Becoming a mother is an awesome, wondrous and demanding life-altering experience. In the past eight years we’ve had four children, I’ve become convinced of one fact – motherhood is the penultimate roller coaster ride. One day I’m happily scaling what appears to the highest peak of my mothering career, another day it seems everything I touch turns to poop.
Don’t get me wrong. If I could do it all over again, I would. Looking back though, things would’ve been easier had I known how to reduce the number of instances I find myself on the verge of losing my marbles.
Here’s my list of 10 sanity savers for new mums:
1. Embrace the season
With the benefit of perspective, I’ve realised baby season passes in a blink. Having a baby is such a privilege that fills me with gratefulness. With my fourth, I’m determined more than ever to appreciate the highs and lows – tiny feet and gurgles, sleep deprivation and nursing marathons.
There’s a fine line between insanity and joy-filled chaos. When I view crazy moments as the new normal, this helps me feel I haven’t hit rock bottom yet. They constitute the stuff of funny stories to tell my kids later on.
2. Prioritise self-care
Being disciplined gives me more energy and reduces mood swings. Drink three litres of water daily, eat healthily, have enough sleep and regular physical activity, take short breaks daily, and connect with God, myself and others.
These aren’t difficult. Buy a 1.5 litre bottle and refill at midday. Make crock pot meals, sandwiches and salads. Keep connected online but impose an Internet curfew. Brisk walk while pushing the stroller. View nursing as breaks, grab an afternoon nap or lie down while reading to an older child. Wear clothes that fit. Self-care helps put into perspective trivial things like food on the floor and husbands who work on weekends.
3. Get organised
I manage better when my space is neat and I can find things easily. Have everyone tidy up twice a day so that while messy play can happen, clutter is temporary. Keep a baby changing station upstairs and downstairs so frequent nappy changes are manageable. Batch cooking and freezing healthy meals twice a week saves cooking a main dish on some evenings and frees me to take everyone out for tennis instead. Stock up on supplies of everything once a month to minimise long shopping trips.
4. Make regular dates
To be better parents and more, my husband and I need our weekly coffee date and couple time nightly. The quality of our relationship exerts a profound influence on how I cope and how our children feel and behave.
5. Get help
My husband’s practical and emotional support makes all the difference. I’m indebted to my mother who comes once or twice a week to give me a break from cooking and the school pick up. The weekly part-time cleaner isn’t the most thorough but night wakings during baby season make me thankful for whatever she does.
6. Get out
It may be “easier” staying home with a young baby, but being indoors all day drives me mental. Early breakfast dates with friends avoid disruptions to nap schedules. Going to the park daily gives me and baby a boost of fresh air, opportunities for exercise and spontaneous play with our older kids.
7. Grow as a person
In the first three months of adjusting to a newborn, it’s only natural to be fully occupied with baby care. Going with the flow and not being so anal about every detail helps me to enjoy those months. Reserve a few minutes daily for personal reflection and interests like journaling and reading.
As the dust settles, I’ve found it important to pursue whatever work and service opportunities I can manage on top of my mummy role. These strengthen me as an individual and keep resentment and impatience at bay (sometimes). However, if I find myself peering at my phone endlessly and getting snappy at my children consistently, it’s time to reprioritise. If I’m cramming carb-laden foods and reaching for caffeine just so I can manage deadlines, I need to reevaluate. Cut back or take a complete break.
8. Ditch supermum… and superdad
I’ve eliminated a lot of stress by not comparing myself to other mums and being confident in doing what’s right for our baby and family. Continually, though, I need to accept the fact that my husband and I aren’t perfect. We have to send ourselves to the corner sometimes for personal and parenting boo-boos. If we want a loving home, we need to practise empathy instead of the blame game.
9. Hang the schedule
With four kids, a detailed daily schedule for each person has really helped us minimise stress and get a lot done. But inflexibility can kill the soul. Occasional deviations are necessary so everyone can be happy, like allowing older kids to sleep at nine instead of eight so we can enjoy a longer time outdoors and get extended family time to reconnect.
10. Have faith
Sanity saving methods preserve a measure of composure but occasionally irrationality, fear and despondency threaten to overwhelm me. Why isn’t this working? Have I overlooked something? What’s really going on? For every known matter I can deal with, there are countless other unknowns. Ultimately the best strategy that makes me feel I can handle this mummy gig is acknowledging the reality that the greater my need for control, the more likely I am to go nuts. Faith is crucial. That, in my particular understanding, means I need to walk each step by the grace of God. Next to the inexhaustible and infinite, there is no upheaval that is too great.
Jin Ai traded refugee work for diapers, dishes and homeschooling. She blogs about parenting, home education and life as mom to four kids at Mama Hear Me Roar.
Image Credit: Flickr user Luke Chan