Maintaining your wellbeing as a new mum
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say that, as mums, we need to ensure we're looking after ourselves to enable us to be the mums we need to be. But what does that actually mean? And how do you go about it, particularly when you're in the haze of those early days when you don't know what day it is, when you last showered, or how many times you've heated up the same cup of coffee?
First, I think we need to understand what wellbeing is. It's been defined many times in many different contexts. Google tells me it's 'the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy' but I don't think that's sufficient. My children made me incredibly happy. I've been fortunate enough, like many of us in the western world, to live in a comfortable environment, and I would say I've been mostly healthy. But to me those things don't equal optimal wellbeing. I prefer Professor Martin Seligman's definition of wellbeing: that in order to flourish we need positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Here's how I see these applying to motherhood:
Positive emotions - this is the happiness from the Google definition, but not only happiness. Seligman refers to is as 'the pleasant life' and I think that sums it up perfectly. While children provide us with many moments of pure joy, there are still many sleepless nights and pacing back and forth trying to understand why your baby hasn't stopped crying in 3 hours. Nobody could describe those moments as happy, but overall you (hopefully) have a pleasant life.
Tip: if you're feeling like overall you're not experiencing a pleasant life it might be worth some reflection to determine which areas are causing the discontent. Is it adjusting to parenthood and will pass, or is there something deeper going on in other areas that needs to be addressed?
Engagement - this is where it starts to get tricky as a mum stuck at home with a baby. When working, if you enjoy your job you experience many moments where you're truly engaged in what you're doing, but it's much harder to achieve as a mum. If you're like me, once you feel like you understand how this baby works, you start looking around for something else to give you a challenge.
Tip: if you're fortunate enough to work for a flexible organisation perhaps it's time to start taking on a bit of work you can do whilst baby is sleeping. Otherwise consider an online course, learn a language, or find some great books!
Relationships - and by relationships of course we're talking about meaningful relationships. Many new mothers can find early motherhood incredibly isolating. If you're used to mixing with other adults at work every day, suddenly spending all day every day at home with a baby can be a bit of a shock to the system.
Tip: join all the Mother's Groups. Those mother's groups the Early Childhood Clinics organise are a fantastic way to get you out of the house and talking to other people in the same situation. There are also online mother's groups for mother's of babies born in the same month and many areas have a Facebook page of local mums. Join them all and find one that works for you. Having that support is invaluable in the early days.
Meaning - often having a child can give your life a great deal of meaning but you may feel like you are contributing less and don't belong to the same groups you once did. You're no longer part of the team at work and perhaps other commitments have had to fall by the way-side temporarily.
Tip: find like-minded individuals, like mother's groups above, get involved with your church, make sure you let your employer know you're interested in catching up from time to time to stay in the loop. Also accept it's ok to just lie low for a while if that's what you want to do.
Accomplishment - this was the area I struggled with the most, not least because so many days the house would end up messier than it started and I'd find myself wondering what on earth I did all day. I'd write myself lists of what I wanted to achieve and it just never worked out as I planned.
Tip: Now I could give you a whole heap of stuff here about how important goal achievement is but realistically, you just have to lower your expectations of yourself for a while. If you get the dishes done, high five yourself! Celebrate every small accomplishment. As time goes on you'll be able to get more and more accomplished but right now you need to reframe what an accomplishment is. Did your baby get fed, changed, and most importantly loved? Then you've met your performance goals.
I promise you, there are never too many kisses, too many cuddles, or too much time that you can stare at that beautiful face. The best tool I can offer you is savouring. Savour the moments when life feels perfect. There are times when it's hell and I get you just can't wait for it to get easier. And it will. But they will never be this little again. So breathe in that beautiful newborn head and be proud of yourself. You're doing just great.
If you'd like to talk about how you can improve your wellbeing, please book in a free 15 minute session to see if I may be able to help you flourish.