Reconnecting With Yourself: Four Steps for New Moms

 By: Amy Tiemann
As you emerge from the cocoon of the early postpartum period, it is time to start getting to know your new self. This may feel like a time of flux, when you decide which parts of your old life can be carried over or adapted to fit your new life as a parent. This period may be accompanied by feelings of exhilaration, pride, exhaustion, confusion, being overwhelmed-or all of the above.

There is a danger of losing your connection with your own identity. At the same time, the opportunity to reinvent one's self can be a precious gift; one that offers freedom to make radical changes. This journey may lead you to reshape your career, examine your priorities, start a new venture, or rekindle long-dormant interests.

Phase One: Survival Mode
Be gentle and generous with yourself during this period of settling in, recovering physically and emotionally, and getting to know your new baby. Enjoy the positive aspects of life inside the cocoon and remember that your baby will grow beyond this sometimes-unsettled newborn stage. If you plan to return to work soon after your baby is born, make sure you arrange the help you need to ensure your rest and recovery and to meet the baby's needs. Help can come in many forms. In addition to paid child care, you may consider asking family or friends, or hiring someone to cook, clean, do yard work, or take over the family accounting and bill paying. You need to be able to focus on your baby and older children, yourself, and your partner at this time.

Getting outside assistance for tasks will help you conserve your energy for the things only you can do. It is impossible to hire someone to sleep for you, so it is perfectly legitimate to arrange for help with housework and childcare so that you can take a nap. Your physical wellbeing is a key for success now and in the long run, for you and your whole family.

Phase Two: Incubating Your Desires
Your desire to pursue your interests may return before you can practically arrange to pursue them, leading to a period that feels uncomfortable and restrictive. Rather than fighting this restlessness, you can explore it to find out what you really do want to do. Ask yourself what you would want to do if you did have free time to spend. What would you do with two hours, a free afternoon, or a day on your own? Which of these can you realistically arrange?

Make sure that your partner understands that having time to yourself is important, even if you just get away to browse in your favorite bookstore, take a walk by yourself, or commiserate with friends at a Moms' Night Out. This is not wasted or selfish time, but a precious opportunity to recharge your batteries and maintain your interests and strong relationships with your friends.

When you are watching over your child, even if he is sound asleep in another room, there is a powerful sense of "mom vigilance" that is always humming in the background of your mind. This powerful survival tool is an amazing gift and skill. However, it is draining to have your subconscious radar turned on 24/7, which is why I advocate the absolute necessity of creating regular opportunities for personal time.

Phase Three: Setting Priorities and Goals
Once you have cultivated your desires, you will begin to act on them. Remember that you need to become a master at setting priorities and sticking to them. Adjusting to life as a new mom can be overwhelming. You may be dismayed by just how much more housework there is once you have a child. I remember a tearful conversation with my husband when our daughter was a baby, in which I said, "You have no idea how much work it is to keep this place looking just bad instead of disgusting!" Housework is unrelenting-there is always something that could be done, and the mess you clean up in the morning returns in full force by the evening.

To set my priorities, I use three criteria to evaluate any activity trying to make its way onto my to-do list. Is the activity fun, meaningful, or absolutely necessary? If it is none of these, the demand can be respectfully declined or let go without any guilt or explanation other than, "I won't be able to take that on right now." Resist the temptation to apologize or over explain your reasons for saying "no." Remember that you are not doing anyone a favor by taking on a responsibility that you are ill equipped to manage.

Phase Four: Baby Steps toward Your Goals
As this process unfolds, you may develop some big goals that will take time to fulfill, as well as smaller changes that you can implement now. If you are staying at home but have an idea for a career you'd like to rejoin or start in the future, take time to research that field, and think about signing up for a reasonable schedule of additional training you may need or volunteer opportunities to keep your skills honed. If you are employed as well as fulfilling home obligations, you may focus on achieving balance in a hectic schedule and making sure there is still time reserved for yourself.

A good way to deepen your relationships with your female friends is to get together as a group to discuss your long-term goals. This is, of course, also an excellent discussion to have with your life partner. Sometimes I find it easier to have free-ranging discussions with my women friends first, then discuss the results with my problem-solving, solutions-oriented husband after I have a more concrete goal in mind.

Brainstorm initial steps you can reasonably take to head in the direction of your dreams, creating a time line of short, medium, and long-term goals. If you start preparing now, when the day arrives that your children are ready for independent schedules away from home (whether that is daycare or school), you will be ready to take larger strides toward your own goals.
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