhood" was and remains so special to me, and many others who have yet to have children but look forward to the day they do, it's also heavy with expectation and responsibility that can be, well, exhausting. With less sleep, a crazier schedule than you might be used to, more messes, less room for spontaneous plans and a greater need for set schedules, transitioning into parenthood and essentially surviving the first year of motherhood can be difficult, at best.
Of course, feeling like you're simply "surviving" the first year of motherhood doesn't mean that you're a bad mother or that you've made a mistake or that you're ill-equipped for the job. Honestly, it just means that you're a human being who needs more sleep than you're probably getting. Thankfully, there are tricks you can do that will help you not only survive this difficult, yet delightful, first year, but assist you in thoroughly enjoying it.
Prepare For The First Week (As Best You Can) In Advance
When you are pregnant, you will feel like you have a million things to do. The more you can do before the baby arrives, the better you'll feel once the baby is "here." I'm talking about not just getting the nursery ready and the house cleaned and the hospital bags packed, but also about cooking ahead of time and freezing the food in servings, for example. By freezing foods like lasagna in individual servings, all you have to do when you get home is pull out one serving, heat it up, and it's ready to eat! No cooking or cutting up servings or anything else required which, you know, is the dream.
Anything you can do before the baby comes to prepare your house and help you transition into the new routine that will become your daily life, will make you feel more confident and relaxed once you and your new baby are home.
Sleep When (And If) You Can
Every mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, etc. will tell you to "sleep when the baby sleeps." Is this annoying? Yes. Is it true and helpful, if you can swing it? Of course, and especially when your baby is a newborn. It's one thing to babysit a young baby and have had a good solid night's rest beforehand. It's something entirely different when you're with your baby every hour of every day and they're only sleeping 1-3 hours at a time.
My daughter woke up every 2 hours as a newborn. It would take me around an hour to get her to sleep and then, just as I was starting to fall asleep, she'd wake back up. All I can say is during the day and at night, try your best to sleep when your baby sleeps. For you to be able to function, stay calm and think clearly, and for your own sanity, you'll need every second of sleep you can find.
Don't Try To Do It All By Yourself
Seriously, social constructs and cultural "rules" created by gender stereotypes be damned; let others help you, especially when you have a newborn. Let friends and family come over (in moderation, of course) and help cook or clean the house or do laundry or take care of the baby so you can rest. Don't try to do it by yourself. Don't try to prove a point. Don't try to shoulder every single parental responsibility. Let friends and family members help, so you can be at your best to help your baby.
Take Time To Stop And Breathe
Babies don't know how to talk the way we do. Certainly, they have their own language and their own ways of communicating, but you aren't necessarily going to immediately understand it. There will be times when you don't know what your baby wants, and you're going to feel like screaming because you'll feel so helpless. In these times, just remember to stop, count and exhale slowly. Just breathe.
It may take time but, eventually, you and your baby will begin to understand one another through the volume, inflections, and sound of your voice as well as your muscles when your baby is in your arms. You'll start to learn your baby's cries and what they mean, and they'll star to learn how to read your energy and body language. The more you can stay calm and relaxed, the better for you and baby. You will both be able to communicate and figure out what they need faster by just breathing.
Remember "Hakuna Matata" (It Means No Worries)
For any Disney fans out there, you know that this phrase is central to what I would consider to be a beloved Disney classic (of course this is one of my favorite movies, so I am a bit biased). "Hakuna Matata." It means "No Worries." Literally.
Any time you begin to feel overwhelmed or frustrated or anxious, particularly during the first year of motherhood, just remember this phrase. Yes, you will have many worries as a new mom. One of mine was if I was able to provide her with enough milk because I chose to breastfeed. I worried about this for weeks and utilized many different resources including a breastfeeding specialist during my daughter's doctors office, websites online, books, and articles trying to figure out what was normal and if she was getting enough. Ultimately, I worried myself dry. Literally. Sometimes (read: most of the time) worrying only makes things worse. As hard as it can be, and trust me, it can be hard, just remember, "Hakuna Matata."
