During pregnancy, women are constantly reminded of the incredible experience of giving birth, the magical moments that mothers forever share with their children, and how motherhood is by far one of the most rewarding aspects of our lives. While much of that is certainly true, I'm here to tell all of the overwhelmed moms out there that those frustrating aspects of pregnancy and new motherhood—from the morning sickness and the breastfeeding stumbles to the middle-of-the night meltdowns and unexpected skin side effects—are just as much a part of the whole parenting package.
I'm by no means claiming to be a motherhood expert: As the mama to a toddler-aged son and a baby girl, I know I've still got quite a journey ahead of me and so many more lessons to learn. My 16-year-old self never thought she'd say this, but I'm constantly inspired by my own mother and often look to her for advice and reassurance that I'm not leaving my son emotionally scarred for life every time I let him cry through a tantrum. (I also marvel at the fact she raised five children and still continues to be our best life coach well into adulthood.)
All of that to say is yes, you've totally got this, new parents: Ahead, read on for five things to remember the next time you're feeling that sinking weight of stress on your shoulders, including tips from other multi-tasking moms (as well as my own!)
Plan Ahead as Best as You Can
And as overwhelming as parenthood can be, my mom also recognized the importance of being organized and planning ahead. For example, "I've always packed extra clothing, snacks, toys (or whatever the kids might need) in our van," my mother tells me. "My daughter can attest to that even to this day. I'm happy I did because it has made life so much easier." (This is true: My mom is still the most organized person I know.)
Take a Deep Breath (Really)
I won't lie: Being a freelance editor and writer who works from home has its perks. I'm grateful for the flexible schedule that allows me to take my son to story time at the library and art museums during the day—which also means I'm using every minute of nap time to write. My workday begins when my husband takes over baby duty after he gets home from work in the evening. We're still working out a daycare and nanny situation, and I never cease to be thankful that my mom volunteers to babysit every chance she gets.
When I've got multiple deadlines screaming in my face and an even louder toddler demanding dessert for breakfast, I try to remember to pause and take a moment to breathe. Whether you're a parent who clocks into an office, or a stay-at-home parent, breathing exercises, specifically alternate-nostril breathing, has been proven to decrease heart rate and blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety. I may still have deadlines and a shrieking child after taking a breather, but the quick time-out always helps me clear my mind and plan my next move without feeling like screaming out the window.
Try the box breathing technique to de-stress: Inhale slowly for four seconds, hold for four seconds before exhaling for another four. Hold your exhale for four seconds before inhaling again.
Forget About Perfection
As someone who considers herself split 30/70 between A and B personality types, there's absolutely a part of me that feels that everything must be done perfectly—if it's not done "right," then it's as if the task isn't getting done at all. But here's where I'll let Jessica Alba speak for my B personality side: "It's more about prioritizing what’s important in the moment than having a perfect balance of anything," Alba told MyDomaine in a prior interview. "Naturally, you’re going to have to compromise on one thing to achieve another, and it’s important to be comfortable with that. To me, it’s not about being perfect, but it’s about doing your best."
Ashley Merrill, mother of two and founder of sleepwear brand Lunya, tells me that "trying to zoom out and take a macro view of the situation" was key for her. "Your child will remember that you are fun, engaged, and happy more than if they had the perfect Pinterest birthday," Merrill says. Echoing Alba's words of wisdom, Merrill adds that when it comes to splitting the responsibilities of parenting, "It's not a competition of doing the most. You will make more impact if you are the best version of yourself in whatever you do with them."
Ignore the Judgers (and the Guilt)
Before you became a parent, how often did you judge that frazzled parent shoveling sugary snacks into their toddler's mouth on the subway? Or that parent answering a few emails while pushing their newborn in a stroller around the park. Yes, you will be judged by your Metro seatmate or that regular on the jogging path—but why should you care? Get used to the idea that complete strangers will scrutinize your every move, like the one time out of ten that you decided to give your kid a bag of gummy bears or the three minutes you spent clearing out your inbox while your little one napped soundly. Then get over it.
Overwhelmed parents have plenty to worry about in their day-to-day lives, and it's important to recognize the fact that you've got plenty of other winning parenthood moments that will forever outweigh the opinion of someone you'll never meet again.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Not everyone has the luxury of childcare—whether it's in the form of a doting grandmother who lives nearby (as in my case) or the budget to afford the extra expense of a nanny. I also understand that not everyone is in a co-parenting relationship with their partners. This is where creating a support network comes in: Whether it's befriending someone from a local group on Facebook or connecting with another entrepreneurial parent, there is something to be said about taking a village to raise a child.
Don't be afraid to reach out for help—it could be inviting a friend to keep you company or calling your doctor if you're experiencing signs of postpartum depression.
Try asking your partner to help you carve out some alone time for meditation or any other activity that brings you sanity. "Find some alone time, even for just an hour," my mother recommends. "Trust me, this will help you keep sane. My alone time was going grocery shopping after 9 p.m. after the kids went to bed and when there's hardly anyone at the store. I have to admit that this was kind of therapeutic for me." (So that was her secret.)
On the contrary, don't be afraid to allow help from others. There've been countless times when a complete stranger has offered to walk my shopping cart back to the store after seeing me juggle a toddler and five grocery bags—and I've learned to save myself the long walk across the parking lot and graciously accept their random act of kindness. Just don't forget to return the good karma the next time you're in a position to lend a helping hand to another overwhelmed parent.
Know That There'll Be a Next Day
At risk of sounding like a motivational speaker, it's important to remember that there'll be another day—a new day to start fresh and make new memories, which also means the opportunity to get a full night's rest. (Or at the very least, a few hours of much-needed shut-eye.) Use this concept as a reminder to look on the bright side when your mental stress meter begins to move off the charts, take that deep breath, and refocus on whatever task is at hand.
Call it short-term manifesting, but I swear by this move whenever I start to feel like all the little things are building up. That sink full of dirty dishes and the basket full of laundry won't wash themselves, but when I have a long to-do list, I allow myself to push lower-priority items (like dishes and laundry) that can wait until tomorrow.
When I asked my mother about her own advice for new parents, she said, "One of the most important lessons I've learned in raising five children—three of which have asthma and food allergies and one picky eater—is no matter how overwhelming or challenging it was, I knew things would eventually work out."