Mindfulness Tips for New Parents
Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC
DECEMBER 10, 2020
One of the biggest challenges parents face in the newborn period is figuring out who this little person is: what they like, what they do not like, and how they communicate that information. For first-time parents it can seem like an overwhelming mystery with constantly changing variables and a very steep learning curve. Depending on your little one's temperament, there can be a wide range of behavior from those who are relatively easy to read, and other's who are a lot more complex, keeping parents constantly on their toes. I hear it often, the common phrase, "we are trying to figure it out." I want to suggest not to try too hard, as once you do "figure it out," chances are very high that baby will change and you will find yourself back at square one.
There are a lot of books and information over the web that can be very useful in giving you a framework of ages and stages. All good stuff, but at the end of the day I remind parents that your best source of information is your baby, and that with time and observation, you will come to recognize and understand your little one's cues and communication efforts. It takes time, and depending on your baby, lots of patience. Parents sometimes inflict unrealistic expectations on themselves, believing that "figuring it out" is a static experience indicating parental mastery. It seems so obvious, and yet it's helpful to recognize that parenting is a constantly changing experience, and as your little one grows so do you.
And yet, here we are, in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic and while there is a hopeful light at the end of this tunnel, we've still got a long winter ahead of us. I'm hearing it from the moms that come to our new parent groups; they feel isolated and only spend their time observing their little ones.
And so I'm here to give you permission to take a break from the observation, from the "figuring it out" process. Get outside. Yes, it's cold, but it's not that bone numbing, wind chill factor cold... yet. Think of all those babies in places like Iceland. It's OK to go outside. Grab the carrier and wrap yourself and your baby up in a big winter coat. Go for a mindful walk.
What's a mindful walk? One in which you take off your earbuds, keep your phone in your pocket, and engage your senses. Look up at the sky, notice the color, the clouds, notice all that you can observe with your eyes. Pause for a moment and listen, really listen to the sounds: traffic, wind, leaves rustling. Smell, yes smell, feel the cold air as you draw it into your body. Do you smell leaves? Is there a fire burning somewhere? Keep walking and as you walk, notice your breathing. Take a full deep breath, feeling the air fill your lungs and expand your abdomen, and slowly exhale, in and out, full, deep, relaxing breaths.
This is what a mindful walk is about, being fully present, fully aware, engaging as many of your senses as applies. This is something you can do with your little one. If you notice your mind starts to drift — thoughts of what do I do if s/he starts to cry/fuss/needs to eat. You can try to time this mindful walk the best that you can, but when those thoughts start to come, just let them go, keep on. Start with a 10 minute walk and work up from there. Getting out of the house everyday is still doable. Even when it's cold. Even when there's still a pandemic. It makes a difference. It helps.