Parenting is tough, it can be exhausting, emotionally draining and is unremitting but it can also be the most rewarding thing you have ever done. The intensity of love can be overwhelming and no one can ever prepare you for the life change that happens once you have a baby.
The most important thing is to stay sane and you can do that by looking after yourself. This is not as easy as it sounds because you often have very little time once you have young children. However making sure you see friends, do some exercise, try to sleep enough, eat food that you like, spend time with your partner. Try to remember what you liked doing before you had children, and see if you can still find time to do some of them. It is not being selfish because then you will feel much happier in yourself and do not become resentful of the children.
Quieten the internal critic
The concept of being a good enough parent and not worrying about being perfect ( which is impossible ) can be liberating and stops you always feeling that you have somehow failed as a parent. The pressure to be perfect often comes from the internal critic that many of us have, so it is useful to try and damp it down. This can then enable you to be the parent that you would like to be. Use quick ways of reducing chores, or have a weekly plan of easy meals so you don’t have to think ahead. Maybe bulk buy groceries.
Ask for help
Asking for help from friends and family does not mean that you have failed! It can be very isolating and lonely especially when you first have a baby or if you have moved to a new area or if your family live a long way away. The more help and support you can put in place around you the better.
Managing stress is another important area to focus on because it can damage our closest relationships that we depend on for love and comfort. By tuning into our bodies, we can tell when we are stressed and then try and do something to reduce the stress. Sometimes the triggers for stress can be based on our earlier experiences of stress and by recognising these we can be more in control of how we respond.
Find ways to reduce stress so you can respond more calmly. Ideas include listening to music, talking to friends, having a nap when the baby sleeps, maybe meditating or using mindfulness ideas such as focusing on your breathing. so exercise can help if you are feeling stressed, especially if you are able to do it with friends – such as go running, going to a Pilates or yoga class. You can often do exercises at home using online courses or exercise DVD’s. You could even splash out and get a personal trainer to design a work-out for you to do at home.
Establish a routine
Having a routine can make life a lot easier. Make sure you get to go outside every day to a park or a toddler group when you have under-fives so you get a change of scene which can be a life saver. When you have a routine, you do not need to make decisions all the time about what you are doing and children thrive on routine.
Organisation can also help ensure things do not pile up in our busy lives. Just having a place you always put the keys, the hairbrush etc and even having a shared diary with your partner can make life so much easier.
Involve the children
Children can help with some chores as well. If they get to choose the one they want to do, they have much more ownership and the whole experience becomes more fun. Even little children can put their shoes in a cupboard. It engenders an atmosphere that we are all working together as a family, and it is not mum and dad’s role to do everything for us all the time.
Make a list
When you are feel things aren’t going quite right, list all the things that have been good that day, even small things. It is so easy to focus on the things that have gone wrong and then berate ourselves for it. So be pleased that you did manage that bedside story or that your child did eat some fruit.
Be able to say ‘no’
It’s important to be able to say ‘no’ to requests whether at work or from school, such as to make 20 cup cakes. You only have so many resources and so being able to say no is an important skill. I have found this difficult in the past but I learnt to tell myself that my ‘yes’ is much more meaningful if I am also able to say ‘no’.
Don’t try to be perfect
Developing a thick skin is a survival skill when you have children. Your home does not need to be perfect and neither do your children. If people make any unkind comment about you, your home or your children, just try to think it is their problem not yours. Your friends love you for who you are, not because you have a tidy home.
Find a parenting or toddler group
Friends are really important and sometimes you have to make new friends when you become a parent so you can go out with other mums. The National Childbirth Trust has been one way people can get friends but you can also go to parenting groups and toddler groups to find like-minded parents. Find mums who are positive and who make you feel supported, These can become friends for life, not mothers who make you feel like you are failing miserably!
Keep a sense of humour
Keeping a sense of humour about all the crazy things that happen when you are the parent of a young child can make the parenting much less fraught. Remembering to give your child a cuddle because your child is so incredible can also make you forget all the hard times.
I found it challenging being a parent of young children and I went on a parenting course which changed the whole course of my life. Just the skills I learnt on it, which aren’t that complicated, such as acknowledging feelings, transformed my life at home. My book ‘The Parenting Toolkit : simple skills to happy and confident children’ is a distillation of all that knowledge I gained that I think can make parenting so much easier for others.
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