Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Having your first child is the most rewarding experience you will ever have and will cause you to feel a kind of love you never knew existed. As any parent will tell you, it really is all worth it. If you are a worried expectant or new parent, it might not feel like that right now, because having your first child is also exhausting, terrifying, frustrating, and stressful.

Don’t worry: it is entirely normal to struggle to adjust to parenthood, and there will be difficulties along the way. From struggling to nurse to learning how to change diapers to knowing how to meet your baby’s needs to simply surviving each day on an hour’s sleep, it can be tough.

Caring for Your Child

Caring for babies and young children is time-consuming, dirty and often mundane, involving seemingly endless diaper changes, feedings and baths – not to mention a considerable degree of sleep deprivation, especially in the first few months. If you have gone from having carefree life with few responsibilities, weekends and evenings free to be yourself and do as you like, it can be very difficult to deal with the constant demands of a young child. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed if you feel like you cannot cope or don’t know precisely what your new baby’s cry means. Most new parents feel overwhelmed but don’t speak out because they feel they should be finding every minute of parenting rewarding and fun. I love my kids dearly, but give me a break! Not everything about motherhood or parenting is fun! Don’t worry about being the perfect parent; just love your baby and everything else will fall into place. It’s ok if you don’t know everything. Part of the adventure of parenthood is learning as you go – and learning to trust your instincts.

Caring for Yourself

Take time for yourself. I know it seems like an impossibility, but sometimes, all you need is five minutes to brush your teeth or 15 minutes to hop in the shower. While this can be more difficult for the single parent, it’s important to allow yourself to have your own life. Do something each day that does not involve your child – exercise, read, write, paint, meditate, talk with a friend. If both parents are involved, support each other and provide each other with down time. If you’re on your own, enlist the help of friends and family. Even if a friend just sits with the baby long enough for you to take a nap or squeeze in a 30 minute bubble bath,  you will feel like a new person.

While every person is different about when this can happen, when you’re ready, take advantage of offers from trusted friends and family to babysit occasionally. You need to have time to be yourself, go out with friends and pursue your hobbies. Having a child invokes such strong emotions that it can feel wrong not to be with them all the time, but it is vital you remember who you were before your child so that you can keep yourself healthy and happy. You will be a better parent for it.

Keeping Relationships Strong

Relationships often suffer after children, especially if you have been together for some time before having children.  Make sure you talk about it, and then talk some more. Having a baby as a couple can be incredibly exciting, but it will also be difficult. It is important to acknowledge this and be willing to talk about problems and frustrations.

Some parents find they become so wrapped up in parenting that they find it hard to make time for each other, and their relationship is damaged because of this shift in focus. Having a baby often means that parents who previously did everything equally take on traditional gender roles, which can be hard for both parties. Men sometimes feel excluded from the mother-baby bond in the early days, especially if the mother is breastfeeding. Women often feel that they are expected to do everything by default (especially if they choose to have a career break) while the father’s life barely changes.

Be aware that these changes are likely to have an impact on your relationship. Try and have as even a split of household work as possible. If one parent works out of the home that does not mean that they should do nothing for their child. Housework and childcare should be evenly split at weekends, so that the main caregiver does not have to do 24/7 childcare and end up exhausted and resentful. Above all, remember what you love about each other. You might have less time than you did before, but you can still make some time to enjoy all the things you did before.

Above all, remember that the baby stage does not last forever. Older children and teens bring their own challenges, but as your children grow you will get much of your independence back as they no longer need constant care. Love and care for your children, but remember to be yourself too.