Becoming a parent for the first time is an unrivaled experience — and it can be radical. Since my son was born 10 months ago, I have found myself questioning everything, examining my beliefs and arriving at a this conclusion.
I was the child of two very busy parents, very focused on managing and growing their business. Hard work was par for the course. It was not surprising that in that environment, I absorbed their strong work ethic like a sponge.
So when I got my first job in a café just shy of 15, I started what became an obsession: work. Fast forward to age 32 and the drastic change of pace to full time parenting has been jarring. For 10 months, I’ve been home every day. It’s a tough job, for any parent or caregiver. The days can be long and isolating.
But I adopted another new role: freelance writer. It’s been on the cards for a number of years, always something that I longed to do, but never had the time.
It is without doubt that my vision of the perfect balance of freelance writing and motherhood is laughable now. Trying to write with a child crawling all over you and the house is almost impossible. But the seed of change has been planted and my outlook on life has changed dramatically.
For me, it has become abundantly clear that life is short. Yes, it is also long in some circumstances, but each day that passes is another missed chance to create an extraordinary life. It is too easy to follow the lead of others, becoming distracted by social media, or filling a calendar with too many meetings or playdates. As a new parent, I have found value in pausing.
Some of the ways I think new parents can use this period of intense change are:
1. Slow down.
By far, the most valuable change I’ve made is to just slow down. For families, this means saying no to events and obligations. It means choosing less tasks to complete around the home, and being OK with that. Taking time to find your path through this new stage of life is important.
And the time goes so fast, it’s equally as important to just enjoy each day — to savor the precious moments. It really is true they grow up too fast; I cannot believe my son is about to celebrate his first birthday. And the first year is known to be such a tiring stage, that taking it slow is important for your health.
2. Remove distractions.
Social media can be a really powerful tool for connecting people in similar life stages or with similar struggles in life. But it can also take you away from what you value. It’s all too easy to lose several hours scrolling on social media.
No matter your intentions, it happens to us all. Some of the ways I’ve found to cope with this are removing the apps from my phone, turning off notifications and leaving it in another room. It’s not easy! The need to be connected is powerful and we have become so accustomed to it that it’s hard to let it go.
Pick and choose the times and mediums that work best for you. Because our son has a medical condition, joining a group on Facebook with parents facing the same challenges has been truly valuable. Becoming obsessed with following other mothers on Instagram has sometimes left me feeling inadequate. Reducing my time on Instagram has provided a feeling of space and led to less anxiety.
3. Seek out like-minded families.
Everyone is an expert when they become a parent. Sometimes your closest friends choose to parent in very different ways, and that can be difficult. But one of the best ways to cope with the challenge is to find other parents that you can share ideas with, and bond with.
It is important to seek out varied opinions, but if it leads to second-guessing yourself, it might pay to find another parent who you can relate to more easily. Don’t break up with your friends, but recognize you need support to parent in the way that makes most sense to you. Having another parent, who you can really be honest with is an important part of staying sane.
4. Let go.
Seeking perfection can be harmful; trying to be the perfect parent, the perfect spouse or the perfect employee is a recipe for disaster. A key part of surviving new parenthood is learning to let go of the things that are not important.
There is a difference between what is urgent and what is important. It’s up to each family to decide how to prioritize but for us, we value good food, rest, exercise, time as a family, time as individuals and our hobbies above all else. Although I’d love a magazine style home and a perfect wardrobe, they won’t bring me the satisfaction that I crave.
5. Embrace less.
For some families, having a child does not change their direction; there is no deviation from their set path. But for others, such as my family, it has completely changed our perspective on life.
Our son was unwell when he was first born and spent the first four weeks of his life in intensive care. Long days spent by his side gave us time to reflect. We realized how we had been consumed with busyness.
We hadn’t designed our life, we had followed a path many others had followed; buy a house in the suburbs, get married, work in corporate jobs. And we had found ourselves stressed, with a huge mortgage, and miserable.
We have now started on a new path, one that will give us more freedom, and more time. To us, time is more important than money. As new parents, it can be freeing to embrace the concept of less; reduce your expectations, your consumption, and just live simply.
Having more time to spend with the ones you love will never be regretted.