My wife and I welcomed our first child into the world in late February, and for the first two weeks of his life everything felt normal. Well, as normal as is possible for two brand-new parents figuring out how to keep a newborn baby alive. But then after a couple more weeks, COVID-19 shook up our world, and everyone else’s world, and we had to make the incredibly hard decision to quarantine ourselves in our home without the help of friends or family.
That was when the difficulty truly began. Not only were we trying to figure out the feeding, napping, soothing, diaper-changing, etc., etc., etc., we were having to do it all on our own. After six weeks of pure survival mode, and only after confirming our family members had been quarantined, the grandparents came to our rescue.
Those six weeks alone were challenging to say the least, but we learned some incredibly valuable lessons about ourselves and about being parents. I recognize that my situation is no longer a unique one as so many other people have become moms and dads during this time, too. I think the things I’ve learned over the last four months could be helpful for other new parents making the adjustment to this new world. And if you didn’t just have a baby, these are lessons worth learning about yourself no matter what stage of life you’re in, so read on!
1. Make the most of your time alone.
I’m an extrovert, so I never thought I would crave alone time, but being cooped up in the house with an infant, my wife and two dogs, time to myself became a rare commodity. I began to recognize how valuable alone time really is, and that I needed to use it efficiently and productively when I got it. Now, I try to complete a task in the time I have, whether it’s 30 minutes to fit a workout in, an hour to write an article or even 15 minutes to call my parents. At the same time, I realized it was important not to put too much pressure on these blocks of time, either—sometimes the best thing you can do for your mental health is actually to do nothing at all, or to take a power nap if you need a restart, or to read a chapter of your book or watch an episode of your favorite TV show for a mental break. That’s OK, too. Either way, make sure you use your alone time wisely.
2. The value of deep breaths.
I’m not typically an angry person. In fact, I pride myself on being fairly even-keeled in pretty much any situation. But the exhaustion and frustration that inherently comes about when raising a child has brought out emotions in me that I didn’t even know I had. Frankly, I hate even admitting that, but it’s true, and maybe it’ll help others to know that you’re not alone if you’re going through a similar experience. When the baby just won’t stop crying and screaming, and it’s the fifth time in the last few hours that he’s woken up, it can feel like I’ve lost all my self-control that I normally have. I have learned how helpful it is to take deep breaths, say a quick prayer and refocus myself in those moments—reminding myself that I love my son and that it’s not his fault is vital. Resetting like this has helped me in other situations, too, like work and other things that can cause frustration.
3. (Truly) appreciate your family and friends.
My wife and I are fortunate to live fairly close to both of our parents, and we of course appreciated the help they provided in the first few weeks of our baby’s life, but we didn’t truly understand how helpful they were until we were without them for six weeks. While we learned valuable lessons about self-reliance, we also learned how crucial it is to have people around you to help you and support you. The old saying about it taking a village to raise a child is so true, and I have profound respect and admiration for single parents. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, or even before you do. If you have friends who are new parents, text them and see how you can help; maybe it’s an afternoon coffee run, picking up groceries or dropping off a meal, or even babysitting. Being a new parent is overwhelming and sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, so reach out and offer it if you can.
4. Think beyond yourself.
I was told this so many times before I became a dad, but I didn’t really understand it until it happened: We, as human beings, are selfish, and having a baby reveals just how selfish you are. It’s natural and nothing to be ashamed of—you’ve spent your entire life up to this point mostly focused on keeping yourself alive and well. And although getting married helps reveal some of your self-centered traits, having someone’s life depend on you not being selfish really highlights all the ways you put your own comfort and well-being above everything else. I’ve had to check myself during these last few months and put my own needs and desires to the side—and I’ve become a better person for it.
5. Remind yourself of the small victories.
Most days, 90% of our day is filled with crying, feeding, diaper changes, and refusals to sleep. But then I remember the 10% of the day that featured big smiles, chuckles and snuggles, and it makes the hard parts worth it. When times are tough, it’s important to focus on the victories, no matter how small they might seem. This doesn’t only apply to raising a child; it’s also about hard days at work or difficulties with friends or family. It’s about periods of poor health or financial troubles. Yes, there are days when everything is terrible. Sometimes, there are weeks or months like that. But that’s when it can be life-giving to focus on the small victories. For me, it’s those smiles and hugs. For you, it could be a cup of coffee in the morning, or the joke your friend told, or the phone call you had with a grandparent. Let the little moments of joy be reminders to press on through the tough times.
6. Intentionally practice gratefulness.
It’s easy to complain, but more helpful to be grateful. True when things are normal, and even truer when they’re not—like in a pandemic or life with a new baby. I try to always remember to be grateful for the blessings in our life: good health, our baby, our family and their support. Sometimes, though, when I’m rocking my son to sleep because he won’t nap in his crib and it’s the only way he will go down, I start feeling sorry for myself. So to combat these negative feelings, I begin listing the things that I am grateful for and I thank God for each blessing. With this little prayer of positivity, I am able to change the direction of my thoughts, reminding myself that I am blessed and lucky to be right where I am.
7. Give grace.
I’ve written about giving yourself grace when you feel like you’ve failed, but it’s also so true as a parent, and a new one at that. Giving yourself and your spouse grace when you make mistakes is the only way to move forward and grow as a parent and as a partner. Beating yourself up after a tough night or holding a grudge for something your wife said at 3 a.m. will drive you crazy and make everything worse. Choose consistent forgiveness instead.
8. Start each day fresh.
As we were drinking our morning coffee a few weeks ago after a long night, my wife asked me, “Do you ever wake up in the morning and feel silly for being so upset the night before?” She had a great point. So often during a long night of no sleep, we feel like it’s the end of the world, but then when morning comes, it’s a new day and we are given a fresh start and a fresh perspective. Last night wasn’t the end of the world, and tonight won’t be, either. Taking things one day at a time is the best and only way forward.
9. Be flexible.
With a baby, the moment you think you know what you’re doing, everything changes again. Finally sleeping through the night? Well, here comes the four-month sleep regression. Loves to play in his bouncer? Guess what, now he hates it. There’s nothing more frustrating than unmet expectations—a very common occurrence with babies—so we’ve learned to hold things loosely now, meaning we know we can’t be fully set on a plan because he might not cooperate, and that’s OK. By setting our expectations knowing that our plans could change, there’s less frustration when they inevitably do.
10. The importance of kind gestures.
Acts of kindness are always a good idea, but they’re even more important when things are chaotic. As new parents, my wife and I seem to always be running around trying to take care of everything—the baby, ourselves, the house, work. Our quality time together is limited these days. In circumstances like these, and especially in quarantine when we’re all stuck at home, a kind gesture goes a really long way, whether that’s going to get an afternoon pick-me-up or doing chores around the house. Even the smallest gestures are significant.
I know I’m far from a parenting expert. In fact, I’d say I’m the exact opposite. I have so much more to learn about raising a child and about myself, but these are the lessons I’ve learned so far in my journey, and I’m excited for the ones yet to come.
What lessons have you learned as a new parent or in a new chapter of your life? Share in the comments below so we can help each other!
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Photo by @WhitneyB/Twenty20.com