Congratulations! You are probably reading this article because you are close to having a child or just had one and you are looking for ways to survive the first year. Most people make it sound like having children is the end-all to feeling fulfilled and happy. What people don’t mention as much is that all of your emotions will intensify; not just the positive ones. You will be sleep deprived, you will be irritable, you might feel resentment towards the partner who gets to go to work or the partner to gets to stay home. You might be faced with Postpartum Depression or Anxiety. There are a lot of feelings that surface during our first year of being a parent.
The first thing to recognize is that what you are going through is natural. Whatever feelings you feel, you are not the only one. Did you know that marital satisfaction usually plummets that first year of being a parent? A study presented by John Gottman at the APA’s 2011 Annual Convention reported that about 67 percent of couples see their marital satisfaction plummet after having their first baby (Published in the Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 14, No. 1). Kind of bizarre at the surface of it to think that having a baby would make you like your spouse less. After all, you had a baby with him because you loved him so much. But if you look at what happens to us during that first year with a baby and look at the chronic sleep deprivation, the issues around feeding, the lack of energy, the lack of intimacy, and the fact that you are mainly trying to use logic with a human being that hasn’t developed logic yet (your baby) it becomes quite clear why that first year is so rough.
Here’s the deal. There is no one solution to surviving your first year of being a parent that will work for everyone. Families come in all configurations with different backgrounds and beliefs so the best thing to do is to adapt your solutions to your family system. However, below are a few suggestions that will most likely help increase your chances of surviving that first year. Here they are:
1. No important communication at night
This might seem like an odd suggestion to give but there’s a lot of sense behind it. It’s easy to jump into the problem-solving mode with your partner at 2:00 a.m. when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep for the past week because the baby is crying. However, nobody is in their right mind at 2:00 a.m. You are sleep deprived, irritable, and probably just want to go back to sleep. Instead of trying to figure out how to permanently solve this problem, figure out what you can do right now to get through this night. This is not the time to discuss major differences in your parenting with your partner. This is the time to get your baby back to sleep so that you can get back to sleep.
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2. Keep your expectations realistic
People will tell you ahead of time about how wonderful it is to be a parent and it is. But people tend to minimize the amount of work and stress involved during that first year to keep the baby alive. You expectations for the first year shouldn’t be “my baby will be speaking in full sentences” or even “my baby will be consistently sleeping through the night”. Those are all great ideas and hopes but for a lot of families, those are not the reality. So keep your expectations realistic or even low. The most realistic expectation for that first year is everyone survives. I know that seems ludicrous because of what all of the forums and parenting books preach but if your sole expectation for that first year is survival then you will leave that first year feeling accomplished and proud of yourself.
Read More: Balancing Marriage and Parenting without Going Crazy
3. Don’t compare yourself to the Insta-moms
Social media has done a great job connecting us with others. New parents are usually more isolated than others, more emotional than others, and more prone to comparison. It is therefore easy to fall into the dark hole that is social media. Remember that people on social media portray their best versions of themselves and that often times social media is not reality. So try not to compare yourself to the Insta-mom who seems to have it all together with her perfect matching outfit, organic locally grown produce, and Stella breastmilk.
4. Remember that everything is temporary
No matter what happens that first year, it is temporary. Whether baby doesn’t sleep through the night, the baby has a cold, or you feel like you haven’t been outside of your home in days. Remember that these difficult times too shall pass. You will eventually sleep through the night again, and you will eventually be able to leave the house. You will even be able to one day eat dinner with your spouse while your baby is still awake playing quietly in the living room! The good times will come again; you just need to be patient.
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This concept of things being temporary also applies to the good moments though. Your baby will only be a baby for a certain amount of time. So try to find things to celebrate during that first year. Try to find things that you enjoy doing with your baby and take loads of photos. Those photos of happy moments will be cherished in the years to come when your baby no longer needs you. Those photos will also be cherished when you haven’t slept the entire night because the baby is teething and you need a little pick me up to remind yourself that you are doing a good job.
5. Take care of yourself
Taking care of ourselves changes when we become first time parents. Those first months, taking care of yourself might not look like it did before with spa days, date nights, or getting to sleep in. Self-care changes when you’re a new parent. Even the most basic needs like eating, sleeping, showering, or using the bathroom become luxuries. So try to do those basic things. Try to shower every day, or every other day if possible. Sleep when your baby sleeps. I know that this piece of advice can be infuriating because you say to yourself “well when am I going to clean, do dishes, prep meals”. The thing is that all of those standards shift when you’re a new parent. It’s OK to have a messy home, to order take-out for dinner, or to order fresh underwear from Amazon because you haven’t had time to do laundry. Sleep and rest will be like the air that you breathe so get it as much of it as you can.
Read More: The 5 Pillars of Self-Care
6. Accept help
My final piece of advice is to accept help. I know that socially speaking you don’t want to come off as a burden or needy but that first year of parenthood is different. If someone offers to help, just say “yes please”. When they ask “what should we bring” be honest! I’ve asked friends to stop by Target to buy more pacifiers, family to bring dinner if they are coming over for that, and asked my mother-in-law if she can just sit with my twins so that I can take a shower in peace. Take whatever help you can get! I never once heard anyone complain about it to me. People tend to want to be of help to you; especially during that first year.
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I hope that these small bits of advice help you and your partner survive that first year of parenthood. As a parent to two-year-old boy/girl twins, I know how hard that first year is. You will be challenged in ways that you never imagined but the time goes by so quickly and there are small things that you can do so that you remember that first year fondly. When it goes to being a parent, the days can seem like they last forever, but the years fly by.