Parenting is sometimes a joy, but most of the time that joy is based on a bedrock of hard work, which can be exhausting and stressful. This is especially the case if you are the primary caregiver to a very young baby, when you have to be ‘on’ every waking (and sleeping) moment. So it isn’t a surprise that many parents get out of whack with their work/life balance, and fall into a routine that is tiring and mainly joyless.
It’s really important to find mechanisms that will help you to be happier and more relaxed — this can only be a positive thing, not only for you, but for your family, and especially for the really little one who can feed off your energy and mood. Here are some tips to form healthy parenting habits.
It’s physically tiring being a parent — there is always something or someone to carry, and being on call 24/7 takes its toll on the body. Nonetheless, fitting some exercise into your routine will pay dividends for your mental and physical health, increase your endorphin rates, and make you look and feel better in general.
Whatever you have time for, be it walking, running, yoga, swimming or working out, get it into your routine. And of course, you can involve the kids — whether you’re running with the baby in a stroller or just outside in the fresh air, it’s healthy for all the family.
Having tons of tasks to do all at once is stressful for anyone, let alone an exhausted parent catering to the every need of a little baby. But if you can plan everyday tasks, they seem a less surmountable challenge, and you’ll have time to organise yourself for less everyday stuff. If you have someone you can ask, ask for help.
You also need to make some time for yourself, however unrealistic that seems — your mental health while pregnant was of paramount importance, and it’s just as vital now. You need to rest, not just when your baby sleeps, and free time to unwind, exercise, or spend time with friends is crucial for your wellbeing. Try downloading a time-management app to get you started.
It’s common for a stay-home parent to feel that their life is 100% about their baby. A previously productive and prolific person may feel like they’re not achieving anything ‘meaningful’, as the word was defined pre-parenthood (obviously raising a child is extremely meaningful).
But for happiness and a sense of accomplishment, maintaining productivity is critical — whether this involves work, study, self-improvement or something else depends on you, but there are ways to fit this into a busy parenting schedule — recording lectures or webinars, using remote office services, etc.
The Power of Sleep
Any parent will tell you that lack of sleep is the hardest thing to deal with when you have very young children. Having to be 100% with it the very second you wake up, whatever the hour and however long you’ve been asleep for, it’s exhausting and demoralising. At first you may have to squeeze in half hour naps, or sleep when your child sleeps.
Even short naps will help keep that vital energy up, and your body and brain will get used to the routine — you’ll be out from the second you shut your eyes until the second your baby wakes you up.
If you have a partner it’s also important to maintain a sense of intimacy and romance with them. There has been much research into it, and sadly, for many couples it can deteriorate a relationship, eradicating intimacy either temporarily or worse. And any relationship requires effort to maintain, so get out together, don’t talk about the kids, spend some quality time so you don’t lose that spark.
Stay in the Present
Remember that your child isn’t just a list of chores. Stay present and throw yourself into playtime, bath time, bed time, whatever it is. You can have so much fun with those little people, and having fun means happier kids and happier parents. Put the phone down, pick the toys up.
And if you still have cleaning or cooking to do, involve the kids one way or another — non sharp utensils and an overturned pan make a great drum set, for example.
Child-rearing is exhausting and can be stressful, but once you get some positive habits sorted life becomes so much easier. You’ll be happier, your partner will be happier, and those little bundles of joy will feel the benefit.