The Best 6 Ways to Find Your Purpose After Becoming A First-Time Mother
Twelve years ago when my son was born, I remember attending a new mom group. I was so grateful for getting out of the house. I was starting to feel isolated and lonely at home all day with my son. It was not what I was used to.
I was used to going to work, helping my clients who were struggling in relationships or were coping with depression and anxiety. I also worked at a school with children who had different styles of learning and I was used to assisting the teachers in finding ways to help them learn in a way that was meaningful to them. So being at home day after day-changing dirty diapers, feeding, and trying to clean up between small stints of sleep was taking a toll on how I was coping. It was a struggle. It was lonely. And I wasn’t sure what my purpose was now that my life had changed so dramatically.
When I heard the other moms talking in the group I realized quickly I was not the only one. Some were also having difficulty recognizing themselves and determining who they were now as moms, partners, and individuals. Some were struggling in their relationships. Others were even struggling to find a connection to what they enjoyed about being new parents.
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for almost 20 years, I’ve counseled thousands of individuals and couples on how to meet the challenges in their lives. Over the last decade, I’ve concentrated on working with new and expecting parents on the challenges that they face when they bring home a new baby.
When we become new parents, most of us enter a phase/stage in which we are constantly trying to determine this new role. We are trying to figure out who we are as partners now that we are now also parents. And very often I will talk with new partners who are struggling to identify a sense of purpose in this new reality. When you are in a stage of so much growth and change it can often be difficult to see all the ways you are contributing and growing, which I believe are two needs that play a part in finding what our purpose is.
In my book, Happy With Baby: Essential Relationship Advice when Partners Become Parents, I discuss three important kinds of questions that you should ask yourself and your partner every day, week, month, from now until your child moves out and probably beyond.
- First, what are you doing to take care of yourself? What makes you feel good about yourself?
- Second, what are you doing to make sure that you’re connecting with your partner? Do you set aside time for regular check-ins? What about a weekly child-free date?
- And finally, what are you doing to make sure that you’re bonding with your baby? Do you have a daily routine? Do you create opportunities for quality time?
Answering these questions can you help stay connected to yourself, your partner, and your baby. You want to think of your family as a layer cake and this exercise is how to make certain your entire cake is sweet. The cake may still be messy or even lopsided, but all that really matters is that the sweetness is there.
With this frame of mind, you can then use the following SIX Action Steps to help you find your real purpose after becoming a first-time mother:
#1 Acknowledge who you were before the baby
One of the challenges after the baby arrives is we can begin to focus on all the ways everything is different. It can all seem so hard and overwhelming. And it is. Everything is constantly changing. And when things are changing, life is stressful. Even when the “stress” is welcome because it is a new bundle of joy.
I remember a friend I made when my son was a baby who shared with me how she was having a difficult time being a new mom and doing the same things every day. She was missing part of her “old life” as a lobbyist and basically felt out of the loop of life. The next time I saw her she told me she had subscribed to the New York Times and it was a game-changer for her. She said that she didn’t always read the whole newspaper, but it was still helping her feel like she knew what was happening in the world. “I feel like I’m still here,” she said. This simple exercise helped her not only remain grounded in who she was before the baby but also in who she was becoming.
#2 Indulge yourself in something new
Find a way to schedule even a tiny portion of time devoted to doing that one thing you enjoy. A shower doesn’t count! You give a lot to others, but what do you give to yourself? It can be solo or with your little one in tow. Think hiking, yoga in your living room, painting, all adventures you can share with your baby. It will look totally different than it did pre-parenthood, but you will find fulfillment nonetheless.
If you are sitting there thinking that you don’t even know what you like to do anymore, ask yourself, “What did I love to do when I was a child?” Did you like to sing or dance? Did you play out in the yard climbing trees, gardening, or making things? Did you paint or color? Start there. How can you incorporate a little bit of creativity into your life now? It will not look the same, but this time will also not last forever and there will be opportunities down the road to do more of what you love. Start simple. Put on your favorite song and dance or sing.
#3 Embrace failure
No one starts a new job or a new hobby knowing how to do it perfectly the first time. Why do we somehow feel like we should know or be able to know how to be a new parent right out of the gate? Parenting is often trial and error. What works one day will sometimes not work the next. Especially in the first year of life, because babies change so much. What can start to seem to be a pattern will surely change the moment when you think you can count on something.
In Happy With Baby, I remind new mothers that “…if you want to feel like a failure… if you want further proof of your inadequacies, not just as a mother but as a human being, try following your friends on Facebook and Instagram as they post their perfect pictures and coo over their ruggedly handsome, loving husbands and adorable, cheerful babies.”
