It’s been over 15 years since I had my first baby and over eight years since I had my last. Oh, what a chapter those baby years were!
With four go-abouts on the pregnancy, childbirth, caring-for-tiny-humans train — and as a mother of a 15-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old, with much distance from midnight feedings and diaper changes — I can now look back at my former new-mama self, with a refreshed perspective.
I can feel some self-compassion and understanding of how I acted and why I felt the way I did in both the highs and lows of my early years of parenting.
Here’s my advice:
Take care of yourself
I know I heard this advice for years, but it took me a long time to comprehend it, and actually take significant action steps for my own personal wellness.
I was pretty on top of things when I had one child, but then with a quick transition to two, three and then four children, I really struggled to find the time, energy and resources to focus on my own health (both physically and mentally) and to really take care of myself.
As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in taking-care-of-others mode and neglect our own needs. I didn’t connect the dots when I was going through it at the time, but when my kids were really little I experienced symptoms that have been associated with postpartum depression. And, I was sleep-deprived — for years — which certainly affected my health.
From my current perspective, I realize how much all of those things affected the quality of my day-to-day life.
I can’t go back in time, but maybe YOU can learn from some of my missteps.
I encourage you to be open and honest, first with yourself, and then with others if you’re having a hard time or not feeling well. Talk to someone you trust, whether that’s your spouse, a close friend or family member.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of the “baby blues” or postpartum depression make an appointment and tell your doctor. (Find more information about postpartum depression at tinyurl.com/ppdfacts or go to ppsupportmn.org for local text, phone or email support.)
If you sense someone you know may be struggling and you’re in a position to lighten their load, do so. Individuals, children and families with strong support systems are more likely to thrive.
One way in which I’ve been intentional about finding joy in each day is by taking lots of pictures. I’ve been pretty good about this over the years, but I wish I would’ve started this habit even earlier than I did!
It may sound crazy to you right now, especially if you’re in the thick of the baby years, but the fact of the matter is you are going to forget many of the little details. When I look back at the pictures I have of my children when they were babies and toddlers, it shows me how much I’ve forgotten!
But doing so triggers memories and helps me recall special moments and little details that otherwise would have been lost.
Reflecting on positive images of family life can help preserve memories. It can also be a useful tool for building resilience. Although some people may criticize the act of creating and posting an overly positive “highlight reel” of our lives, for me, doing so has been an effective survival strategy for making it through the more difficult days.
I love looking back at images I’ve printed, saved to my computer or uploaded to my blog. The practice of simply shifting my attention to the goodness reflected in the images evokes feelings of gratitude, joy and love and serves as a concrete reminder of how good my life really is — even if the moment before or after the picture was taken wasn’t as peaceful.
Researchers are discovering that prac- ticing gratitude can have lasting positive effects on your brain, which can contribute to improved mental health over time.
If photos aren’t your thing, other forms of practicing gratitude could include keeping a journal or maybe even partnering with another parent to exchange a text a day of something that brought you joy.
So there you go. My words of advice: Take care of yourself, because sometimes it is going to be hard. But don’t let these moments pass you by! Make a point to find joy in each day.
Megan Devine is an elementary school teacher who lives with her husband and four school-age children in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her blog — Kids, Lakes, Loons and Pines — at megdevine.com.