A few weeks ago, my son turned 1. Looking back over the last year, I file most of it under: “You think you know … but you have no idea.” (MTV’s Diary, anyone?) No matter how prepared you think you are, new parenthood is a shock to the system.
Life Kit reader Claudia Robin Gunn put it like this: “I love being a mother wholeheartedly, but the jolt into the reality of it probably takes every young parent by surprise. The overload of love and responsibility.”
That’s one reason Life Kit recently covered matrescence — the process of becoming a mother, whether through birth, adoption or surrogacy. Much like adolescence, it’s a transition that impacts your hormones, your health, your body image, your relationships and your identity. As we are wont to do at Life Kit, we shared some takeaways to help you cope with the transition.
Since we know that lived experience can often mean just as much as tips from the experts, we wanted to hear from you. So, we asked: What got you through the first year of parenthood?
For me, as basic as it sounds, it was an e-reader. That little device was a welcome companion at 3 a.m. feedings. I could read one-handed in the dark, and that made me feel way less lonely — and also saved me from compulsively playing a phone game that shall not be named (rhymes with “blue pots.”)
Here’s a roundup of audience and NPR staff responses about what helped them through the first year of parenthood. These tips aren’t meant to be a substitute for things that are crucial for supporting new parents, such as parental leave or affordable child care, but we hope they can help make a long day feel a little more manageable.
These tips have been edited for length and clarity.
Coping strategies and small hacks
“Our son’s cry can quickly escalate to a piercing, banshee-like screech — especially during diaper changes. I know his anguish should only elicit sympathy from me, but it mostly makes my heart race. I eventually bought some cheap Bluetooth earbuds I could pop in before changes. This allowed me to bob along to something catchy while our newborn screamed with the same intensity as someone having their arm sawed off.” — Chris Benderev
“I wrote raw, emotional, and transparent notes to my daughter Ellie. When I cried because I couldn’t find the joy of pregnancy, I wrote a note to Ellie. In times of self-doubt, low confidence, loss and isolation, I wrote a note to Ellie. And on the days when I discovered light, I shared our joys, our laughter, and my hopes and dreams for her as a note to Ellie. Over 200 notes later, I’m still writing notes to Ellie.” — Carissa Harrison
“Zoloft. There was a point when I didn’t remember what ‘me’ felt like. I’d always been wary of medicine, but between the hormones, the year-long pandemic leading up to delivery and lack of sleep, I made the choice to try it. It made me feel like myself again.” — Rachel H.
“We welcomed our fourth son back in April in the middle of the pandemic. Transitioning the eldest boys back into school, working from home, finding me time and finishing up my doctorate has me in a full-on whirlwind. One thing that’s helping me get through it all is working to be more intentional.
“Intentionality for me is visualizing (either in my head as I hide in the bathroom or writing down in my phone) how I will execute my day. I may not get to it all, but having a tentative plan gives me back some of the control that I lose as I move things around in my day to drop off/pick up kids, make meals, and be an actual entree to my baby.” — Shakasha S.
“I felt completely disconnected and unfamiliar with my body in the months after my son was born. I remember coming home from a shopping trip and crying because I hated how everything looked on me. (And I LOVE shopping). I decided to try a clothing subscription and personal styling service, and allow someone that didn’t know me and didn’t remember what I used to look like to select items for me. It was probably one of the best decisions I made for myself in the early days of motherhood — I’m really grateful to them for helping me feel human and not like an amorphous milk machine.” — Leanne C.
“I have started caring for indoor plants and my yard a lot more. It helps me relax and see quicker results than caring for my daughters. It shows me that I CAN care for something, and I will eventually see the results of my daughters growing up. Also, the plants don’t talk back.” — Liliana P.
Getting out of the house
“My wife and I just finished our first year as parents and one of the things that really helped us was taking a lot of fun little day trips. We went to the beach, went camping, and we just recently took our daughter to her first baseball game. The most important thing though, was that we always kept our expectations really low. Just making it to the location was a victory.” —Bronson A.
“I know I’m happier outside no matter the weather. I’ve always tried to set myself up for success when I parent, and often that includes taking my son somewhere outside. When he was a newborn, it was putting him in a carrier or a stroller and going for long walks. Today we’ll still do that, or we’ll head to the local school and play at the playground or just walk up and down the street. Being outside might not be everyone’s happy place, so the lesson I tell new parents is to set yourself up for success first. You’re a better parent when you’re doing something you enjoy.” — Christopher Doorley
“Making time for myself and my husband. We committed to weekly date nights, and even on nights where we had no plans, didn’t want to spend money, or really just wanted to crawl into bed and go to sleep, we would run an errand, take a walk, or even just grab coffee and talk. You have no idea how liberating roaming the aisles of Costco can be when you don’t have a kid in tow!” — Kristin White
“Getting exercise and trying to put myself first at least some of the time. At first, it was putting my daughter in a carrier and going on a walk with her. At six months I finally braved getting her in the jogging stroller. We started to do ‘dinner on the run’ so I could get some kind of exercise during cooler hours without worrying about messing up her schedule. We’d prepare foods that she could eat in the stroller, and I could feel like myself getting back out there to get exercise.” — Sue D.
Finding a community to lean on
“I had my third child in February of 2020. I was finally mentally prepared enough and experienced enough that I told myself I would enjoy this newborn period. We all know what happened next. Suddenly, I was home with three kids under 5. My absolute lifeline during this time period was my friends. We texted every single day. Complaining, griping, laughing. Just texting about all of it. We would drop samples of things we’d been baking in each other’s mailboxes. Those texts and treats were the highlight of those days.” — Margo Lightman
“An old college roommate was crucial in my survival the first few months after my son was born. She and I would exchange videos on Marco Polo throughout the day nearly every day. I would send her all my questions about breastfeeding, colic, sleep, my recovery, resenting my husband … nothing was off the table. Every once in a while a package would show up out of nowhere from her because she’d remembered something in the middle of the night that had been a lifesaver for her and her two babies.” — Alice C.
“Our neighborhood parenting listserv, especially their porch alerts. An example: ‘Free jogging stroller at 1234 Main St. this Saturday at 10 a.m.’ They also tipped us off to openings at a daycare nearby, had potluck meet and greets and paired us off with parents of kids that were the same age.
“I strongly recommend new parents find a supportive online or regular meet-up group of other equally supportive and empathetic parents to share your journey with, and this will carry you beyond year one.” — James Willetts