Early years: Self-care for parents of young children

As a parent of an infant or a young child you have a huge amount of responsibility on your shoulders. Not only do you need to meet your child’s physical and emotional needs, you need to continue to meet the responsibilities you had in your life before the baby was born. Parents prepare for the baby’s birth and caring for their babies needs Very few look into self-care for parents.

Older children, pets, work, housework and bills don’t go anywhere after the baby arrives. You will be expected to meet these responsibilities while having little sleep and little or no time for relaxation.

As a parent you want to give your baby the best start to life and you want to do your best. You are aware of the crucial importance of the first five years of the child’s life on their emotional, social, intellectual and physical development.

The first rule of parenting is that you will not be able to look after your baby if you do not look after yourself.

Let’s think of ways you can do just that.

Accept help from people you trust

Share the baby’s care with your partner and one or two other trusted adults right from the beginning. Especially mothers feel very protective about their baby in the early days and don’t want others to care for the baby. However, it is important for the mother’s well-being, the health of the marital relationship and the father’s relationship with the baby that both parents are actively involved in the baby’s care. The mother needs to create space for the father to bond with the baby. The father needs to find the courage to look after the baby independently in his own way.

In the early days while you are still wanting to bond with your baby make sure you allow others to look after you. Allow your parents, parents-in-law and friends to help with the tasks that you don’t have time and energy for. 

Allow someone you trust to watch the baby when you take a nap. Others may look after the baby in a different way that you do. This is beneficial for the baby’s development.

Make sure that the other people in the baby’s life are people your child can get attached to. This means that the people who help you care for the baby don’t change too often. The baby should be allowed to get to know them and over time form a relationship with. When your baby learns to trust and love close people in their lives, they will thrive in life.

Babysitters that change frequently do not create safety in the baby’s life while a weekly afternoon visit to the park with grandfather does.

Find moments of joy

When days with the baby are long and challenging, it may be difficult to find the joy in parenting. Think of the times when you most enjoy time with your baby. Their smile in the morning when they first see you, or maybe cuddling the baby after bath may make your heart skip a beat.

Be mindfully present in these moments of joy. Let everything else go and allow yourself to enjoy this precious moment with your baby. Slow down, allow love to fill your heart and rest here for a while.

Remind yourself of these moments of joy when you are struggling. Maybe you could even create a joyful moment of connection with your baby if you feel overwhelmed by life’s challenges. 

If the baby is too sleepy or distressed to connect with you right then, connect with your sense of purpose, instead. Your purpose in that moment is to be a loving parent to your child. Your child is not being fussy or unsettled because you are lacking or not good enough. You are your baby’s world and they need you to help them feel safe and loved, even when they are challenging.

Look after yourself

Some children have endless amounts of energy and don’t seem to stop. That can be exhausting and overwhelming, especially if you spend long hours alone with your child. 

Accept that parenting is tough and allow your pre-baby standards to drop a bit. You may have had a spotless home pre-baby. It’s ok to have a less spotless home. A happy home is more important to your child than a clean home.

You may also let go of some expectations of yourself as a parent. Maybe you planned to cook all your child’s food yourself and never let your child watch TV before they were five. A happy parent is more important to your child than a high achieving parent.

On a bad day, when you are still responsible for your child’s care, you give yourself a break by. For example, go outside and let your child use up some energy. You may not be able to sit on the beach and read but allow yourself to enjoy the warm sand under your feet. Or, if going outside is not an option, put on some music. Let the music either energize you or calm you down, depending on what you need.

Slow down and focus on the most important task

Children live in the moment. This is a lesson all parents can learn from their children. When you are doubting your ability to be a good enough parent to your child, all you need to do is slow things down. The house may be a mess, your baby unsettled and you have not showered in days.

Take a deep breath. Tend to your baby first. If you can, ask someone to hold your baby while you do the next most important thing. It may be you brushing your teeth, eating something or taking a nap. If you are alone with the baby, remind yourself that this moment will pass. The baby will settle. All babies fall asleep eventually. Your partner will come home. Just now, in this moment while you are comforting your baby, you are enough and you are doing exactly what you are supposed to do. 

Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.

Articles on www.aureliapsychology.com may feature the advice of a licensed expert or other non-clinicians and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment from a trained professional. In an emergency, please seek help from your local medical or law enforcement services.

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