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Parenthood:  One More Reason to Value and Accept Yourself         

 by:  Laurie Kinigstein, LCSW

As a psychotherapist and parenting coach, I work with many people looking for assistance related to challenges associated with parenthood.  Whether they come to me with practical questions or emotional challenges, a common thread lies underneath the initial reason for the call: parents feel a great deal of uncertainty, self-doubt and self-judgment related to their parenting abilities.

We live in an era when the expectations felt by parents far exceed those of even one generation ago.  Countless parenting books, experts and lecturers paint a picture of the “ideal” parent.  Ideal parents are always calm, never raise their voice, show empathy whenever their child is misbehaving or having a tantrum, excel in the art of discipline without punishment, always use natural consequences, narrate their child’s experiences for them throughout the day, and have enough energy to be silly and playful at all times with their children.  There is even research on brain development informing parents that every interaction they have with their children will have an effect on their child’s development - for better or worse.

While I fully agree that these characteristics of parenting are qualities to strive for, I also recognize that almost all people find these goals unattainable.  Parents often have less than perfect interventions with their children, which leave them feeling incompetent and judgmental of themselves.

The effects of self-judgment on parenting are concerning for many reasons.  To be effective and patient with children, parents need to be as calm and happy as possible.  They need to have the space in their psyches to manage their children’s moods and behaviors, rather than being dragged down with self-doubt and insecurity.  Parents need to model self-confidence and self-acceptance for their children; otherwise their children will develop their own challenges with self-esteem and self-judgment.  I believe it is time for parents to break the cycle of insecurity and strive for self-acceptance.  It just may be the most effective and beneficial parenting strategy available.

So parents, how do we break this cycle?  The first step is for you to accept that you are a person, a person who makes mistakes.  Instead of focusing solely on the one or two parenting “mistakes” made during the day, you should begin to take note of your successful interventions first.  By acknowledging what was done well first, you will be able to look at less successful interventions as learning experiences rather than “disasters”.  You will then have a greater ability to create a rational plan with strategies for managing your child’s behavior more effectively in the future.

Next, begin to utilize critical thinking more when reading about parenting strategies and the effects of parenting on child development.  The texts provide amazing information on child development and optimal parenting techniques, but they can also make parents feel inadequate.  There is little written in these texts about the emotional interplay between parent and child.  There is little support for the exhaustion that sets in after a long day at home with young children.  Everyone has limitations.  So, I encourage you to view these texts as ideas to combine with your unique personality and limitations.  They are goals to pursue with the knowledge that it is impossible to operate at 100% every minute of everyday.

Strive to practice mindfulness.  Practicing mindfulness involves working to be present in the moment and aware of your emotional state.  It is important not to judge your emotional state, but instead to use it to effectively plan the day.  For example, on a day when you may be feeling tired or anxious or frustrated, plan an activity that will be a good match - such as a playdate with a trusted friend or a trip to a nearby park.  On days when you are feeling energized and calm, try new experiences with your children, ones that may be more likely to lead to some level frustration.  These are the days to bake cookies or go on an exciting outing or even run errands.  Instead of planning activities based solely around your child’s nap/eating schedule and mood, plan activities around the perceived moods and mental states of all involved.

Parenting is a journey.  Every day is different.  Children are constantly changing and have more and less challenging days.  However, parents also have a range of emotions and life experiences that lead to more and less challenging days.  These challenges need to be factored into the family dynamic and parenting experience.  Taking the time to recognize the complexity of yourself as an individual and embracing your own challenges as well as successes can lead to an overall improvement in your parenting abilities and ultimately result in a closer and more fulfilling relationship with your children.

 

Creating Calm after Baby

by Laurie Kinigstein, LCSW

The time following the birth of your baby is an experience unlike any other. For many people, it is both the best and most challenging aspect of parenting. The level of difficulty associated with bringing home a newborn is something that takes many new parents by surprise. You are exhausted and sleep deprived. You may be physically recovering from your birthing experience, and at the same time, trying to manage your fluctuating hormones. You quickly come to the realization that newborns depend on adult care 24 hours a day. And…many babies have unforeseen challenges and need extra attention, including: difficulty nursing, reflux, colic, low birth weight, effects of premature birth, etc. You have heard that creating a calm and loving environment is essential to a newborn’s development, but how do you do this given all of the above?

Here are some suggestions to establish a peaceful and productive environment when bringing home your baby:

Embrace and effectively utilize help.  Taking care of a new baby is extremely time-consuming and challenging.  Since, as stated above, you will be sleep deprived and most likely trying to recover from your birthing experience, take advantage of any and all help that is available to you.  It will make you a more rested and patient parent.

  • Figure out your budget and determine if you can afford any help after the baby is born.  There are a variety of options available: baby nurses, night nurses, postpartum doulas, etc.  If you can afford one of these options even for a short period of time, it is well worth it.
  • Recognize that you will have lots of visitors after the birth of your baby and many of these people will offer to help you.  Take them up on their offers to help, and let them know what kind of help you actually need (rather than the help they think you need).  Make a list of what you need done and hang it on the refrigerator.  This eliminates the guess work on the part of the helpers and allows you to get the assistance you want without having to directly ask for it.
  • Discuss a plan for night feedings with your partner before your baby is born and revisit the plan weekly.  Figure out what is working and not working for both of you and revise the plan accordingly.  While crafting your initial plan, know that your baby will have to eat every two to three hours and will need to be burped and have a diaper changed after each feeding.  This process may take an hour or more for many of the feedings.  If you are planning to nurse during the night, perhaps your partner can wake up for some of the burping and diaper changes, allowing you to get back to sleep more quickly.  Know that your plan is likely to change, but having the conversation before the baby is born is important in establishing expectations of one another.  It also provides practice with this type of dialogue before you are both exhausted and feelings of resentment may start to surface.
  • Take advantage of paternity or other family medical leave available to your partner.  You and your partner will feel more rested and able to bond effectively with your child when there are two parents at home.