But take heart. There is hope. Start by letting yourself off the hook for perfection and giving yourself grace. Avoid setting the kinds of goals that are impossible to meet. Remember, you can’t learn something new if you don’t make mistakes. You may even find that something you were positive should happen only one way, was actually a lot better when you let go of the expectations of what should be happening.
There are a lot of subtle and overt pressures on you and your baby. Meeting developmental milestones, how you should be feeding your baby, what types of learning you should be exposing him to, and so much more. But every baby and every family has their own needs–and just because you’re not doing something that your friend from high school is doing with her baby who’s about the same age, does not qualify as a failure.
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#4 Learn something new
You’re probably thinking that everything you’re doing right now is new. And you’re absolutely right–but the focus is all on the baby, I suspect. Can you find something new you might enjoy for yourself or with your partner? Can you take an online cooking class together, or maybe a dance class? (Still trying to talk my husband into this one.)
Oftentimes being a new parent can seem like Groundhog Day. Everything is always the same. Finding gratification in changing diapers, feeding your baby, and putting them down for naps can be difficult day after day.
But if you can add something new and fun–something to look forward to–it can make all the difference. It can be extremely satisfying if you accomplish making a tasty meal or learning that new dance move. This helps your self-esteem, especially if there are days when trying to just get your little one down for a nap seems hopeless.
For example, I once worked with a couple that missed going out to dinner at nice restaurants. That was their thing pre-baby–trying all the new restaurants that opened up in their town. Suddenly, the logistics of always being able to get a babysitter was not realistic, and so they decided to order from one of those meal prep services and making it “an event” one night a week. Like a date night out, but only staying in. They would do the prep work together–sometimes with the baby depending, on how long it took. And while one of them put the baby down to sleep, the other one would cook the dinner. Then they would open a good bottle of wine, dim the lights, or set up the table on the back patio.
They were surprised to find that something neither of them really cared for doing before–making dinner– became more fun when they did it together. Now it is a weekly ritual they look forward to doing–finding exciting new meals to try, or repeating some of their perfected meals along the way.
#5 Appreciate how you have changed and will continue to change
Everything is constantly changing. It is overwhelming at times. I find myself wanting things to slow down. Other times I look forward to certain stages or phases to hurry up and pass. It’s so easy to focus too much on how your baby is growing and changing while ignoring all of the wonderful ways in which you have also grown and changed as a person.
Give yourself a break! Your ability to adapt to change, your capacity to love, your acknowledgment that being a new parent isn’t always easy, your ability to meet your child’s needs and comfort them–all of these things are testaments to your own personal accomplishments.
I often share with my clients that they need to talk to themselves the way they would talk with their children. You have been through a lot having brought a new baby into your home. In some societies, they really nurture and care for the mother after birth, but not so much here in America. So what can you do to nurture and care for yourself? Acknowledging this amazing thing you have done and continue to do– to care for and love a brand new human being. To meet their needs, help them grow, and be a good person in the world.
This takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. There are no breaks or days off. And you are doing it! Take a moment to appreciate that.
#6 Strive for balance
What is balance really? Nothing in life is ever truly balanced equally, but what you are doing to make sure your focus is not just on your baby? Make sure you are doing something that makes you feel good about who you are, something you feel confident in. Surround yourself with positive people. Talk frequently with those who are supportive of you and know who you are. Take little moments for yourself and don’t neglect what you need. Look at your to-do–list and figure out what items are not really a priority right now so that you can have time for yourself.
And most importantly, do not be so quick to feel like you have to have all the chores done and the house looking like they do on those perfect Instagram pictures. Twelve years in and I’m still waiting for my house to be clean for any stretch longer than an hour after we clean it. (The only exception is the times we clean right before we leave for vacation.)
Think about all the items listed above, what is something that sounded like you wanted to do? Take the time for yourself. If you feel like you need permission, I am hereby giving you permission. Remember, it is also very important for your children to see you taking care of yourself, and doing things you enjoy and feel good about. It is also beneficial to your partnership, and most importantly it will benefit you!
Bringing a new baby into the world and caring for them is not all blissful and joyful. Without immediate and genuine feedback, we can often feel like we are not doing a good job. We can constantly doubt ourselves and the choices we make. If I give my baby formula, will she be bad at math? If I hold him too much, will he never move out of the home? All of your focus can revolve around what you are doing instead of how you are feeling and the relationships you are building.
Remember, your baby isn’t the absolute center of your world, but rather a part of your world. (You may have just gasped, but it’s true) Life is complicated. Yes, you’re a devoted new parent; and in most cases, a loving partner. But you’re also an individual human being. More often than not, when you focus on balancing your own needs along with those of your partner and your child–you’re on track to finding your purpose. We hope this article gave you a new perspective on the ways to find your purpose after becoming a mother.