The 4 most important things to help you cope when life as a parent gets tough.
When I work with parents one of the things I stress is the importance of consistency, and that applies to everything from routines and sleep signals, to feeding habits and play patterns.
The reason this is so important is that, although babies cannot understand what we tell them, they are very good at spotting patterns. It is an evolutionary advantage honed by millions of years, and it allows them to make sense of the world around them. It benefits their ability to get food, avoid danger, bond with family and extended family and fit in to the society they are living in. It helps them understand what is expected of them, and, in turn, what they can expect from those around them, it lessens their confusion and helps them cope better with their new life.
The more consistent you are, the easier you make life for your baby and your family. However, there are times when consistency could, and should be sacrificed to make way for something more immediately important and that something is survival !
I am talking about those times when we are so sleep deprived that we can’t think straight, when we are so exhausted we don’t even have the energy to cry.
When unexpected events slap us in the face and we have no time, or money, or energy, or enough support to deal with them.
I am talking about when we are ill, or our kids are ill, or you are the only person left standing after an office flu out-break and you have to close a deal or make a presentation.
Or, as I witnessed last week, when the drains back up after a rain storm and flood the house with gallons of sewage at 3 in the morning !
I have seen with my own eyes, in person and on social media, people desperately trying to cope whilst they care for their new baby, clean, shop, cook healthy food for their older kids, all the time worrying about sticking to routines and schedules.
They worry about losing control, and letting their normal standards slip, and ‘not being good parents’, as if that was the most terrible thing in the world.
These are the times when I tell people to just let go.
Let go of doing what you normally do, and just focus on surviving whatever is going on at the time.
Does it matter if you have to leave your baby to cry because you don’t have the patience to deal with it safely, or let them sleep an extra hour because you are desperate for sleep yourself ?
Will it matter if you let your older children watch TV all day, if it means you can throw up in peace, or call a close friend so you can talk and stay (marginally) sane ?
Will it harm your kids if they have to eat toast and cereal for a couple of days until payday or they have to miss a playdate so you can go to a job interview ?
The answer is of course, no…none of these things matter in the short term.
I know that with a new baby and with older children we use routines and habits to prop us up and ensure things run smoothly, and that sticking to this helps us feel in control. I feel that way myself, but sometimes the only thing you can do is let go of your normal standards and get by any way you can, just until things settle down again.
I think the biggest fear is that if we let things go we will never get them back under control again, and that we will have ‘ruined everything’…forever !
The truth though is quite the opposite, especially if you remember that all-important pattern-spotting ability your children have.
Once the crisis is over all you need to do is to return to your previous routine and your baby or child will remember it and slot right back in.
This might not be instant, but if you remember the key factor of consistency, they will be settled again in 3 days, because 3 days seems to be the magic number for breaking and creating new habits with babies and young children.
Whether I am sleep training, troubleshooting, getting a breastfed baby to take a bottle…whatever it is, as long as I focus on consistency, it never seems to take longer than 3 days. I have also heard many other maternity nurses, trouble shooters and sleep trainers say the same thing, so it is not because I am some sort of a miracle worker.
To sum it up, try and remember these 4 things
- You are human so sometimes you will not be able to cope.
- It is alright to let go and be an ok parent, or even a crappy parent in order to survive.
- Babies and children are much more resilient than adults. They will be fine.
- Once it is all over it will usually only take 3 days or less to get things back on track……if you focus on being consistent.
Don’t be so hard on yourself, don’t make life harder than it already is, let things slide when you need to, and have faith in yourself that you can pull it all back together again afterwards
Because this is what Real Life Parenting is all about xx
I would love to hear from any other parents who have struggled with letting go in times of stress, especially if you can share any great (or not so great) coping strategies,
Sarah Norris is one of the UK’s most accomplished maternity nurses, with over 25 years experience caring for hundreds of babies and families in the UK and internationally.
She treats all babies and families as individuals, and respects all forms of parenting and feeding, aiming to help and empower new parents with sensible, practical tips and advice that is always non judgemental and non biased.
She is the author of ‘The Baby Detective’ with Orion Books, out now.