There is no truer statement on parenthood than "you don't know, until you know". We've got a few blog posts here about our learnings when we welcomed our babies. I wanted to share some thoughts on change.
A few years ago, I really needed help to get some clarity in my life. I met Dr. Aileen Alegado through a referral from my GP. Aileen is the director of Mindset Consulting. She’s a registered clinical psychologist who specialises in Schema Therapy, CBT, ACT and IPT and is a passionate practitioner.
Dr Aileen helped me get super clear on all the things. She was a caring, calm, smart port of call for me and sent me off on my next adventure with an excellent set of tools, ones that continue to be helpful to me. Aileen is an positive professional and a really, really great woman.
I wanted to share with your her great thinking, her sage advice and tips. Dolly Parton even gets a mention here so how can it be anything but a good read?
Enjoy the q and a and follow Aileen at @dr.aileen for more jewels and gems.
A Q&A with Dr Aileen Alegado
Aileen, having a baby is a big change on many level. Is there any point trying to prepare for change or is it just a case of "strap yourself in for the ride"?
Like any other big event in your life - moving house, getting married, starting a new job - it is important to acknowledge this is will be a milestone and therefore some preparation will always be beneficial.
That could be both physical preparation (from understanding your responsibilities to have a healthy pregnancy to buying things you will need when the baby is born) or psychological (grieving for an identity of being single and the lifestyle that goes along with that). You wont be able to control or anticipate every single thing and you're not expected to, but some level of reflection or thought should help you be as prepared for being a mother as much as you can.
Q. When the changes are overwhelming or challenging, are there any tips you can suggest to help manage the challenge?
Things can be overwhelming for many reasons. There are a million things to do and it feels like you should all be doing them and doing them well, so learning to break things down into smaller tasks, learning to ask for help where you can (don’t be martyr), reframing your mindset into a positive one ie. challenges are new opportunities to learn skills and achieve things you've never done before.
Challenge any unhelpful expectations to be 'perfect' and adopt a flexible way of thinking about what works for you.
Listen to what you feel and what your body and soul needs - and try to nurture that with compassion and kindness
Don’t be a martyr is great advice, no-one gives you a medal for doing it tough.
The phrase "comparison is the thief of joy" is one of my favourites. As new mamas the opportunity to compare is all around us - social media, at supermarkets, the playground. I've fallen into the comparison trap and had to do a social media cleanse to feel better! How do you recommend we can stop the comparison?
As humans we naturally compare ourselves to others to see if we 'fit in' the community or are meeting expectations of society. Try to use other people's experiences only as a 'guide' or perhaps in a positive way reframe this into inspiration. If you can’t, I recommend turning off social media until you're in a better place.
It is easy to get stuck with feeling inadequate when we compare ourselves to others because the focus is on what you don't have or what other's are doing well rather than what you have and what you are doing great with.
By refocussing on what you're doing, you not only experience positive feelings that come with gratitude but you are also 'present' in your life which helps validate your journey. This also creates a better framework to create meaning and purpose in your new life as a parent.
Many new parents go through stages of stress, anxiety and feeling miserable - at what point should we seek help?
Because we are all different, people should pay attention to what is 'baseline' for them. The measure of concern is how much distress the stress, anxiety and low mood is causing.
Consider its frequency, intensity and duration. Remember parenting is tough and it is normal to feel these things over a period of time. Seeking help should be considered if you feel that the symptoms of anxiety or depression is negatively affecting your ability to function according to 'your normal'.
Ask yourself -
Are you having more bad days than good?
Are there feelings of hopelessness?
It always helps to talk about your thoughts and feelings with close friends and family so they too can look out for you and you can feel supported.
Q. Baby hormones, sleepless nights and identity shifts are all stressors. What are your top tips for keeping in good mental shape during this time of change?
Remember being a new parent and having a baby is a stressful experience for everyone. It is also a wonderful one if you can make sure you are looking after yourself.
Many people fall in the trap of believing that motherhood is all about the baby and forget that without their own mental health, there will be no good parenting for that child. Put your own oxygen mask on before helping someone as they say on safety videos
1. Identify what you can control vs what you can’t. If there are things that are fixed or rigid, reframe this so you are in a non-judgemental position to accept and exercise compassion to yourself. For things that you can control, start planning on how to create a routine that works.
2. Routine is good. When things are chaotic, we can feel more stressed when we operate on a 'survival mode’. Whilst this has short term merits, it doesn’t allow space for you to be able to be creative or strategic about how to best tackle problems or change them.
3. Have varied activities. People can burn out and lose a sense of purpose when they’re doing the same things over and over again. So with a routine, try to incorporate a combination of exercise, pleasurable activities, social and fun activities, rest or quiet time and achievement activities.
4. Surround yourself with people who will lift you up. There is a saying that you are the average of the 5 people you hang around. Find a tribe that brings out the your best self.
5. Keep a check on that mindset - circumstances can get us down but its all in how we interpret what is happening to use. Challenge negative thinking patterns - is this a helpful way of thinking? Am I being too critical? Is this valid? Try to gain a balanced perspective on your thoughts and develop a way of thinking that works for you not against you
I love that you mentioned the “achievment activities” someone once told me, if you just get one load of washing in the machine a day, that is an achievement. I think I scoffed at that and now it is my mantra. I went from kicking big work goals each day, to sometimes not even getting in the shower. Identity shift is a big part of becoming a mama - what actions could be helpful in navigating this journey?
Give yourself the space and time for this identity shift to take place. No one expects you to know who you are or have a meaning and purpose overnight after such a lifechanging event.
”Sit" with your thoughts and feelings and over time, what is important to you and what your values are should shine through - journalling helps with this process of discovering yourself again.
Creating 'mental space' through meditation or mindfulness practice is also a quick and easy way to be able to help with this journey.
Mamas are often made to feel guilty about wishing the tough, sleepless nights away "oh, but it goes so fast" says well meaning friends. Is there a good mantra for the tough times that isn't simply "this too shall pass"?
The emotion of guilt is about responsibility, often mothers can feel guilty for almost anything. Ask yourself "is this something to feel guilty about?" or “is this normal to feel this way?” You are not a robot and we are all human.
Often our resistance and focus on what is tough mean we fixate on that and create more struggle - we are giving the tough time more 'airtime'. Accept that sleepless nights are part of parenting, so try to go along with it with compassion rather than criticism. Same goes for other tough times you will go through as part of motherhood. One good mantra for this can be "life is perfectly imperfect and that is ok" or "In order to get the rainbow, you must put up with the rain - Dolly Parton"
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.