How to Survive the First Year of Motherhood | From Euphoria to Reality

My oldest daughter arrived in this world in the easiest of birth experiences a first time mother could expect. Easy, natural labor, my loving family with me, and the most beautiful little girl cradled in my arms.

My husband at the time was my birthing coach and I remember wondering how anyone who had experienced the birth of a child together could ever split up.

Fast forward to my daughter’s one year birthday where I had another specific, but completely opposite thought - How does anyone manage to stay together through parenting?

The first year of a baby’s life takes parents through so many stages. From the euphoria of birth to the reality of 365 days of caring for a child, this year can set the course for your mothering journey.

Making it through this year successfully takes deep examination of yourself and lots of work to find your way, especially if you find mothering less than what you thought you were getting into.

How to Survive the First Year of Motherhood

Having experienced three first years of a child’s life, I’ve reflected back on I wish I’d known that first time around. But these thoughts aren’t about what diapers worked best or how to manage teething pain. Honestly, those aren’t the parts of the first year that left an impression on me.

What affected me as a mom was the moment I looked into the mirror and realized how badly I needed a haircut because I hadn’t paid attention to me. I tell a little bit more about this story in the video below.

And the moment of irrational fury that my husband had gone to Taco Bell over his lunch hour while I couldn’t even remember if I’d eaten lunch.

And the time I left my crying baby in the arms on a neighborhood teenager who was clearly overwhelmed by the situation, but I got in my car anyway and cried hysterically before I reached the end of my block.

These memories were the trials of the first year that caused me to doubt myself and my decision to become a mom.

It’s been 22 years since my first “first year” of motherhood and 8 since the most recent. But those emotional battles left some pretty deep scar tissue and I hope what I learned can help if you find yourself somewhere in those first 365 days.

Disclaimer: This information is not medical or psychological advice as I am not a trained professional. It is only intended as thoughts form the heart of a mom.

Additionally, this post does not address postpartum depression and only deals with my personal struggles and those of my friends to adjust to motherhood. It does not include information on more serious forms of depression which require professional help.

HOW TO SURVIVE THE FIRST YEAR OF PARENTING

Don’t Believe the Motherhood Hype

Does motherhood complete you? Me, neither.

Does it fulfill your every desire? Nope, not really.

And I’m guessing after more than two decades of conversations with moms, it doesn’t do that even for the people who say it does.

I’m not saying I don’t believe women who seem to be completely satisfied by mothering. It’s just that I don’t understand them.

And so many times when I’ve gotten past surface conversations with these women, they begin to allude to deeper frustrations and misgivings about their all-consuming mother role.

But if all we’re seeing are the beautiful Instagram posts and we only hear the words of moms who gush endlessly about motherhood, we don’t just feel guilty. We can become overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and wonder what’s wrong with us as women that we don’t feel the same.

These emotions, bundled up with exhaustion and the daily demands of our children, take us down dark paths, sometimes so intense we wonder where there is any light.

So the first step in making it through year one is not to buy into the hype. Here are a couple of ways to do that.

Talk to older moms who have raised their kids and don’t feel the need to impress you with their motherhood stories. They’ll tell you what you’re feeling isn’t as rare as you fear and share their strategies for coping.

These moms can also help you see parenting as the marathon it is and help you pace yourself through all the phases that will be coming your way.

Take a break from social media. When you’re down in the mothering dumps, the last thing you need to see are pictures of a mom and daughter in matching dresses sharing a picnic in the park. So take your social media icons off your phone to make it more difficult to get to them or temporarily unfollow the worst offenders who fill your feed with unrealistic ideals of perfection.

How to survive the first year of motherhood

How to survive the first year of motherhood

Pick at Least One Thing From Your Pre-Baby Life You Don’t Give Up

Okay, so if you were a war correspondent before your baby, you may not be able to keep traveling to conflict zones for extended periods of time. Maybe you keep traveling, but just for shorter assignments to safer places.

Admittedly, that’s an extreme example that doesn’t apply to many of us, but it illustrates my point of hanging onto something that you enjoy.

You’ll be giving up big chunks of yourself, especially in the first few years. But don’t believe the idea that you have to sacrifice everything for your children.

Those things you enjoy are part of what makes you you. And if you stop doing all the things you love, who are you?

This is often easier said than done and it takes effort.

One of the biggest mistakes new moms make is letting those parts of ourselves slip away before we realize they’re gone.

Then it’s not necessarily too late. But the longer we wait, the more deeply buried these facets of us become and the most difficult they are to excavate. And these gems are the diamonds in us that add the sparkle to our lives.

So whether it’s keeping a weekly date with friends, reading, writing, riding your bike, or painting, set aside time to do it. Even if it’s not as much time as you’d like, don’t allow it to slip away completely.

And I know you’ve heard this lots of times, but I’m saying this in my strongest mom voice. Because I lived this and I remember how tough it can be to find the treasure of yourself once you let it get buried.

So keep yourself engaged in something that nourishes the soul of you the person, not you the mom.