 Prepare your home and family for the birth of your baby.

  • Meals are one aspect of family life that will undoubtedly be disrupted following the birth of your child.  Figure out a strategy that will afford you the freedom to not cook for the first two to four weeks.  Again, look at your budget and prepare for your meals.  Determine how many meals per week you can afford to have delivered and stick to this plan.  Also, try to prepare double portions of meals in the weeks leading up to your due date and freeze them.  Take friends, family and neighbors up on their offers to bring you meals.  If any community organization you are involved with has a helping hands program in place where families bring you meals, sign up.  You will be happy you planned ahead because it will give you more time to rest and connect with your baby.
  • Have older children?  Prepare them for the upcoming birth.  Spend some one-on-one time with each of your children before your baby is born, and help them feel excited about the new member of your family.  If they are two years or older, ask them to help you with the preparations for the baby.  Maybe they can choose the baby’s bedding or help decorate the nursery.  This will help your older children start to bond with their sibling-to-be before the birth.
  • Have your basic supplies ready and available at home.  Newborn sized diapers, burp cloths, swaddling blankets, bottles, and a crib or bassinet are essential.  If you are planning to nurse, have a pump, nursing pads, nipple cream and a starter nursing bra at home.  If you are planning to bottle feed, have formula and a daily supply of bottles on hand.  This will limit your need to think about anything but your family during the first few days at home.  If you prefer not to have the items in your home before the baby is born, figure out what items you want, make a list of them, and assign a relative or close friend the task of picking them up for you while you are still in the hospital. 

Prioritize your marriage/partnership.  Many couples experience conflict and/or a lack of connection following the birth of their baby.  This is a very common occurrence, but it can create a great deal of stress for the family.  The following suggestions are designed to help strengthen your partnership during this transition period.

  • Communicate your feelings to your partner regularly.  New parents have feelings ranging from excitement, joy and love to depression, anxiety and insecurity about their parenting abilities.  Use one another for support during this challenging period and recognize that talking about feelings will decrease the possibility that anger and resentment will surface as the months progress.
  • Have a date night.  When you first bring home your baby, it will be hard to go out.  Plan a night where you can order in some dinner and eat together while your baby is sleeping or resting in a swing.  It may be a twenty minute date, but it is a date nonetheless.  As your child gets older, see if you can get a relative or babysitter to stay with your child, and try to go out once a month.
  • Spend time together on weekends.  Take a walk together with the baby or go to a park with your older children.  Whatever you do, try to connect whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Prioritize self-care.  There is not a lot of “me” time once you bring home a baby, but making use of the little time you have will go a long way.  Remember that a calm and rested parent makes for a calm and happy baby.

  • Do something for yourself while your baby naps.  Yes, there is always laundry to be done, but you don’t have to always be doing laundry.  Read a book, watch TV, talk to a friend, or take a shower.  Do whatever will make you feel replenished during the day.  Your baby will nap more than once a day, so you can do laundry later.
  • Do something for yourself on the weekends or when grandparents visit.  Try to make a pamper-yourself appointment or have lunch with a friend without your baby once a month.  If you have an appointment, you are more likely to stick with it and give yourself the break you desperately need.
  • Recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety and get professional help as needed. While the baby blues and general concern about your newborn are normal, feelings of excessive sadness, anxiety, loss of appetite and thoughts of suicide require professional intervention.  Taking care of your mental and emotional health is the best gift you can give your family.

Manage your visitors.  Although many people will ask to come over in the weeks after you bring your baby home, managing the number of people and the amount of time spent with them is important.

  • Do not feel you have to allow everyone a visit in the first few weeks.  Extended family, friends and friends of your parents will all ask to come over.  Say yes only when you are up for a visitor and minimize the amount of time the visitor spends at your house.
  • Recognize that visitors can be stressful for you and your baby.  Having a house full of people will leave your baby over stimulated, tired and cranky.  It will also leave you feeling more exhausted than you already are.  Limit your guests to close friends and family.
  • Do not feel you need to entertain the visitors.  This is not the time to have refreshments available and a spotless house.  Your visitors will understand that you have a new baby and you are not available to entertain.
  • If you find it difficult to say no to requests for visitors, try to make an excuse that you are comfortable using.  Some examples are: the baby naps at that time, my pediatrician thinks I should limit visitors for the baby’s health, or we are not feeling our best and need to rest.  Remember, this is the time to take care of yourself and your baby.  You should not be worrying about the feelings of others.

Bringing home a new baby is certainly a wonderful experience and one unlike any other you will encounter.  You are already doing an amazing job by reading this article and considering these ideas to create a calm, loving, and nurturing environment.  You are putting your baby and family first, while setting yourself up to feel the rewards of having a close bond with your baby.  Here’s to a lifetime of love and happiness!