Psychological tips for new parents

Below, I want to describe some of the collected wisdom from the family social science literature that pertains to the transition into parenthood.

 Crying baby. What are some tips for caring for newborns? (Illustrative). (photo credit: Tim Bish/Unsplash)
Crying baby. What are some tips for caring for newborns? (Illustrative).
(photo credit: Tim Bish/Unsplash)

Parenting a newborn, particularly the first time around, is both emotionally and physically taxing. The list of tasks is endless. Feeding, bathing, changing diapers, well-baby clinic visits, soothing a crying baby, and simply worrying take up most of the parent’s time.

I remember when my oldest child was born in the US. We went to see our obstetrician for our six-week postnatal appointment. After the normal checkup, the doctor turned to us and asked, “Have you gotten a babysitter yet and gone out on a date?”

My wife and I were taken aback by the question. We had had so many sleepless nights, and all our energies were spent on caring for the baby and making sure we could take care of our basic needs. Time for a date seemed superfluous.

However, we soon took his advice and did find a reliable babysitter and went out to a restaurant for a hot bowl of soup. It was a much-needed respite, and we truly enjoyed our couple time together.

Reflecting back on that special transition into parenthood, my wife and I have tried to pass on the message to our grown-up married children as they became new parents.

 A baby (illustrative) (credit: PIXABAY) A baby (illustrative) (credit: PIXABAY)

When we offered to babysit for the newborn baby, the first response was usually, “Are you sure? You really think that is a good idea?”

“Yes,” we insisted, go out for a cup of coffee; or, if you’re brave enough, go get dinner.”

Today, we have mobile phones, so we assure our kids that if there is a problem, we will call them, if needed. They always come back with a thankful smile!

Below, I want to describe some of the collected wisdom from the family social science literature that pertains to the transition into parenthood.

  • Expect stressful times. Transitioning into parenthood is a major life change. All transitions, no matter how eagerly anticipated, are accompanied by some degree of stress. No matter how prepared we are, adjustments are constantly made according to the real situation.
  • Join a new parent group. All first-time parents experience the same basic joys and concerns. You’ll make new friends and find nonjudgmental support. And the old saying is true: a shared happiness is doubled, and a shared worry is cut in half.
  • Accept help. Neighbors, relatives, friends, and/or co-workers are often delighted to help, if you let them know what you need. If they offer, let them clean your house or make you dinner.

This is so important in the beginning stage of parenthood, where your exhaustion level will probably reach heights that you did not know could exist. Treat yourself to a nap, a leisurely shower, or go out of the house and feel comfortable that someone trustworthy is watching your baby.

  • Pick and choose from the advice you’ll receive from doctors, friends, relatives, books and parenting blogs. However, trust your own judgment. Make sure you choose what feels right to you and disregard the rest.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself. Expect that you’re bound to make mistakes. Everyone does. And none of us has all the answers. It’s always helpful to brainstorm with your partner about strategies that work.
  • Don’t expect to be a supermom/dad. Remember that you have a new baby depending on you for every need. Let go of any guilt caused by unfinished chores. It is important to take time for yourself and spend time with your family.
  • Ask questions. No matter how much we might know about children, we have to learn how to be parents. Listen to other parents, including your own parents if that feels right. There is a lot of collective wisdom from people you trust who have had similar experiences and can answer many basic questions

Be open to surprises!

You may find yourself changing some of your preconceived notions about parenthood.

  • Babies benefit from different types of loving interactions. Caring and nurturing a baby does not come from feeding alone. Spend time holding the baby, talking to him/her, and develop your own ways of interacting with him/her.
  • Remember who you used to be. While the transition to parenthood shifts most of your attention to your little baby, it’s important to gradually get back to the things you used to like to do before the baby was born, be it reading a good book, taking a yoga class or enjoying a hobby or other leisure activity.
  • Be aware of your feelings related to becoming a new parent. Moms and dads can feel a wide range of emotions, including anxiety, sadness or fear. Having different feelings associated with new parenthood is not shameful and is not a reflection of your ability to parent.
  • If you have a partner, remember that relationship and that person are evolving, too. Talk about your hopes and fears, how things have changed, and what you would like to keep the same. Try to get out together and take a walk. Baby carriers work great for this purpose.

Relax. Enjoy your baby. While a night spent with a colicky infant can seem endless, the childhood years actually pass very quickly. Every time your child achieves another exciting milestone, it means he/she has taken one more tentative yet eager step away from babyhood, and you have taken one more step toward becoming a confident, experienced parent.

The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist and consultant with offices in Ra’anana and Jerusalem, and also conducts sessions online. www.facebook.com/drmikegropper, [email protected]