There is no perfect way to fully prepare for any life experience. We must live it. Only then can we fully appreciate the impact it has on us and our unique experience of it, which may differ from that of other people. I want however to talk about some possible ways people can practically and psychologically prepare, or at least raise their awareness of some important psychological issues most people will experience when becoming parents. This will hopefully lead to early practice and consolidation of some tools and strategies that can help people cope better with life challenges when they become parents. This is especially so for people who have a diagnosed condition or less support around them to help them juggle the many life stresses, challenges and complexities at this life stage.
Young and middle adulthood life stage brings a few challenges. This is usually the time when a few major things happen simultaneously: parenthood, career, relationship, managing household/living independently and finance to name just a few…while still trying to find out who you are as a person: your strengths, needs, wishes, goals etc. Nevertheless, this is also a stage when we can go through most growth, meaning and memorable experiences.
I hear frequently people say “I wish I knew earlier so I could learn how to handle it better when life was less complicated”. So here you go: some things to think about before the busy life stage begins:
Relationship with self and self-talk:
Develop a positive and supportive relationship with yourself. Learn to use supportive, gentle and reassuring self-talk. Because the ‘YOU’ you know now will be changing very frequently and rapidly. One day you feel strong and resilient, the next day you feel vulnerable and sensitive. One day you are sharp and assertive, the next day you are slow and anxious. One day you feel strong and attractive, the next day you feel bloated and soar. Be prepared. You will be changing, and that is ok. If you can expect this to happen, it will be easier to be gentle and supportive with yourself. You then will be back on the horse quicker and the down days will not feel so awful. Learn to love and support yourself no matter what. You will then have more love to give and the difficult chapters will go smoother.
Self care and stress management strategies:
Practice early and develop a few different ways to recharge your batteries (physically and emotionally). Know what helps you jump back from stress, ground yourself, relax your nervous system and feel yourself again. Have a few options available for you as a self-care and stress management strategies. It is easier to use what we know instead of developing new strategies from scratch during stressful times.
Heal/address past trauma:
If you experienced traumatic events earlier in life, it may be a good idea to get professional help and support to heal past wounds before starting a family. Many people find that having children can act as a trigger for past trauma and unhealed emotional wounds.
Work on communication with your partner. Create healthy habits and routines where you get to check in frequently (daily/weekly) and talk about how you are travelling/feeling. Get into the habit of connecting and understanding your own needs and the needs of your partner. Then communicate in a calm atmosphere to see how you can help and support each other.
Distribution of roles:
There is lots to be done when managing the household and raising kids. Therefore, agree on who is doing what most of the time (for example, someone who is more analytical and organised will handle the majority of the finance and administration of the family, whereas someone who is more nurturing and patient will handle the emotional tantrums of kids). It is not about fair, but about each doing their best. We all have different skills and talents. Therefore, aim at each partner to be doing the things they are better at according to each person’s strengths and abilities. Also, it is not set in stone or rigid, you can revisit the responsibilities and change your involvement based on family needs at that point. If you still get overwhelmed, look to get external help of family or friends or hire paid help. As they say, it is cheaper to get a maid then get a divorce.
Time together as a couple:
People tend to neglect and forget to spend time together as a couple once kids arrive. It is definitely much more challenging to have time for one another, but it is essential. Allocating and committing to day dates/night dates or any other times where you get to spend as a couple (without kids) will go a long way towards feeling more connected, resilient, happy and strong as a couple. The alternative is a risk of growing apart, losing touch with one another and feeling like roommates bogged down by never-ending tasks and to-do lists. Keep the flame of the relationship alive by focusing on it as an important part of your life.
Your support network
Create a support system of caring friends, helpful family members, babysitters and any other support services you think you may need (cleaning services, cooked meals, affordable eating out options etc). Doing the research now, will save you energy when you are sleep deprived, grumpy and having a brain fog.
Try to keep with your healthy routines. Once you are able to resume/partially resume your previous hobbies, interests and meaningful connections, do so. Even if it is not to the extent you are used to. A little will still go a long way and will be a good investment in your mental health. After all, if you are not well, you will not be able to care for the people you love. Your mental health is therefore a wise investment.
Finally, do not forget to enjoy the present moment, which is your life how it is right now… in each moment. When we take the time to pause, breathe, observe, we can see the treasures, the things we can be grateful for in our life right now, things that are meaningful, that bring us joy/comfort/peace. Some of the moments will never repeat. This is so especially when raising kids. So we want to be present for us, for them, for the moment. Consciously taking mental pictures in our mind of the precious moments, even if they happen in a midst of chaos and business of our life.
Author: Ilana Gorovoy, B.Arts (Psych), B. Arts (Hons.)(Psychology), MPsych (Couns.)
With a Master’s in Counselling, Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy draws on therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Existential and Strengths-based approaches, Person-Centred and Positive Psychology, to assist her clients to become conscious of their strengths and difficulties, design and reach their goals, live a life of meaning and purpose, and reach their full potential.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy, try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology (Wishart) on (07) 3088 5422.