If your morning shuffle makes you look like a zombie actor’s stunt double and your brain is so foggy you put the milk in the pantry and the cereal in the fridge, you might be a new parent. Parenting takes a lot out of you, and the transition into parenthood is tough physically and mentally. Becoming the stay-at-home parent adds another level of transition into the mix, even more so if your partner is on active duty and deploying.
While that may sound, and occasionally look apocalyptic, it is very doable and one of the toughest and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever done. But how do you go through this full-time parenting gig without losing yourself along the way? I’ve got five tips to help you get through the zombie zone and into that sweet spot of family life.
- Nurture yourself first, so you’ll have something to give to your family. Schedule some of what makes you happy into every day or at least once a week. Whatever your passion (music lessons, art, crafting, golf, reading, cooking, pursing an education, etc.), you need to actively pursue it. Schedule it when you can — during naps, after kids are in bed, get a sitter or wait until your partner is home to tag-team kid duties — but find time for you.
Kids make life richer; they aren’t an excuse to stop doing the things you love. It took me years to earn my degree, but I continued to attend college as a young parent because it fed my soul. When we were stationed in Sicily, I was able to work part-time for MWR to earn enough money for a babysitter on the nights I had class (when hubby was deployed or on duty). I applied for scholarships and took college classes on base.
- Live in the moment so you don’t multitask your life away. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day juggling of feeding, changing diapers, slaying the laundry monster, and the rest of your to-do list. Actively engage in what you are doing, and you’ll find yourself completing tasks instead of spinning your wheels on 10 different things. When you are feeding the baby, relax and enjoy the interaction and closeness, because this time won’t last very long. When you are deliberate with your actions you get more done and appreciate life a bit more.
Adjust your priorities. It’s OK to let the house go a little and focus on the basics. Rest, food, bathe, oh — and breathe. Breathing is good.
- Schedule your day so you can be spontaneous. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but trust me on this. Once you establish a schedule that works for you and your baby (or children), you will know your windows of active time and naptime and can take advantage of them. You need to get out of the house — sometimes to preserve your own sanity and other times to do the necessary shopping. Schedules help you do that and keep the kids happier.
When we were stationed at NAS Sigonella in Sicily, I stayed cooped up in the apartment for a while until I figured out that planning outings around my infant’s schedule made both our days better. Sometimes I planned for her to nap on the bus or in the car. Other days I found a quiet place for her to nap in the stroller, and we still had plenty of days where she napped in her crib. Manipulating the place of the feeding or nap, while sticking to the schedule, gave me newfound freedom to get things done or go to an impromptu lunch with friends.
- Wear your clothes, so you can connect with adults. I know that sounds silly to say, but if you are in the trenches, you know there will be days when you feel like managing to get a shower is an award-winning accomplishment. Pajamas or sweats are easier to roll with, but you still need to put yourself together so you won’t be in hermit mode every day. Once you’re dressed, with shoes on, you’ll find you are more productive and more sociable.
You have options in your day if you are dressed at the beginning of it. You can find and build a support network of friends that are in the same situation as you. Our second home in Sicily was farther away from base, so to find other moms I got involved with the local playgroup. We explored our little town of Santa Maria La Stella, went site seeing, hosted lunch play dates and watched each other’s kids when needed. That did my soul good and wore out my toddler so she napped like a champ, which in turn left me with a bit more me time.
- Date your partner. Between parenting, housework, career and the other activities of your life, it is easy to let exhaustion be an excuse to push off date night. Don’t let that happen. It’s important to reconnect with your partner daily and to have a regular date night each week. You don’t always have to go out of the house, but you do need to have regular time together and away from the kids.
You can have fabulous date nights on a budget. Check out your local Morale, Welfare and Recreation center for inexpensive and adventurous date ideas. Remember, your base usually has discount movies and you’ll find military discounts on different tickets at your ITT office. Be creative and surprise each other. Caring for one another as partners will make your parenting teamwork easier and more natural.
All parents go through this zombie stage. Pull yourself out of it with help from those who have been there. The friends I made while parenting my young children hold a special place in my heart. Those mothers helped me find myself when my zombie days blurred into one another. They reminded me that the best parts of life begin in parenthood. You have unique talents, knowledge, experiences and dreams you need to continue to nurture, because that is the well you draw from when you raise your children, solve problems and care for your family.