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How To Prepare Yourself For Parenthood

Most parents will agree that nothing can really ever prepare you for those early days of parenthood. Feeling overwhelmed is normal and it’s okay to ask for help, writes Arlene Harris.

For the past year, Joan McMahon has been having difficulties getting used to her new position. Always a positive person, she never shirked responsibilities while working as an accounts executive and liked to think of herself as willing and capable of dealing with challenging situations.

But she is beginning to wonder if she is cut out for her most recent and probably most important role, as a mother.

Since her daughter, Saoirse, was born in September 2015, the Dublin woman has been finding it difficult to cope. Lack of sleep, coupled with anxiety has made her question her ability to care for her child and although she knows she is fundamentally a great mother, she worried that she would never get used to the job.

“Before I had Saoirse, I was so excited about becoming a mum,” says the 37-year-old. “I spent hours happily shopping for gorgeous clothes and preparing her nursery as all I could think of was sitting in there cuddling my beautiful baby.

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“But reality hit me like a slap in the face as she had colic from birth and was constantly upset with it. She has always been a very poor sleeper and because of that, I am up half the night, every night so I’m like a zombie during the day. The images I had of myself looking like a yummy mummy while wheeling my angelic little girl around in her buggy are laughable, now as I am only now beginning to come out of the fog I have been in for the past year.” And she is not alone.

A Shock To The System

A new study in the UK has shown that 35% of new parents are totally unprepared for the role and 49% were ‘completely shocked’ by the reality of caring for a young baby.

The research, commissioned by Little Tikes, was gleaned from questioning 1,500 new parents and also revealed that 25% felt that the ‘constant tidying up’ was the most difficult part of being a parent, while 22% cited lack of sleep as being the hardest thing to get used to.

Admitting that it takes around 14 months to really learn the ropes, almost 75% of parents questioned said they felt under pressure to be ‘perfect’ and this caused a lot of unnecessary stress.

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“I think social media has a lot to answer for,” says Joan. “People are always posting up pictures and stories about their adorable families and their well-behaved, beautifully dressed babies. But they don’t reveal what the reality is like as soon as the camera is turned off.

“I was definitely naïve going into motherhood and I must admit that I had this fairy tale image of what it would be like, but life has given me a reality check and now that I have got used to the routine, learned not to care about what I am wearing or whether or not I have managed to put lipstick on before going to the shop, I am much happier. The only thing that matters is my child and my relationship with my husband – I genuinely don’t care now what others think about me wearing a tracksuit for a walk around the block.

“I am more confident now in my parenting skills and I’m sure in a month or two I will get my mojo back and my glad rags on again, but for now, I’m just as happy to get on with the job in hand.”

Focus On The Positives

Child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell says parents’ levels of feeling confident and competent vary quite a bit, but research indicates that while all parents struggle sometimes, most feel confident about one aspect of their parenting and we should try to focus on that.

“We are not all good at the same things,” he says. “I have met parents who are marvellous storytellers, great cooks or brilliantly organised, but rarely parents who do all of these things to perfection. Being a good enough parent is probably good enough for your child, she isn’t looking for a perfect parent – just one who loves them – showing this by kissing, singing and gently touching their cheeks with a kind smile.

“New parents are new to the job and should give themselves the time and compassion to learn the skills needed. You will make mistakes, but if you have your child’s best interest at heart you probably won’t do any great harm.”

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The Wexford-based psychologist says parents should not set unrealistic goals for themselves and instead should just take each day at a time while realising what an important job they are doing.

“Raising your child will probably be the most rewarding job anyone will ever do, but also the most exhausting too,” he says. “Caring for another human being and carrying the responsibility of shaping their future is both draining and exhilarating – so all parents are advised to have realistic expectations of themselves and their children.

“There will be days when you don’t know which end is up and just crave sleep. So it is vital to self-care as your sense of well-being impacts directly on the way you care for your child so get out, get some exercise, have rest periods and let some of the other tasks around your home or community involvement slide.

“If two parents are present then encourage one another to go for a walk or cycle or whatever you’re into, rescue one another from exhaustion and encourage each another with kind words. Keep your couple relationship alive. If you are single-parenting, build a support network of loved ones or friends to help you get these things too.”

Keep Talking

Communication, according to Maxwell, is vital. And if you find yourself really questioning your ability as a parent, make sure to seek help sooner rather than later.

“If you are a parent who worries about whether you are good enough, then talk to someone you are close to as we all feel self-doubt sometime,” he advises. “If you are worried about the quality of the bond between you and your child discuss this with your GP or a public health nurse or other health professional who you have contact with.

“There is no shame in admitting that everything is not perfect. While new parents can face many challenges such as knowing how to hold or feed their child, there is always someone who can offer advice and it is really important to allow others to help – there are plenty of simple ways in which your new role can be made easier.

How To Make Your Life As A New Parent Easier

  • Allow visitors to make the tea or do a bit of tidying while they chat to you and the baby
  • Seek professional help on feeding or developmental questions.
  • Sometimes taking a 20 to 30 minute nap while your baby naps or when there’s another adult available can refresh the brain.
  • Fight loneliness by inviting a visitor who isn’t going to disrupt the household.
  • Many parents wisely provide a calm, quiet home for the new baby. But don’t allow yourself to be alone too much.
  • When going for walks, invite a friend or relative to come along or schedule a chat with someone you enjoy sharing time with.
What do you do to prepare yourself for parenthood? Tell us in the comments below.

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