Parenting during difficult times can be overwhelming. Whether it’s your first baby or your fifth, adding a new baby to your family changes your life in beautiful and unpredictable ways. Even when the outside world is humming along smoothly, the first months with your baby can be overwhelming. Add something like the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment, political upheaval, or major family stressors to that dynamic and you may find yourself searching for a calm port in the storm.
Although parenting a new baby is seldom easy, there are things you can do to find normalcy in chaos, even with a new baby to care for.
1. Seek rhythm, not routine
You have probably read about the importance of schedules and routines for new families. Pinterest offers products and ideas like bracelets to keep track of when you last nursed, logs of dirty diapers, and ideas for how to schedule your days or convince your baby to sleep at a certain time.
The trouble is, nature has designed babies so that they change week by week and even day by day. The baby that fell asleep at 7pm every night last week may not sleep until midnight most nights this week. Babies’ quiet alert periods change. You may find yourself with medical appointments, postpartum depression, a breast infection, or visitors that change your family’s needs and schedules.
An overly structured schedule may leave you anxious, stressed, exhausted, and feeling guilty when you can’t keep the schedule. It can worsen postpartum depression. It can lead to conflicts with a coparent. And when you are already parenting during difficult times, small challenges can feel larger. Holding yourself and your baby to a strict routine seldom works even when there are no external stressors. When you add in any kind of event that is out of your control, tightly crafted schedules and routines can make things even harder. .
On the other hand, having a rhythm to your day is good for you and for baby. A rhythm helps you both know what to expect. Some examples: singing to your baby while you make your morning coffee, knowing that afternoons are generally for socializing or playtime or chatting with your baby while she plays and you work nearby. Chatting with your partner after work while you both rock and snuggle your baby before you take a few minutes to shower or relax.
Having a rhythm will center both you and your baby when things are unpredictable or even scary in the world around you, and it will signal your brain that you are safe. You’ll feel more in control in your day-to-day life, and your baby will pick up those signals and benefit as well.
2. Invest in a quality baby carrier
A quality baby carrier like the Maya Wrap baby sling will make nearly every aspect of parenting easier. It will help you settle your baby when they fuss. It will allow you to more easily take walks, visit with friends and family, go to the store, get laundry done, and so on.
More importantly, carrying your baby regulates both your emotions. Holding, cuddling, gazing at, interacting with, and feeding your baby help you both produce oxytocin, the love hormone. Carrying your baby in a Maya Wrap sling makes all of these things easier for parents of any gender.
Carrying your baby not only reduces your risk of postpartum depression, but if depression does hit, babywearing makes it easier to care for your baby and yourself in spite of it. If you are parenting during a difficult time such as a big storm, it can make preparation easier as well.
Last of all, carrying makes it easier to maintain the rhythm of your lives. With a baby carrier, your baby will feel at home and be able to sleep, snuggle, love, and laugh whether you’re home or out. Babies who are carried 3 hours a day have been shown to cry 50% less, and even if baby is fussy, you can soothe your baby while you do your chores.
Babywearing helps ensure both parents feel connected and able to care for baby with equal confidence. And when you do have to go out, keeping the baby snug against your chest within your personal space discourages others from getting too close to your baby and sharing their germs. In short, babywearing is good for everyone!
3. Ask for and accept offers of help
Many of us are conditioned to do things ourselves, and we politely decline when others offer their help. Sometimes we feel that if we CAN do it ourselves, we SHOULD. However, your main job as a new parent is to care for your baby, and to do this, you must care for yourself. There are countless other articles online about this strategy, but in short, always say yes if at all possible.
If your neighbor asks if you need anything, tell them that if they text you before going to the store, you can give them money to pick up items you need. When a friend wants to help, ask them to make double their next meal and bring half to you. If someone stops by and asks what they can do, tell them where your broom is or let them massage your feet, or if they are holding your baby, take a shower instead of entertaining them if it will bring you joy. (Of course, the kinds of help you can accept will vary depending on the situation. What you need if you have had to evacuate with a newborn vs. a global pandemic vs. a death in the family will be very different, as will the types of help you can accept.)
Christine Miserandino coined the term “spoon theory” to discuss the challenges of fibromyalgia, and it’s a helpful framework for new parents. In a nutshell, each “spoon” is a unit of energy, and you start each day with a finite amount. As a new parent, it is helpful to save those spoons for when baby needs more from you or you are simply tired and overwhelmed. Accepting help may help you reserve energy you would have used on one task and apply it to another.
4. Use sticky notes strategically
You can do this one yourself or you can ask your friends and family to be part of it. Take sticky notes or cut up index cards and write affirmations and quotes that lift you up, empower you, remind you to breathe, etc.
Stick them all over in places where you will see them. Tuck one with your toothpaste. Tuck one into a cup in the cabinet. Put one on your jewelry cabinet, another with your phone charger.
Science shows that using positive affirmations can have a real impact on your life. If you are living in a chaotic or difficult time, coping with grief, sorrow, a difficult or overwhelming situation, parenting during difficult times, or anything else, taking the time to read these positive affirmations as you go through your day can make a big impact.
5. Nourish your body and your soul
It is easy as a new parent to overlook basic self-care. Preparing a meal can feel nearly impossible sometimes, especially when your baby is fussy, you haven’t slept, and there are a lot of outside forces pulling on you.
However, staying hydrated and well-nourished is crucial, especially if you have just given birth and you’re parenting during difficult times. It affects your mood, your healing, your ability to manage stress and illness, and so many other aspects of your life.
We’ve created a list of easy snacks and one-handed meals for new parents to make it as easy as possible to nourish yourself so you can best nourish your baby. And keep a water bottle full and nearby all the time to sip on.
Caring for a baby under ideal circumstances is difficult enough — when you add chaos, grief, uncertainty, illness, or other difficult situations it can be overwhelming. Staying nourished will make all of it easier.
What would you add?
What works for one family may not work for another. Share your wisdom and experience in the comments below for others to read. What would you add to this list?