The Intricacies of Maintaining Good Mental Health as a Stressed Parent

Life as a parent can feel like one long day. A blur of naps, and diaper changes. Hasty meals. Lengthy cleanups. Quiet voices so as not to disturb naps, and gentle coddling to restore the naps that are inevitably interrupted.

Add to the mix the fact that most parents also hold jobs and the equation becomes even harder to manage. In such a fast-paced life as this, is self-care even possible? The reality is that it needs to be. Parents need to stay healthy in order to take good care of their family. That doesn’t happen when you are pulling into the station on fumes each and every night.

In this article, we take a look at how you can maintain your health even while dealing with the stresses of parenthood.

The Importance of Postnatal Care

Most of the advice contained below involves general steps toward keeping yourself sane and healthy during the first months and years of your child’s life. While these tips should prove helpful for new parents everywhere, there is nothing more important than practicing good postnatal care.

Despite being a common experience, giving birth is very physically traumatic. It can take months for the body to recover. During that time, it is very important that you monitor your health, keep up with appointments, and do as your doctor tells you. Good postnatal care is a critical component of preserving both your physical and emotional health.

Prioritize Sleep

Getting enough sleep is hard with a baby. Actually, it can be pretty tricky even as the kid gets older, but the crib years are particularly rough. You can’t reasonably expect eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. You can, however, go to bed earlier and work on getting naps in when your baby is sleeping.

Some parents also “train” their baby onto a more ideal sleep schedule. Usually, it involves delaying naps so that the child sleeps longer during the night and getting them used to self—soothing (a somewhat divisive concept that some parents feel very strongly about).

Of course, if you can get your baby to sleep during the same nighttime hours that you usually rest, it’s all the better. However, you should go in understanding that even if you do everything by the book, your baby may not take to the sleep schedule. Some babies just aren’t very good sleepers.

Be prepared, then, to adapt to their schedule. Sleep while the getting is good regardless of what time of day it is.

Focus on Task Management

Everything becomes harder when you add a kid into the mix. Suddenly, even running to the grocery store is an elaborate process that involves diaper bags, emergency bottles, pacifiers, and so on. Never mind trying to get basic chores done— it just won’t happen the way it used to.

There are a couple of things you can do to manage the stress of your new responsibilities:

  • Make a to-do list: Spread your usual responsibilities over multiple days. If you used to be able to clean the entire house in one day, consider dividing the tasks throughout the week to make them more approachable. The work will still get done eventually, and you can be heartened by the fact that you are making regular progress.
  • Accept your limitations: You also need to go into all of your tasks with a more relaxed attitude than you once had. It won’t do any good at all to hold yourself to the same standards that you used to before you had children. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You won’t be the first parent to let the occasional mess sit for a while.

Keep in mind that this is all only temporary. As your child grows it will be easier to get things done again. By then, you’ll probably long for the days when they were small.

Practice Self-care

Self-care is often framed as some sort of commercial prospect in which you treat yourself to a massage, or maybe a nice scented candle. But taking care of yourself really just means giving your body the stuff it needs to function at the highest possible level.

One ingredient to that equation is definitely sleep. But you also need to make sure that you eat right, and exercise. Taking the time to cook a meal when your children are young and needy can be difficult. Consider setting aside “free time,” (as it were) to get some meal prep done. You would be surprised how many meals you can put together in an hour or so on a Sunday afternoon. Fresh fruits and vegetables coupled with lean proteins will help you stay healthy, making it easier to take care of your child.

Exercise is also important. While it may not be feasible to get to the gym, you can still go on walks with your child. Some people even use jogging strollers to keep up with their running habits while watching their babies.

Take it a Day at a Time

Stepping into baby land can be a big culture shock— especially when you realize that you will be responsible for the little darling for the next eighteen years. Taken at that scale, anything will feel daunting. The reality isn’t nearly so scary.

Yes, the first year or so is hard but is also filled with inexpressible joy. Life as a parent isn’t eighteen years of prolonged stress and effort— though admittedly both will factor heavily into your life from here on out— it’s also filled with joy, adventure, and even occasional bouts of relaxation. So don’t stress so much.

Take parenthood one step at a time, and enjoy each moment as it comes. Your child will change enormously in the coming weeks and as Ferris Bueller once said, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might just miss it.