Expectancy – anticipatory belief or desire; thinking or hoping that something, especially something good, will happen.Is it any wonder we refer to the time just before having a child as “expecting”.
Some people have endured many months of frustration and worry, trying to fall pregnant. Others have simply been surprised to find two little pink stripes – followed by the words “I don’t know how it happened!” Many await a phone call, “The adoption has gone through”. For others though, there is no waiting. It’s a sudden shift in life, often in the wake of tragedy and loss. Regardless of how of the journey of parenthood begins, prepared or unprepared, most have no clue what lies ahead in the parenting realm.
Becoming a parent is much like immigration. Whether by free choice or necessity, you are moving to a new country – new cultures, people and experiences await you. You’re perhaps excited and nervous or scared and confused. Perhaps you’ve read up about the country or heard things from those who have been there before. You talk about all the things you’re going to do, what your house will look like, what the people are like… on the other side. But in truth, you have no idea until you get there. As you step off the plane, ship or vehicle in this new land, you realise this is no holiday destination. It’s not a momentary experience. It’s a permanent arrangement. You can’t continue as you have before – you are a citizen of a new country and you now have to learn how to live there.
Strangely enough some people think that changing into a parent comes naturally – about as naturally as changing nationality. It takes time, effort and an openness to learn. As you enter this new arena of life, here are some things to consider…
- Acknowledge your feelings.
When changing from one country to another, there is a lot of emotion: excitement, grief, fear, curiosity, confusion. Allow yourself to feel. If you find yourself overwhelmed or insecure, you’re in good company. Most new parents do (most seasoned parents do). Baby blues are quite normal post-birth as hormone rage. Anxiety and low mood can be expected immediately after a major life event. Missing your partner, your pre-parent life, your sleep… yes, you’re allowed to grieve what is gone, or feels gone. Get all those feelings out in the open! Burying your emotions only allows them to morph into bigger, more complex ones. Recognising what we are feeling and why we are feeling a certain way helps us to find ways to work through them and find resolution. Some are highly gifted in being able to do this for themselves, but most of us need help. Talk to your spouse or partner, a friend or a health professional to help you understand where you are at emotionally and walk a journey with you to finding healthy ways to deal with those emotions.
- Explore your surroundings.
When you move to a new place, at first your world is small. You know the route from home to the closest shop, work and maybe one or two other places. But if you want to become part of the community, you need to step out and explore. You take a different route, discover some interesting restaurants, entertainment areas and community hang outs. You start to gain confidence and become settled in your environment. Some of your pre-planning may be in place and can be an anchor that gives you stability in this season of radical change. But sometimes it can also be a weight that holds you down and keeps you stuck in an ideal that is unrealistic. Some things you need to recognise are outside of your control and you need to explore your reality and figure out new ways to manage it well. A sleep routine is important to create stability for you and your new baby, but if your child is screaming for hours and hours in the cot, maybe considering co-sleeping is the better option for you all. What works for your friend or neighbour may not work for you. Consider your personality, pre-existing routines and habits, current needs and long-term goals. See what is working and enjoy the wins. What changes do you need to consider that will be beneficial and practical to ensure your own and your child’s wellbeing? In what area can you compromise? What issues are actually irrelevant? And what are you doing that may actually be harmful? What other ideas are out there that can be helpful? Parenting is a journey of discovery, so don’t be afraid to try and learn.
- Talk to the locals.
The best way to understand a new place and its culture, is to get to know the people. Yes, some seasoned parents are opinionated, judgemental know-it-all’s. But some are open, generous and happy to walk the journey with you, because they’ve been in your shoes, and they remember how hard it was. Reach out to friends who have children, in the same age group or older, and ask them what worked and what didn’t. Speak to the older generation, listen to their wisdom – hindsight is 20/20. Get in touch with parent groups online or in your local community. It is such a relief to know you are not alone, and that your experiences are common experiences.
- Take it all in.
When you first move to a new area, you feel like a tourist. You make the most of the sights and opportunities, because it is all new. But after a while you take it for granted, and miss what’s right in front of you. Every day will hold new tasks, challenges, places to go and things to do. While being a parent is permanent, the stages of childhood fly by faster than you think. Take time to enjoy your child. In the busyness of the day to day, take moments to be present. Watch your baby. Stare into their eyes. Soak up their gummy smile. Hold their tiny hands and kiss their miniature toes. Cuddle your kids. Smell their hair. Listen to them breathe as they sleep. But don’t let this practice dwindle, especially in the challenging times. Mindfulness (being present in the moment) is well known in psychology as a key part in being happier, calmer and less stressed. Throughout the day, make time to just BE with your child.
- Ask for help
Relocating is considered one of the biggest stressors a person can experience. Often because one’s support system is left behind. In order to thrive you need to rebuild a support system around you, and this takes time and effort. As a parent, you need a support system. It takes a village to raise a child. Don’t try and parent on your own. Reach out to your support network of family and friends. Take their offers for date nights, meals and baby-sitting. Ask questions when you visit the baby clinic, social worker or your paediatrician for check-ups. The more questions you ask, the more you are able to learn. Read parenting books and blogs (be careful not to overwhelm yourself with too much information though). Seek parent guidance or therapy from a health professional if needed. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of emotional intelligence – a healthy awareness of one’s strength and weaknesses, and engaging in helpful relationships leads to wellbeing.
So, as you start (or maybe you are already well into) this journey of parenthood, may you engage in your parenting experiences with confidence. As you discover this new way of life with another (little) human being, may you create precious moments and fond memories. And as you settle into your new status, may you be brave enough to join with others, create community and together raise your child to be a valuable part of this world.