By Dr. Debra Rezendes, HMT Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy
My social media feed has been bursting with pictures of mothers to be and new babies entering the world. I love the moment a family meets their little one. And, I also know from working with hundreds of mothers and families, that the moments between the happy pictures can be filled with lots of conflicting emotions.
Parenting an infant requires so much physically and emotionally, and parents are often faced with juggling these demands in the midst other personal, professional, and family responsibilities. It is no surprise that parenting stress tends to be highest for parents of children under the age of four.
Now more than ever, modern parents are sharing their challenges and normalizing the intense emotional whirlwind that can encompass the first four months of the post-partum period. These stories and research illuminate three important takeaways.
Parents need a village. Research paints a clear picture that modern parents are more isolated compared to previous generations. For many families, having an extra set of hands and a support team ends when they are discharged from the hospital. Caring for an infant while physically and emotionally recovering from child birth can be such a challenging experience.
How can you show you care? Schedule a meal train or have food delivered, drop by to see baby and let the parents have a little break, offer to run some of the parents’ errands, offer to get them a postpartum doula, pick up groceries or have them delivered, or check in on the family often.
Parenting perfectionism kills joy. Parents are already bombarded with images of the “perfect” parent. If we are really being honest, not every part of parenthood makes our heart burst with joy. And that is OKAY! The reality is that every time a child is born, a parent’s world is shaken. Sometimes, that means figuring out what this new role means, and sometimes, it means figuring out how to leave the house without it taking all day to get ready. Even if it is the family’s third child, the family still has to figure out what it feels like and looks like to integrate their new family member into their day to day adventures.
What can we do? Instead of talking about the idealized versions of parenthood, let’s get comfortable sharing it all—the doubts, the exhaustion, the heartfelt moments, the feelings of imposter syndrome, and the feelings that you finally have it together. Let’s send parents encouragement when they need it, and celebrate in the wins as they come. There is nothing more powerful than feeling the non-judgmental support of others who have been there; it is a research loved way to shame proof parenting.
Parents’ needs matter. We need to switch the dialogue. After a baby is born, so much time and attention is spent oohing and awing over the new addition to the family. There is nothing wrong with soaking in the cuteness. Babies absolutely need nurturing attention and care. However, sometimes, we can forget that the parents’ needs are just as important as the baby’s needs. Healthy, happy parents mean healthy, happy babies.
What can we do? Make a conscious effort to create a safe and non-judgemental space for parents to talk about their parenting journey, the beautiful, heart-warming moments and the moments of defeat. Send the message to your family and friends who just have babies that you care about their needs; besides helping them to feel supported, these messages may also help them to recognize and attune to their needs.
Is someone you know experiencing “baby blues” that last longer than two weeks? If the baby blues just won’t go away, help them find a Postpartum Support International (PSI) support group or a PSI Virginia support group.
Did you know that Healthy Minds Therapy also has therapists that specialize in maternal mental health and addressing perinatal needs of individuals and families?
Debra has over ten years of community and clinical work with individuals, children, parents, and families and has been published in the Journal of Happiness Studies and Autism Research and Treatment. She received her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from Eastern University and has gained specialized, intensive training in emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and Theraplay. She also has skills in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), strengths-based therapies, self-compassion training, attachment-based therapies, play therapy, and solution-focused therapy.
Dr. Debra Rezendes is a Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working towards licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist in Virginia. She works under the supervision of Marianne S. Coad, MAMFC, LMFT, LPC-S. In the event that clients have any questions or concerns about Debra’s work, her supervisor can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, (703) 657-9721, or 10379-B Democracy Lane, Fairfax, VA 22030.