Taking Care Of Your Mental Health As A New Parent
As a first-time mom, everything about motherhood is brand new to me.
Of course, I expected that to be the case when I found out I was pregnant in January 2019. But expecting it and actually being thrown into it are two different things. In that way, it’s much like my recovery. I knew it was coming, and yet being thrown into it headfirst was the only way I could really understand what it meant to be sober. And now that’s also how I’m learning to be a mom.
In my short month of motherhood, one main thing I’ve really come to realize how difficult it is to balance different aspects of life when a baby is involved. Since everything runs on their schedule, it can be difficult to prioritize and focus on other parts of day-to-day life. But I can tell you this much — doing so is vital in order to maintain your sanity as a parent and as a person.
For me, one of the main areas of life that requires focus is my recovery and mental health. Those two things have always been at the forefront as my main responsibilities. Now that a child is at the forefront, I’ve had to readjust how I prioritize my recovery and mental wellbeing. The important thing to note is that it is still possible, it just may look different. Here are a few tips.
1. Carve out a few minutes each day to focus on something recovery-related. For me, this can be as simple as reading a blog post someone has written about recovery, or taking time to read posts on Facebook from sober peers. It doesn’t even mean I need to interact, although doing so doesn’t hurt. Simply taking the time to read the thoughts of others walking the same path can be enough to remind me of my own journey and why I am where I am today. Although this is how I choose to tap into my recovery, there are other ways, too. For some people, that may be meditation or daily reflections and readings. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, it just matters that you make time for something.
2. Be honest about what you need, physically and mentally. Being a new mom is exhausting. Like more exhausting than anything else in life, both physically and mentally. And when you’re exhausted, it can be difficult to be in a positive headspace, which can quickly turn into a downward spiral. It’s no secret that a person’s recovery can suffer when their mental state suffers, which makes it vital to check in with yourself daily. I’ve found myself near a dark place a few times in the past weeks, and I’ve had to ask for help so I could get the rest I needed. There’s no shame in asking someone else to step up so you can take time for yourself. It’s beyond necessary to get your sleep and alone time in order to function — and it does not make you a bad mom.
3. Find 20 minutes of alone time every single day. This is something I told my husband I needed from the start. I know myself well enough to know that without alone time during a day, I end up in a terrible mood and spiral from there. More often than not, my alone time is in the form of a hot bath. But sometimes it’s literally just sitting in a bedroom ALONE in the quiet and resetting myself. I’m lucky to have the support system I do, and my husband can recognize when I need this time. It’s amazing what just 20 minutes can do when it comes to a fresh attitude and your feelings about a day. If you don’t have someone to relieve you of parenting duties, find that quiet time when your child goes down for a nap. Ignore the dishes and the laundry and just be for a few minutes. It will pay off.
4. Find time to connect with others. It can be isolating being home with a baby all day, especially when on maternity leave. And for many people, isolation can often lead to negative feelings and cravings. This is why it’s important to take time each day to connect with people. My mom and I made a rule that I had to leave the house at least once each day over the course of maternity leave, and that honestly has saved me mentally. Whether it’s just a few errands, or coffee with a friend, heading to the gym, or going to our early childhood education class, it feels good to get out and remember that there is more to me than being a mom. As much as I love my son, I need to remember who I am as a person too, and connecting with other adults is the best way for me to do that.
5. Let your child be a reminder of why you choose recovery each day. On the particularity hard days, when you may be craving something to unwind, just look at your child and think about what you are giving them as a sober parent. As someone in recovery, you get to be fully present for their life. They get to grow up watching you be an example of strength and perseverance and overcoming. Acknowledging these things from your child’s point of view is powerful when it comes to resetting your own mind and emotions. There is no greater gift for your child than that of fully being there as their life unfolds.
Of course it’s important to acknowledge that everyone’s experience as a new parent will differ — but the common thread is that there are sure to be moments of frustration and confusion over how to balance it all. When these moments occur, just take a deep breath and ask yourself what you need in order to be the best parent you can be, then seek that out.
Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292