As both an expectant and new parent, you get a LOT of advice. Some of it you solicit, and some of it you really, really don’t. The advice that helped me stomach all the advice? “Try to take each suggestion as the person’s attempt at a gift; it won’t always fit or be the right color, but the intention behind it is usually kindness.”
That perspective worked well for me 95% of the time, but it definitely did NOT work for this jewel: “Sleep while your baby is sleeping.” When my baby girl slept soundlessly all day every day, deciding that night time was the right time for partying, crying, eating, and everything that involved being wide awake, I got this advice on repeat. I know it was well-intentioned. I looked like a haggard zombie. Plus, as someone who approaches life with both myself and my clients holistically, I get that if something is off physically, it’s impossible to fully function mentally, emotionally or spiritually. That said, this became my internal response when yet another well-meaning person suggested rest: “(in Samuel L Jackson’s “Pulp Fiction” voice) Tell me to SLEEP, mother-f’er! Tell me to SLEEP ONE MORE mother-f’in time!!”
When I tried to sleep while she was sleeping, I was stiff and motionless on the bed, eyes wide open, riddled with anxiety, feeling completely alienated from life outside our little house. Sunlight flooded the room, and me, with desperation to connect to my former self. I turned to Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child to try and get a grip on our situation, and was floored when I came across this quote: “When the baby is asleep, get some sleep yourself, unless you are doing something for your own peace of mind.” Okay. The sleep book tells me it’s okay to do something besides sleep if it makes me happy. Or at least this is how my exhausted brain chose to interpret it.
I stopped wrestling myself. I decided that for me, being sleepy, but otherwise grounded, was better for all of us. While she snoozed, I took long, hot baths. I vented to friends, combing them for advice on how to fix our issues. I got out of the house alone, wandered through Target and resisted the impulse to violently embrace complete strangers, yelling, “Hiiii! Isn’t it sooo great to be alive together, looking at these pretty things together, breathing in this air together?!” I made curry. The curry part, especially, wouldn’t be a universally validated self-care suggestion, but it grounded me, and it tasted damn good. For those first few months, I was very tired, but very alive, and able to more fully enjoy my sweet, party-lovin’ girl.
Accept parenting and self-care advice. It’s based on a rich history of parents and professionals who have walked through the fire, and you need it. Hear me when I say that putting yourself in physical peril is not okay. Milan Kundera said it well: “When we ignore the body, we are more easily victimized by it.” But don’t forget that inside you, there’s this gorgeous, strong brain that gives you so much imperative information. Listen to it, responding to and incorporating what you hear. Your sanity is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family, even if your personal path to it isn’t fully backed by conventional wisdom.
BPP Sanity Savers:
- Try to remain graciously open to well-intended advice from others, including those who aren’t parents (they are often more grounded in life beyond the baby bubble). Caring for your physical needs is the pre-requisite for all other needs, and get help addressing any barriers to these needs…
- …but, don’t forget to also listen to yourself, trusting your ability to discern the path to your emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. Factor your voice in.
- It’s very possible to be fried to the point of an inability to hear your own voice or know WHAT you want or need. If you find yourself there, it’s time to get support. Call a trusted friend and/or a good therapist, be truthful about how overwhelmed you feel, and ask for help.
Here’s to Sanity and Curry,