I recently had coffee with one of my young mom friends and I could immediately tell she was stressed out.
As she told me how mentally and physically exhausted she was from chasing her 1-year-old son around, I found myself thinking back to those frazzled days when our four children were young.
I decided to offer some advice here to hopefully help all parents with young children who may be feeling as if their little people have taken over their world.
First, know that it is normal to feel overwhelmed when you have young children and/or babies, even if you “just” have one child. None of us went to school to learn how to parent, so that means with that first baby, everybody is a complete, untrained amateur.
Sure, most of us read books on the subject of child rearing. I have often said I treated my first pregnancy like an important research project.
I read everything I could get my hands on and really felt pretty confident going into the whole parenting project. After all, I reasoned, I was always a good student. Armed with the knowledge, it couldn’t be that hard being a mom. Ha!
As soon as I gave birth and couldn’t seem to get our son to stop crying, I knew I was in big trouble. As he grew, and we had other children, it didn’t get easier.
Every new phase our firstborn went through meant we weren’t ready. That first child is definitely the ultimate guinea pig.
So, if knowledge is power, just know all parents feel overwhelmed during this time. It’s normal.
Surround yourself with supportive, loving people. Toxic people, while never good to have around, are especially dangerous when you’re the parent of young ones.
Toxic people are those who complain incessantly, criticize too much, and just make you feel worse. Instead, find a group of moms who have children similar ages to yours and form a support group of sorts.
When our children were babies, I started a group at our church and we got together once a week for a playgroup. From that group we formed other groups — couples nights out, book clubs, even a cooking club.
I am still friends with some of these women. I don’t know if I could’ve made it without their support and camaraderie.
My parents also helped me so much. I always knew I was blessed to have such awesome parents living nearby.
Make time for yourself, if possible every day. Sure, this is easier said than done, but having even 20 minutes of “alone time” is so important.
If your child still naps, take advantage of that precious hour. Don’t spend that time cleaning or doing laundry. Read something inspiring or entertaining. Write in a journal (my therapy of choice). Listen to some calming music (classical really helps). Drink some hot tea. Just relax.
If your child or children no longer nap, institute “quiet time” and insist they stay in their rooms reading or playing quietly for an hour. While nobody wants to use the television as a “baby sitter,” if you need a break, go ahead.
Schedule regular outings. Even if you just go to the park for an hour, getting out of the house is important for everybody.
I remember just going to the mall and walking around, going for a ride on the carousel, maybe getting some ice cream for a treat. We have terrific libraries, which all have free children’s programs.
Even packing a picnic and heading to the park gets everybody out of the house and away from the same old routine.
Don’t forget your spouse. If you’re a dad reading this, make sure you take time to tell your wife you appreciate her. We need to hear this, especially when all we have heard all day is crying, whining and siblings fighting.
If you’re a mom reading this, remember your husband needs to feel appreciated too. Nobody wants to come home after a long day of work to fussy kids and an angry wife.
Of course, some days you just can’t help it. But try to wait to “vent” to your spouse until after he has had time to play with the kids, and hopefully the kids are in bed.
Our goal was always to put the kids to bed early so we could have at least a few hours to reconnect. We often sat outside on the deck, so we could feel as if we were “out.”
Speaking of going out, do try to make date night a priority. Don’t feel like it has to be a fancy, expensive restaurant either. Just going to have coffee and dessert together for an hour or so is enough to help you remember your relationship is important and worth paying attention to.
Lastly, remember that when you’re in the thick of it, you may feel as if your children will never grow up. But they will.
It will seem to happen overnight, but suddenly you will have time to yourself, you won’t have to find a babysitter when you want to go out, and your children will be moving out on their own.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.