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Dear Dr. Batya,
I am about to give birth in a few months to our first child. While often I can't think beyond pregnancy and delivery, people warn me that I haven't a clue what awaits me and that my life will change forever. I am getting scared and would appreciate any help you can give. We have been married for three years. - J.S., Zichron Ya'acov
Having a new baby is both exciting and, at times, challenging. No matter how prepared you think you are, there will be times when your life will feel out of control. The best way to deal with that is to go with the flow. The difficult moments pass and as each phase ends, you are on to new and different events.
It is hard to believe that such a tiny baby can often rule your life. I was stunned by this fact and I must say that between nursing, trying to soothe a crying baby and exhaustion bordering on psychosis, there were days when we wondered if our decision to have children was a smart one. Nineteen years later, with three wonderful children, we don't regret our decision for a minute.
It is great that you are thinking about this now, as most parents don't think beyond the ninth month and are thus in for a real shock when they have to face some of the common stresses of parenthood. That said, there are lots of things along the way that we did that definitely helped and ensured we got through the more difficult moments. Here are my thoughts:
1) Think of the issues you face as simply challenges. Some days you'll cope better than others while hormones, lack of sleep and other difficulties won't let you always be the greatest parent. That said, tomorrow is another day and controlled chaos is also okay sometimes!
2) Schedule in some "me" time and see this as a priority or it won't happen. Looking after a baby can be demanding. At times you may forget or simply neglect your own needs for lack of time or energy. Don't. Try to look after yourself and don't neglect your needs, as it may make you a better parent and role model. Whether you go for a walk, read a book or just go and get a hair cut, you need some time to be alone and refuel.
3) Find time to be together as a couple. Often, when working on developing a relationship with your baby, other relationships get placed on the back burner. You both have needs as a couple and while it may be easy to do so, don't neglect your relationship, as it is the true foundation for a healthy family. Find time for romance and quality time to be together as a couple, whether to go out on a date or to sit quietly over a cup of tea. Good will is developed when people invest time in nurturing a relationship. Becoming a family when you've been a couple involves many adjustments. This stress, in addition to the stress of a new baby, may be one of the most difficult things you'll face. Everyone has needs that seem important; good communication is the secret to being supportive of each other.
4) Set up your list of priorities. What really has to be done so you can feel okay and almost in control? What are the things that you'd like to do but can live without accomplishing today? Often, once we have a child, our "to do" list seems to multiply while what we can actually manage to accomplish seems minimal. It does end, and this will get easier.
5) Have realistic expectations. Often we place the same old demands on ourselves and our loved ones even though the situation has temporarily changed. You may have to lighten up about the housework and focus instead on goals for getting through the day. While life may be more difficult for the moment, it doesn't mean that it shouldn't be fun.
6) Don't neglect your health. Sleep, adequate nutrition and exercise are essential to helping you feel good about yourself and having the energy to invest in your new family.
Finally, remember to take it one day or even one hour at a time - go easy on yourself. It gets easier. If you are having trouble coping, make sure that you get help in the form of counseling or extra help around the house. In the meantime, enjoy your new little treasure because before you know it, you'll wonder how those years flew by so quickly.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ra'anana. This column offers general psychological advice and is not intended to replace treatment by a mental health professional.