Top Ten Tips for New Parents
First-time parents are surprised to find that the addition of one (or more) exquisite, small, and helpless person(s) can make them feel joyful and competent one moment, and small and helpless themselves the next. It is not unusual to see fatigue, fear, and self-doubt co-exist with pride, unsurpassed love, and hope. For many years, The Freedman Center staff and New Parents Groups Facilitators have provided support for first-time moms and dads. Their experience shows that parenthood is the great equalizer; all new parents, regardless of circumstance, share a remarkably similar journey. The following tips, time-tested by the Freedman Center, have helped thousands of parents begin that journey successfully.
- Expect stress. Becoming a parent is a major life transition. All transitions, no matter how eagerly anticipated, are accompanied by some degree of stress. And despite our best preparations, we may have to adjust our plans as we go along.
- Join a new parents group. It doesn't have to be specific to your life situation. Single parents, adoptive parents, same gender parents, parents of multiples, traditional couples...all first-time parents experience the same basic joys and concerns. You'll make new friends and find non-judgmental support. And the old saying is true: a shared happiness is doubled and a shared worry is cut in half.
- Accept help. Don't try to be super-mom or super-dad. Neighbors, relatives, friends, and/ or co-workers are often delighted to help, if you let them know what you need. Just having an hour to sleep, shower, or take a walk while someone you trust cares for your infant can give you a much-needed lift.
- Believe in yourself. You DO know what's best for your baby. Sort through the mountains of advice you'll receive from friends, relatives, strangers, doctors, magazines, and parenting blogs. Try out new ideas that sound good to you. Toss the rest.
- Forgive yourself. You're going to make mistakes. We all do. Nobody has all the answers, and even the "experts" often disagree about "what's best for baby." Babies' needs seem to change daily - once you feel you have something figured out, it changes.
Allow yourself to continue getting to know baby and your relationship with him/her daily.
Talk to your partner about strategies that work and support each other as you figure things out together.
- Review and revise your expectations of yourself. Remember that you have a new baby depending on you for every need. Let go of any guilt caused by unfinished chores. It is important to take time for yourself and spend time with your family.
- Ask questions. No matter how much we know about children and about our pre-baby selves, we all have to learn how to be parents. Be open to surprises; you may find yourself changing some of your preconceived notions about parenthood!
- Remember who you used to be. Some new parents feel they shouldn't miss their former "carefree" selves. It's normal to mourn the past, even when the present is full. Ask your pre-baby friends to stay in touch and be patient while you adjust to your new life. When the time is right, return to some of your former hobbies and activities. In the meantime, celebrate the new, evolving you.
- Be aware of your own feelings, of the full range of experiences related to becoming a new parent.
Moms and dads can feel a wide range of emotions, including anxiety, sadness, or fear.
Having different feelings associated with new parenthood is not shameful and is not a reflection of your ability to parent.
- If you have a partner, remember that relationship and that person is evolving, too.
Although you may feel like the majority of the time is spent on the baby, try to spend some meaningful time alone with your partner. . . Talk about your hopes and fears, how things have changed, and what you would like to keep the same.
- Babies benefit from different types of loving interactions.
Caring and nurturing baby does not come from feeding alone.
Spend time holding the baby, talking to him, and develop your own ways of interacting with him.
- Enjoy your baby. While a night spent with a colicky infant can seem endless, the childhood years actually pass very quickly. Every time your child achieves another exciting milestone, it means he/she has taken one more tentative yet eager step away from babyhood and you have taken one more step toward becoming a confident, experienced parent. Relax. Breathe. Enjoy.
Carolyn Curtis-Mahoney, Freedman Center at William James College consultant and writer and
Dr. Nadja Reilly, Associate Director of the Freedman Center.