A family member used the phrase “drowning in motherhood” last week to describe her life with a newborn and a toddler. I remember so many days just a few years ago of my own fierce determination mixed with immeasurable joy and overwhelming exhaustion that left me drowning in motherhood.
As a former lifeguard and 8-1/2 year veteran of motherhood, I compiled my top three survival skills to share with new moms who may find themselves in over their heads.
Survival Skill #1: Relax and Submit to Your New Reality
I recently researched an indoor swimming facility for my three young girls to escape this long, dreary winter. I learned that the swim instructors teach a “rollover” technique to children as young as four months. When a submerged child rolls into their back instead of kicking and fighting for the surface, the air in their lungs creates enough buoyancy to bring their head above water.
Motherhood is like that, too. When we learn to relax and give in a little, the stress and struggle of mothering eases up. Maybe the house is a mess and you’ve served canned soup and grilled cheese for the third time this week. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of mothering. Sit back, put your feet up and catch your breath.
Survival Skill #2: Find Your Life Preserver
Getting your head above water is only the first step; now you need some help staying afloat. When you first become a mom, it’s common and so easy to become isolated from your former world. Your past relationships and lifestyle may not fit any longer; and that’s okay. But motherhood is a lot more difficult if you put yourself in solitary confinement.
You’ve got to reach out and find new connections to help you through this part of your journey. Consider joining a play group, striking up a conversation with other moms at the park, or enrolling your little ones in a cooperative preschool or Mother’s Time Out program. You will learn so much about parenting and child development, and hopefully, you will start lasting friendships based on the commonality of motherhood.
If you are parenting with a spouse or partner, tether yourself together during this time. Losing your connection to the person you love most is not only possible, it’s common during the first year of parenting. It’s true that your relationship will never be the same, but with a lot of work and communication, you will build yourselves an unsinkable lifeboat.
Survival Secret #3: Count Your Blessings
How many times have you exclaimed, “Thank God!” after pulling through a harrowing experience? It may sound cliché, but learning to appreciate what you have each day will give you the strength to endure whatever comes your way.
Last week, I received the staggering news that a friend’s 12-year-old daughter had died suddenly after a mild illness. It is a tragedy like this that causes you to shift your priorities. In my case, it reminded me of the first few weeks after my second baby was born. I was struggling to care for a 2-year-old and a newborn. And then came a phone call that changed my life forever. A teenage family member was hospitalized in the intensive care unit because of kidney failure.
From that moment on, I cherished the dark, quiet hours at night when I fed and rocked my baby girl. I was still tired, but no longer frustrated or overwhelmed. I understood then, and now, that I am blessed and make sure my children know every day how much they are loved. After many surgeries and weeks in the hospital, my family member survived. The lesson I learned from her struggle remains.
My second daughter is now six years old. She crawled into my bed last weekend in the wee hours of the night. She was feverish and wanted to sleep with me. I snuggled close to her and listened while she drifted off to sleep. I took a deep breath and whispered a prayer of gratitude. And when – two hours later – my two-year-old daughter padded in wordlessly and climbed into bed on the other side of me, I repeated the ritual.