Baby doesn’t come first? What?! Now that we’ve got your attention, hear us out.
When you fall pregnant, adopt, or bring a child into your family in whatever way it happens, all of a sudden you’re inundated with well-meaning advice. It’s everywhere. Well-meaning people will tell you that your priorities change, that “the baby comes first now; it’s not about you anymore.”
Well, that’s not exactly true.
What they mean is that you can’t be fully focused on yourself anymore. So, they’re right in some ways. But in other very important ways, they’re also wrong.
When you become a parent, suddenly self and couple care can feel “selfish” and induce guilt. If your focus isn’t completely on everything baby then you’re somehow doing it wrong. It’s like you cease to be a person – you’re just a parent now.
Technically, baby does come first. It’s just not in the way all those well-meaning people implied.
Wanting the best isn’t a bad thing but it can take over
Ultimately, every parent wants the absolute best for their child. We want our child to have everything we didn’t and to protect them from things that hurt us when we were young.
You can get so overly focused on providing for and protecting your baby that you lose yourself. You work hard for them so that they can have not just the basics, but all the extras – the heated wipe warmer, early enrichment activities, the best child care and preschool, and any other number of things.
It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on both yourself and your child (at any age) and create stress and fatigue, even though you have the best intentions.
It’s all about balance
Okay, that’s not quite right. There’s no such thing as balance. Something has to give. Always.
When you focus more in one area another suffers for a moment. Yet this isn’t always a negative thing. For example: “But if we have a date night, we’re leaving our child with a sitter and putting stress on the child”
Well, yes, but that’s part of your job as a parent. Your job isn’t to provide a perfect life free from stress. Your job is to raise a functional adult, who can manage life’s ups and downs. You don’t teach that without exposure.
You’re also teaching healthy attachment. You’re teaching that you’ll come back and that baby is competent on their own without you (these are long-term underlying messages). You’re teaching that time away from each other is important too.
You’re also sending an important message to yourself and your spouse: that your relationships still matters.
Inevitably there will be days where you crash and burn. You will fail miserably. You forget about balance and you snap or overindulge. This is normal.
Practice being compassionate with yourself and knowing that your child is not irreparably damaged when you make mistakes.
There is a concept called the “good enough” parent. Studies show that you don’t have to be perfect to raise a healthy, well-adjusted adult. Take comfort in that. Remember that even on the days when you crash and burn there are important lessons that you are modeling such as forgiveness and managing hard emotions.
Even the bad days can be good for your baby.
It’s easy to lose yourself
It’s easy to get lost, both as an individual and as a couple. It happens, sometimes quickly.
Let’s say that the ideal parent YOU want to be is child-centered. Completely. You can go that route. However, you will wake up one day to a stranger in the mirror, a stranger in your bed, or possibly both.
Children take a lot of resources. It’s so easy to lose yourself when you have another human being who is completely dependent on you. Balancing baby’s needs with your needs and the needs of your partner can be challenging. Don’t set yourself up for a crisis by ignoring yourself or your relationship. In order to have all your resources available for your child, you must nourish yourself and your relationship.
Ultimately, it’s about keeping perspective…
Let’s say it again – compassion is key. Try to keep some perspective.
Forgive yourself on the days you struggle. Take it easy on your partner when they struggle. Allow your family the joy of reconnecting after something hard has happened.
And remember, you don’t have to be perfect to raise a great kid. You cannot provide everything all of the time, nor are you expected to.
…Knowing your family priorities…
Remember all of that well-meaning advice? Ignore it.
Everyone knows what they’re talking about until they don’t and it’s all a recipe for guilt trips, feeling like a failure, and constant parental questioning.
Trust yourself. You know your family best. You know what you need and at what levels: some people need more alone time, some people need more sleep, some children are more easily stimulated with higher activity schedules.
Remember your priorities and give yourself permission to keep those priorities. Specifically, it is okay to make your relationship a priority. In fact, it’s actually good for your child.
…And striving for the best balance possible
The mainstay here is striving for balance and adjusting when it’s off.
Pay attention to what’s happening in your relationship as well as what’s happening with your baby. Are you arguing more? Do you feel like you haven’t spoken to your partner for days? Is baby antsy? Does baby panic when you leave the room (because you’re always there)? The questions could go on and on.
The point is this: pay attention to these cues, allow yourself permission to stay healthy as a couple, and trust yourselves as parents to know what’s right. Maintaining the parental unit is critical to baby’s health too. No Guilt. It isn’t necessary.
Okay, so now what?
No doubt you’ve heard at least some of this before. So, what do you do about it? How do you practically apply this advice?
1. Put yourself first. Literally.
When you create your family calendar, plug in your activities first. Then center everything else around them. This is a non-negotiable appointment. You are not to reschedule these things for something else. Inevitably, when you do, “someday” becomes no day. Put them there first and keep them there.
2. Make each other a priority
In line with the schedule, make time for each other. Make it non-negotiable and a priority. Do a quick daily check in and see how each of you is doing.
Also, schedule date night at least once a month. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t even have to leave the house, but minimize distractions and tune in to each other. Turn off your phones, set baby up to be comfortable for a while, and connect. If you do have a distraction that must be addressed, do so quickly and go back to your couple time.
3. Make alone time a priority
Just as you need time as a couple, you need time as individuals. Parents get “mom’ed” and “dad’ed” out, touched out, overstimulated, and overwhelmed.
You are still a person with needs. Ensure that you attend to them.
4. Keep your perspective
Remember the above-listed points: attending to your child isn’t about things or activities. The best you can be is ‘good enough’. You won’t permanently scar your child because you didn’t meet their every need.
Remember that exposing your child to things like disappointment, making choices, and time alone are all important for their development.
5. Be compassionate with yourself and your partner
Parenting is hard. You will both have bad days where you lose patience with yourself, your partner, or even your child.
You are human and you are allowed to make mistakes. Use them as teaching opportunities for skills like alone time, helping others through a hard time, or repairing a wrong. Use it to remind yourself that perhaps this is a signal that your needs aren’t being met. Attend to them, repair, and move on.
Remind yourself that it takes much more than one “oops” moment to disrupt the raising of a more or less healthy child.
Some final advice
If you remember to keep the family’s needs met, then ultimately your child’s needs are met too. It will be much easier to navigate family life together on the same path than in living parallel lives. Most of all, enjoy your new child!
Welcome to parenthood. It’s an adventure.