By Emily Pierson, MEd, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Babies are an exciting addition to a family.
Whether you just became a mom for the first time or are welcoming your second, third, or fourth little munchkin to your family, a new baby can bring joy, love, and happiness to any family. Congratulations on your newest addition.
And, even though all of that joy and happiness is present, other feelings may begin to creep in. What happens when your partner goes back to work and you stay home? If you are a new mom, do you ever feel like life had totally changed for you, while everyone else gets to go back to every day life? Do you feel like your identity has gone from who you were before baby arrived to ‘baby’s mom’? All of these feelings are real, and they are ok to have. Because, let’s be honest, your whole world did change in more ways than one. Instead of being able to drop what you’re doing and leave the house on a whim, you have a tiny human to think about. Instead of being able to spend long hours at the office and hit the gym before coming home, you have to factor in nap schedules, feedings and diaper changes. Throw in a bit of exhaustion to the mix and it might feel as though you’ve lost your sense of self. If you feel this way, you are not alone.
How Do I Parent the “Right Way”?
There are plenty of family, friends, and strangers out there who are ready and waiting to tell you how to raise your baby ‘the right way’. They have opinions about whether you should bottle or breastfeed, what solid foods to start with and when to start them, if you should stick to a schedule or not, what to dress your baby in, what cleaning supplies and soaps to use in your house, how much screen time you should allow and how you should feel now that you are a parent. If you haven’t encountered someone with an unsolicited opinion about what to do with your baby, been told you how they raised their children, or gave their advice on how to raise your child, you probably haven’t left your house yet!
But who gets to determine what ‘enough’ is? Who even sets the criteria for raising a baby ‘the right way’? Aside from making sure their basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, safety, etc.) are provided, who or what standard decides what is ‘right’ for you and your family? There are thousands of resources out there that can give great advice. The American Academy of Pediatrics website has lots of helpful information and recommendations for child health and safety (2). Your doctor also has important medical recommendations. And yes, friends and family can be great resources. However, at the end of the day, a child’s parents get to determine what is right for their family. Every family will do it differently and that’s ok.
Change in Identity
There is a great deal of research out there about how parenting affects children. However, there is very little research about how becoming a parent affects the mother (3). Research does show, that although fathers and partners are affected by having a baby, mothers go through a neurobiological experience, hormonal and psychological changes, and an identity shift (3). In a sense, they become a new person, with a new role, and new responsibilities. Being a parent can be a wonderful experience. But the change in identity may be significant. Maybe you choose to not work anymore despite working hard for your career. Maybe you give up other hobbies because you don’t have enough time. Perhaps you disconnect from friends who don’t have children. And let’s be honest, all of a sudden, everyone you meet is much more interested in who is in the car seat, rather than who is carrying it. These changes can be difficult to process and manage at times, and it can feel as though you’ve lost yourself to some extent. However, that person you were before you became a parent still exists and they are still important.
Mom (or Dad) Guilt
The term ‘mom (or dad) guilt’ is used to describe the feeling that you aren’t doing ‘enough’ as a parent (1). It may be caused by needing to go to work and not spending ‘enough’ time with your child. Or, it may be that you want to spend time with friends or do something for yourself, but you feel bad for leaving baby with a sitter because only you can do it right. It may look like feeling angry, frustrated, or even experiencing grief at not being able to do things you used to enjoy, while your partner seemingly gets to come and go as they please. You may also feel like you are pulled in different directions at times (3). Do I go to work or stay home? Do I spend time with friends or stay home? How can I go out if I’m nursing? I love my baby but I also need space. These conflicts are real, justified, and can sometimes lead to stress and guilt. How do you manage these feelings? Here are some ideas (2, 3, 4):
- Cover the Basics: In order to care for your baby, you need to also care for yourself. Sleep as often as you need and are able. The dishes, vacuuming, and laundry can wait. Make sure you are eating and drinking throughout the day. It’s easy to forget. Take a shower. It’s amazing what a shower can do when you’ve encountered spit up, poop and boogers all day. Do the best you can to make sure that your basic needs are being met as well as your baby’s.
- Set Priorities and Stay Organized: The days can begin to blend together with a newborn. Make an effort to prioritize things that need to be done. Should you move the laundry, scroll social media, do the dishes, or shower in the 20 minutes you might have during a nap? Write things down that need doing in order of importance and fit them in when you can.
- You Still Exist: The person you were before you were a mom is still in there. Try to spend time with her every now and then. Go see your friends, do the things you enjoy, take 30 minutes to work out, or do your hair and makeup if it makes you feel good. Despite someone telling you that you shouldn’t, it is perfectly ok and natural to want some space from your baby. You will also likely be a better parent because of it.
- Accept Help: Although it may seem like no one can help, you don’t have to do it all on your own. When you feel stressed out, let your partner take a turn with bed time. If someone offers to come sit with the baby so you can nap or get things done, let them. Hire a sitter so you can get out of the house for an hour or two. It truly does take a village to raise a child and the village will want to help. Asking for it and saying “yes” to offers can be the hardest part
- Give Yourself Grace: You just became a parent. A literal human being that you love so much is now in your household, is completely dependent on you, and is relying on you to do the best you can. Parenthood did not come with a how-to manual and no matter how much research you do, you’ll likely get different, conflicting answers about how to do things the ‘right’ way. Give yourself some grace. Things won’t always be perfect; you will make mistakes. That’s ok. While it’s easier said than done, try not to let these mistakes shatter your confidence or motivation.
Being a parent is hard. Really hard. Children have a way of keeping us on our toes and doing things when we least expect it. Just when we think we have things figured out, our babies reach another milestone, the schedule changes, and we get to start all over again. The important take aways are to love your babies and love yourself. Keep doing your best. Parental guilt is real, feelings of frustration are real, but it’s ok to need space and take breaks. You can do hard things. Enjoy every minute of this change in life because as much as we may want them to, they won’t stay little forever.
Emily offers a holistic approach to mental health and wellness. In addition to prioritizing mental well-being, she uses a strengths-based perspective to improve relationships and physical health. She is passionate about helping teens and adults set and meet realistic, achievable goals, while also meeting them where they are in their journey.
Emily was born and raised in Alaska, where she received her Master’s degree in counseling from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. After moving to the “Lower 48”, she has been working as a therapist for the past four years.
Emily has immediate telehealth appointment openings available through Wellness Matters LLC.
Read more about Emily and other Mental Health Therapists in the “About Us” tab.
- Why Mom (or Dad) Guilt Is a Thing – and What You Can Do to Stop Beating Yourself Up. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/mom-guilt. Accessed September 26, 2021.
- Patient Care. The America Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from: https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/. Accessed September 26, 2021.
- The Birth of a Mother. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/08/well/family/the-birth-of-a-mother.html. Accessed September 26, 2021.
- The Juggling Act: How to Balance Being a Parent and Going to School. Rasmussen University. Retrieved from: https://www.rasmussen.edu/student-experience/college-life/being-a-parent-and-going-to-school/. Accessed September 26, 2021.