Admit Your Emotions to Yourself and Someone You Trust

I don’t know who first uttered the phrase, “the first step is admitting it,” but if you want to make it to your baby’s first birthday as an intact, happy mom, start confessing your feelings about motherhood that don’t live up to your expectations.

Even if (especially if!) your emotions and thoughts are negative, start pulling them to the surface and giving them voice. Start by mumbling to yourself when you’re alone, then progress to recording a diary on your phone’s memo recorder.

Getting comfortable hearing yourself express your sadness, fear and disappointment allows you to begin to feel more free to share these sentiments with someone else.

You can also try journaling to get words out you can’t manage to say. Writing helps clarify your thinking so you more clearly express yourself when you feel confident to speak up.

Don’t stop with yourself as your only audience. Start opening up to people you trust about your motherhood struggles.

Though there are still limits to what moms feel free expressing that won’t draw looks of judgement, fortunately women are now usually more openly what overwhelms us.

So find your confidants who accept you and your mothering difficulties and let them in on what’s going on with you.

I hope you’re in a relationship where this can include your spouse or partner.

Don’t carry this burden alone.

Sometimes we don’t get the help we need because we don’t ask for it. We put up such a good front, the person who sees us the most doesn’t realize the extent of our struggles.

Don’t ever assume your partner knows you want, or need, more help. We often want someone to instinctively know it or intuitively offer just what our tired mothering soul needed.

But don’t wait for it. Ask.

And if you’re really struggling, talk to a professional. Start with your medical professional and get some direction on the resources and supports that can put you on the road to feeling better about this whole motherhood thing.

Recognize Moms Have Different Zones of Genius

My friend Christina is a baby whisperer. On one of my first nights out of the house, I took my newborn to  a women’s fellowship group. When Emery started to fuss, I tried frantically to calm her, afraid her crying would irritate the other moms enjoying a night away from their kids.

To convey what I mean by the word “frantically,” I wish you could see Christina’s impression of me that night. If she’s not exaggerating, it’s fortunate Emery didn’t end up with shaken baby syndrome from how urgently I bounced her up and down, believing my “rocking” would soothe her.

Christina gently, but firmly, took my baby and told me, “Go get a glass of wine.” She knew what both I and the baby needed.

I didn’t hit my mothering groove until my girls were four and six. I remember thinking as I parked in my driveway and prepared to get them out of the car, “Okay, maybe I didn’t make a mistake when I had kids.” But at this point, Christina had boys aged six and seven. And with all the chaos and craziness that comes with that, she was pretty sure she needed another baby.

Just as elementary and high school teachers can’t imagine trading places, moms have ages they enjoy more than others.

Know that just because you struggle parenting an incessantly moving eight-month-old doesn’t mean you won’t embrace other ages.

So don’t judge your feelings about motherhood simply by your reactions to caring for a baby. Parenting is a long arc and the first twelve months may not be your favorite.

This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It just means you have to show yourself grace and believe  you’ll find your motherhood footing.

Don’t Wait to Take Action

If you’re a mom in year one, you’re exhausted. I don’t even have to ask you. I know you are.

You’re also possibly covered in spit up, wearing the same clothes as yesterday and, like I was, needing a haircut.

How, you’re wondering, is there time to do all the things I’ve suggested?

Forget all of them, how about any of them?

I can’t tell you that for sure because I don’t know what supports or resources you have access to.

But what I can tell you for sure is you have to find a way sooner than later.

Every day you wait is a day of the joys of parenting that you miss. Alright, maybe it’s just a day of parenting you don’t survive as easily as you could have.

That moment I described earlier of finally coming to terms with parenthood when my girls were four and six? That came after years of struggle, even though I had support, and therapy.

I white knuckled it through more days than I care to remember and missed much of the joy I could have had if I’d known there were ways to deal with what I felt.

When my oldest went to kindergarten, I cried. All the other parents cried as well, but they cried because they were struggling to see their kids growing up.

I cried because I felt guilty I was so happy she was finally in school and that I hadn’t enjoyed her first five years enough.

Don’t wait until your baby goes to kindergarten to realize how much you’ve missed out on. Take steps now to get yourself where you want to be.

CONCLUSION

The path of motherhood leads through beautiful sunny meadows, but dark forests as well. If you find yourself lost in those trees, I hope you’ll find these ideas helpful and take steps to see the light that is there for you.

So forget the hype, keep doing something you enjoy, give voice to your struggles, believe you in your mothering zone of genius, and don’t wait to take action.

You can love your kids, but struggle to enjoy parenting.

But instead of letting it keep you in the dark, see the light around you and believe you’re a good mom even when you don’t feel like it.

Disclaimer: This information is not medical or psychological advice as I am not a trained professional. It is only intended as thoughts form the heart of a mom.

Additionally, this post does not address postpartum depression and only deals with my personal struggles and those of my friends to adjust to motherhood. It does not include information on more serious forms of depression which require professional help.