The weeks following the birth of my beautiful daughter were both wonderful and horrible. As our third child, we had enough parenting experience to know that she was an easy angel babe. She ate well at regular intervals, burped like a champ, slept peacefully, and even smiled sweetly in her sleep more than any other infant I’ve ever seen.
Still, regardless of how easy a newborn she was, I struggled with the transition to having three children.
In addition to the typical work associated with caring for a helpless newborn, there were other things causing me stress and anxiety. Our home was completely torn apart as we were partway through a DIY remodel that we’d planned to have finished. Two weeks after delivery and just as I was starting to feel somewhat human, I passed a kidney stone and my recovery seemed to start over.
Just three days later, my husband severely injured his finger while using the table saw. He was in so much pain and on such heavy medication that, rather than being able to be my support during my postpartum period, he was forced to rely on my care to do simple things like shower and drive to work. Finally, our daughter started developing symptoms of reflux that made her increasingly fussy and unable to sleep unless she was being held. This persisted until the problem was finally diagnosed and treated with medication.
While I knew that these struggles were not the hardest anyone had ever endured, they were still difficult for me to handle. As the days passed and my mental and emotional reserves wore thin, I became disappointed in myself and discouraged as a mother. I felt I was so far from my ideal of motherhood, from the woman I’d wanted, and expected, to be at this point.
I remember sobbing on the phone to my mother three weeks after my daughter was born, declaring through near-hysteria, that while I’d known having three kids would be hard, this was so much harder than I’d anticipated.
It was only with time, insights gained from discussions with loved ones, and changes prompted by personal introspection, that I started feeling like I was slowly, haltingly, inching towards feeling capable; like I was managing this new reality of my life with grace.
We all face times that are more difficult than we expect. Our struggles may come from the stress of ordinary life or by bigger changes like health issues, strained finances, the death of a loved one, moving to a new location, starting a new job, or the birth of a new baby. Thankfully, no matter what is causing us stress and anxiety, there are things we can do to help us manage the struggles we all face.
Here are some coping strategies I learned during my difficult transition to having three children:
1. Rely on Help from Others
During that transition period I was often tired and resentful of the care required by my children. I felt guilty and alone for having those feelings, as though I was the only mother who ever felt that way.
What made the difference for me in every way possible was the help and caring of others. My mother stayed with us for over a week right after my daughter was born and smoothed the transition. Friends brought dinners at least a few times a week for that first month. Another friend brought over surprise lunches for the boys and stacks of books to help them stay occupied. When I had the ability to release some of my load and let others help carry it, I was better able to keep my life in perspective and show up for my family in the way I wanted.
2. Carve Out Time for Yourself Whenever Possible
Self-care is so important and so hard. So hard that I feel hypocritical including it here because I am horrible at finding time to relax, even though logically, I know how important it is for me to do so. The laundry lists of to-do items are never-ending for mothers (usually involving never-ending laundry), and it takes deliberate action to set it aside and focus on nurturing yourself. When I do take those moments to let my mind relax and be calm, it makes all the difference. Even just ducking into a quiet room to close your eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes can help reset your day. Taking several hours for yourself, by letting a friend or babysitter watch your children so you can truly rest or do something just because you want to, is even better.
3. Let Go of the Unimportant Expectations for Yourself
Much of what we do to care for our families and homes can be simplified or eliminated altogether. During a difficult season, taking a few minutes to evaluate why you are making the choices you are, can help you see what matters to you more clearly. Releasing your own expectations to make fully homemade, gourmet dinners each night, or to volunteer at your children’s school each week, or to be the one cleaning your bathrooms each week, can free up time and mental space you desperately need during more difficult times.
I’ve learned during my difficult seasons that only a few things, usually involving relationships, must be done by you personally. A pizza store can make you dinner, or a meal delivery kit can drop ingredients at your door. Other parents can step in to volunteer at school. Your husband, your children, or a maid service can clean your bathrooms…or they can just stay messy for a while. Prioritize what you truly need to do, and let go of perfection in the rest.
4. Remind Yourself that You Can do Hard Things and So Can Your Children
Sometimes what feels incredibly difficult and overwhelming truly is just as difficult as you think it is. But, you must remember that you are able to do hard things. There is nothing easy about being a mother, and reminding yourself of the obstacles you have already faced can give you strength to keep going.
During my difficult season right after my daughter was born, I often told myself the story of how we’d already remodeled one house and made it through; how I’d survived the difficult delivery of my first child despite many serious medical complications; how I had adjusted to the craziness of working part-time from home with two children under three. Our lives as mothers are, in many ways, shaped and defined by the hard things we deliberately undertake for the growth or benefit of our families. We can do hard things, and our children are resilient enough to weather difficult seasons, too. Sometimes just reminding yourself of that fact can help you keep pushing forward until life becomes a little easier.
Each of us will face incredibly difficult times during our lives; it’s part of being human and absolutely part of being a mother. However, deliberate mothers can absolutely adjust to survive and thrive to become the women we want to be despite difficult circumstances.
QUESTION: What was the last truly difficult season of your life? What coping strategies did you use to help make it through that time?
CHALLENGE: Evaluate whether using one of the above strategies could help you face challenges in your life now and, if so, implement it. Or if you know someone else going through a difficult time, think of something someone did for you that helped you through that time, and return the favor.
Edited by Sharon Brown and Nollie Haws.
Image from Unsplash via PicMonkey.