You’ve taken the childbirth classes. You’ve read all the books. You’ve heard your friends’ stories and your family’s unsolicited advice. Finally, after a long nine months, you meet your bundle of joy. This is what you’ve been eagerly anticipating with an irrepressible balance of terror and joy. You’ve just become a parent.
If this moment doesn’t quite feel like everything you’ve ever hoped for, you’re not alone.
It doesn’t take long for the gravity of this moment to turn all your hopes and dreams into a whirlwind of exhaustion and doubt. For many, what began as a journey home from the hospital with full hearts, becomes a dive off of a proverbial cliff into the dark unknown. We’ve made a terrible mistake is an all-too-common feeling that no one ever wants to share out loud. Yet, time and time again, new parents are riddled with angst that they must be the first horrible souls to have ever felt this emotion.
For many, what began as a journey home from the hospital with full hearts, becomes a dive off of a proverbial cliff into the dark unknown.
In fact, you are right where you should be. This struggle of holding the emotions of unconditional love (I would give my life for my baby) and incessant frustration (Does this baby come with an off-switch?) is defined in the psychology world as “Parental Ambivalence.” It’s the paradox of emotions that are developmentally essential for expanding your identity to contain a new role: parenthood. In short, it’s entirely normal to love and utterly dislike your baby at the same time!
Many parents are blindsided by the all-consuming demand that a newborn brings into their life. There is an immediate shift of needs in the home; both, for the mother to heal, and for the baby to be cared for. Dads, often in the supportive role, are inevitably neglected and overworked. Moms tend to feel spread-too-thin and anxious with new worries about what’s expected of her (and her body). While this shift is essential temporarily, it wreaks havoc on the freedoms the couple had been accustomed to previously.
What can be done?
1. Stay Short-Sighted
While every day can have moments that seem to last forever, this phase is temporary. The paradox of wanting your baby to learn and grow, while staying little and needing you forever are typical growing pains of your expanding identity. Today’s challenges will not be the same two weeks from now, so pace yourself knowing that it’s okay to complete a day having the feeling that you survived, even if it feels like “nothing got done.” You are enough, and your spouse is too. Remember, God knew you were both imperfect before He entrusted this new little life to you. Lean on His eternal, unconditional love when you are challenged with managing your own feelings day-to-day.
Today’s challenges will not be the same two weeks from now, so pace yourself knowing that it’s okay to complete a day having the feeling that you survived...
2. Know Your Needs
Most of us are terrible at asking for help; but, before we can even ask, it’s important to know what we need! Dads are learning a lot in this phase and may need extra information that brings him security to the often mother-led decisions of newborn care. Dads may also need a night out with buddies, time for a jog, or an extra-long hug (making up for the lack of physical touch) after a couple weeks solely focused on mom and baby.
Mom may need more adult conversation, a new pair of shoes (helping her self-esteem as her body heals into its new form), or an extra-long bath with headphones! These are not selfish wants; rather, they are recognizing fundamental needs for any healthy individual that simply get overshadowed by the screaming baby to whom everyone is adjusting. Learn to incorporate self-care in this new season of life, as well as time as a couple to connect.
3. Know Your Needs as a Couple
Finding connection in this life phase can feel impossible. You’re tired and it can seem like just “one more thing” to have to figure out. Then, once you are alone, it can feel daunting to make the most of your time together while balancing the nerves of wondering how your baby is doing without you. Start early, start small. Ask a friend or relative to watch the baby during a typical nap time and just go get coffee. Soon enough, you’ll be eyeing your friends for babysitting favors and looking forward to intentional nights together. Text your spouse a funny or uplifting meme. Smile across the room as you watch them rock the baby. Ask if you can get them something to drink while you’re up. Love isn’t a mountain that you stumble upon like an infrequent date night. Instead, it’s built on a firm foundation like tiny pebbles of kindness and trust that you stack up one handful at a time.
Love isn’t a mountain that you stumble upon like an infrequent date night. Instead, it’s built on a firm foundation like tiny pebbles of kindness and trust that you stack up one handful at a time.
4. Be Gracious
Be compassionate with your spouse as he or she adapts. Resentment commonly creeps in as new chores take over daily life. Moms often struggle with anger and guilt. For instance, getting up to feed the baby in the middle of the night, listening to the love of her life snore away, can stir up feelings of isolation and frustration. She needs an appreciative reminder that she’s doing a great job and still has a teammate who understands.
Dads can feel trapped between a rock and hard place as they are torn between the demands of work and home, both of which seem never-ending. He needs a haven to decompress from these pressures and an affirming wife to support his efforts.
This season of early parenthood is not for the faint of heart. Rely on Christ’s strength in these times, not your own. It’s vital to be patient, forgiving, and give your spouse the benefit of the doubt as you craft a whole new family system together. Take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone and pray for the grace and endurance to find joy as you are challenged in these stressful times. Talk to your partner about your needs and feelings, maintaining an open dialogue that can outlast this survival phase. When your baby starts sleeping through the night (I promise, it will happen!) you want to be able to look at your spouse and see someone you recognize, only with more beauty and strength than you’ve ever noticed before.
**If you are struggling with strong emotions beyond the first weeks of bringing your baby home, including lack of sleep or irrational thoughts, please seek professional help. Let your doctor, a trustworthy friend, or a counselor know that you’d like to learn more about postpartum depression/anxiety and how to cope. You are not alone, and with help, you will heal.
Emily Pardy (’00) is a counselor and founder of Ready Nest Counseling in Nashville, TN. Ready Nest Counseling helps couples prepare for parenthood by caring for their relational wellness as they transition through conception, pregnancy, post-partum, and infertility. Emily has written for multiple parenting publications including Thriving Family magazine and ParentLife magazine. She has her Masters in Marriage & Family Therapy and is the author of For All Maternity, a humorous memoir of her own journey into motherhood. Emily resides in Nashville, TN with her husband and three rambunctious daughters.