New Parents Must Take Time For Self In Order To Stay Safe, Sane & Healthy
Time is a valuable resource that, when gone, we can’t retrieve. But, if you don’t take time for yourself or your spouse, parenting starts to feel like a burden rather than a joy. It’s physically and emotionally draining no matter what age you are when you and your partner have a baby.But when you’re over 40, at no time have you ever truly felt your age, older even, then when you’re chasing your toddler around the house, cleaning poop off the walls or enduring a tantrum at the mall food court.
So when baby finally does get to sleep, you hope to catch up on sleep and whatever chores you’ve been procrastinating on performing. But new parents, all parents really, must do better than simply wish for quality time after junior finally goes to bed. They must make the time to recharge the jets in addition to accomplishing personal and joint goals.
This is easier said than done, I know. But finding a way to regularly create opportunities for you and your partner to enjoy life – however you decide to do that, within reason, of course – is imperative.
In fact, a study published last summer in the journal Demography indicates that new parents may rank higher on the unhappiness scale than divorced couples, the unemployed and recent widows or widowers. The study of more than 2,000 couples in Germany who had recently experienced the birth of their first child claims low average scores in response to the question, “How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?”
The study also found that the larger the loss of happiness, the lower the likelihood of a second baby.
Having a child is perhaps one of the biggest life-changing experiences humans can have. After the initial joy of meeting your daughter or son for the first time and the “honeymoon” phase wears off, severe post-partum depression can follow. And not just for Mom; Dads can also suffer through the post-natal blues as they also deal with very big changes.
First off, having a child for most of us means you’ll never sleep again, well at least the way you did before becoming a parent. Most babies can only sleep about 2 hours at a time during a 24-hour period, requiring a vicious circle of waking to a dirty diaper, breast or bottle feeding and rocking to sleep. And then there are those parents who have colicky babies. Oh my!
Lack of sleep and depression are intrinsically linked. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation cites a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma of which one causes the other. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.
Everyone always says, the baby’s needs come first, which is true to an extent. She is vulnerable, dependent and not yet ready for the world. But Mom and Dad cannot neglect their own needs. In fact, some say that parents must make sure their own various needs are met before they can make sure that they can do the same for baby. After all, every airline safety message warns passengers that in the event of cabin depressurization, they must ensure they secure their own oxygen before they do the same for their child. The logic is that if we are absolutely no good to our children if we’ve already been rendered unconscious, or worse.
Parents must make sure they make time for personal and career satisfaction so that their children can reap all the rewards. This is not to say that we should be selfish, but a certain amount of “me time” is necessary to keep us health and in tip-top parenting shape. This involves our physical health as well as emotional, spiritual and mental health. We must eat well, work out, get our nails done, go shopping for ourselves, plan a vacation, have a girls-only or guys-only night.
And Mom and Dad need to be a united team in realizing these goals, which means on the same page, mutually supportive and in a “good place” so that their baby has every head start they can in this game we call life.
I believe that serious conversations should begin before a couple decides to have a baby that center on plans for ensuring that the would-be Mom and Dad don’t lose their individuality and how they will support each other in pursuing the necessary steps to retain their sense of self as well as goals. Certainly, parenthood comes with sacrifice, probably more than you’ve ever experienced over your lifetime. It’s the most important job we can ever have, so whenever possible we must make sure we remain fit for the work.
 Dinges, D. et al., Cumulative Sleepiness, Mood Disturbance, and Psychomotor Vigilance Decrements During a Week of Sleep Restricted to 4 – 5 Hours Per Night, Sleep. 1997 Apr; 20 (4): 267–277.