Find A Supportive Group Of New Parents In Your Community Or Online
Having your old friends (who don't have kids) who are supportive is awesome. However, sometimes you just need to have friends who are in a similar situation as you and can relate to what you're going through. Sometimes you need people who you can go to with questions and concerns and they can help from experience. Sometimes you need people who can't go out every night or make crazy plans or do spontaneous things because, like you, they'll have to get up before the sun even rises with a tiny little bundle of energy.
Some people have this group from their prior friend group, some have it from a church group or other organization, and some have it from pregnancy or newborn classes that facilitate this type of support. Regardless of where they come from, these people are just as important as your old friends.
Treat Yo' Self
Personally, I believe that to be the best version of you for others, including and especially your newborn, you have to do something for you. Now, that could look like a spa day in or a spa day out, an hour in the shower rather than quickly dumping water over you to be "clean" (if you even get a chance to do that), going out with girlfriends or your significant other, retreating to a quiet bubble bath to read for 30 minutes, or whatever else provides you with peace and quiet and the ability to reboot. The better you take care of yourself, the better you'll be able to take care of someone else.
Go Out With Your Friends (And Don't Feel Guilty About It)
I, personally, think that it's vital to continue to remember who you were before you became a mother. I mean, it's not like motherhood changed our DNA and made us an entirely different person. It simply added another faced to our already wonderfully complex personalities and beings. All too often, and especially as new mothers, we forget to maintain our individual identities. Going out with your girlfriends is one way that you can help yourself remember your identity and maintain who you are while also juggling this new role as "mother."
There is nothing wrong with being "mom," and pinpointing it as a vital part of your identity. In fact, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a mother who doesn't identify as a mother (while also identifying as many other things). However, after your child/children are grown up and out of the house, if you haven't maintained your identity, will you remember who you are? When your children ask about your interests as a kid and an adult before they came around, will you remember and be able to show them and pass those interests on to them? Go out with your girlfriends every now and then. Remember who you are. And enjoy it.
Go Out On Dates (And Don't Feel Guilty About It)
When you have a child, just like it can be easy to forget who you are as an individual, it can be easy to forget who you and your significant other are as a couple. Your "couple identity" if you will. You can easily fall into the routine tasks of everyday life simply because there is so much to do and so little time and you are both so exhausted. And, of course, if you aren't part of a co-parenting couple, it can be easy to forget that you're also a sexual person with sexual needs, and put your romantic life (if you are looking to have one) on the bottom of your list of important things. Both can be dangerous, whether it's losing the connection you have with your partner or losing a connection to your sexual self and/or others.
Let a trusted family member or friend come over for a few hours during an afternoon or a night and take time to go on either a day with your partner or a date with someone new. Don't worry about work or school or the baby (or try not to, at least) and just focus on being with someone who doesn't poop themselves on a regular basis.
Share A Mom-Baby Day Date
Bonding with your baby out in public is just as crucial as bonding with your baby at home. As a new mom, you can't keep yourself locked up in the house all the time. Take your baby out and go shopping, go out to eat, spend time with other moms who have kids so the kids can bond and play together. This not only gives you the ability to get errands done, but also to do it all spending time with your baby and getting them used to the outside environment.
"Let It Go, Let It Go!"
As your child begins to move towards table food, you'll begin to notice things aren't so clean in your house anymore. Food and drinks will be all over your child, his/her clothes, and his/her surroundings. He/she will be getting more active and there will always be toys everywhere. If you have seen the movie Frozen, then you know where I'm going with this. Just "Let it go." Accept that, when there's a kid around, not everything is going to be clean all the time (or even half the time). Not everything will be polished and perfect and your living space may not even look like adults are present. It happens.
Dance Like Nobody's Watching
Whether you like to work out or not- or whether you even like to hear the word or not- exercise is important to your health, particularly in the first year of motherhood. I'm not encouraging exercise for the sake of losing weight or maintaining a certain body image or attempting to adhere to some fictitious and usually unhealthy social standard of beauty. Instead, I'm saying that exercise and staying active can help you feel better about yourself and man, when you're a new mother, you need to feel at the top of your game.
If you're not up for exercise in the traditional fashion, go for a dip in the pool, do yoga, or even just stretch! Even the smallest thing can help you feel better and maintain your health and give you some added energy. If you do it in front of your child, it will probably help him/her realize the importance of staying active and healthy and could help begin to foster a great relationship between themselves and their body. I mean, it's win-win, you guys.