Ask Nicole: Tips for New Parents
Every year on my kids’ birthdays, I retell the stories of their births and lives as newborns: endless hours of painful contractions, difficulty breastfeeding, sleepless nights, nonstop crying that could only be soothed by turning on the vacuum, and immense and deep love for them. It’s partly a humorous way to remind them of how much pain and effort it took to bring them into this world (there’s a reason why it’s called labor). But it’s also a way for my husband and I to remind our kids of how much we’ve always loved them, even before they were born, and to remind ourselves that the joys and rewards of parenting have outweighed the stresses and challenges.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My husband and I recently adopted a 4-week-old baby boy. We’re absolutely in love with him…and completely exhausted. He cries a lot, day and night. Neither of us have been around babies very much, so we’re constantly guessing whether he’s tired, hungry, in pain, or just needs a new diaper. My husband’s paternity leave is almost over, and then I’ll be on my own taking care of our son during the day. I’m nervous about that and already feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over a month, and I feel tense and lose patience quickly with everyone and everything. Do you have any tips for me?
Congratulations on your growing family! Being a new parent is both thrilling and stressful for many people. Even though parenting books and blogs will tell you what to expect and what to do, it’s impossible to know what it’s like to experience constant crying, sleep deprivation, and nonstop worrying until it happens to you. Here are a few tips to try:
Remember to take care of your needs. This is like putting on your oxygen mask first in an airplane so that you’re able to breathe and help someone else put their mask on. Taking care of your own physical and mental health needs will help you feel calm and ready to respond to your baby’s needs. Try something as simple as taking a few deep breaths before responding to your baby’s cries, listening to music or a podcast, or going for a walk with your son. If you have friends or family nearby, ask for their help so that you can take brief breaks. Talk with your husband about how you can support each other to take care of your individual needs so that together, you’re a strong parenting team.
Find your rhythm with daily routines. Sometimes, it can feel like a constant guessing game to figure out whether a baby’s cries mean they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable, in pain, or need physical touch and comforting. You might find it helpful to keep track of the times when your baby cries, what seems to cause it, and what helps calm him. After a while, you’re likely to notice patterns that will help you anticipate and respond to your baby’s needs and create daily routines for feeding, naps, diaper changes, and playtime. The predictability of these routines can be soothing for everyone, and they become opportunities for Quality Time, Talking Together (and reading and singing), and Giving Affection — the foundational Triple P positive parenting strategies that build strong relationships between parents and children.
Seek out and accept support. Becoming a parent or caregiver for the first time is a major life change that can create a mix of emotions, from happiness and contentment to fear, depression, anxiety, or even anger. Attending a support group or class for new parents can provide reassurance that you’re not alone. If the feelings last a long time, grow stronger, or make it difficult to get through each day, consider talking with a counselor, your health care provider, a pastor, or a parent educator – someone who will listen with compassion and can provide support and other resources.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Life as a new parent is filled with many highs and lows. Every parent could use help with raising children, no matter their culture, gender, sexual orientation, income, or education level. Adjusting to parenthood takes time, but the days of nonstop crying and sleep deprivation will eventually end — and you might even miss them someday.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 18 and 22, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, the world's leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, http://www.facebook.com/triplepscc, or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or email@example.com.