One in 10 women develop a mental health illness within the first year of having a baby (Maternal Mental Health, http://everyonesbusiness.org.uk/?page_id=6) – so if you feel you are struggling to make the transition from career woman to full-time mum – you are not alone.
I embarked on this journey five years ago after giving birth to my daughter Jessica. I found the transition challenging and eventually had to change my career completely.
Looking back, I would certainly have welcomed some advice to help me prepare, and an opportunity to share my experiences with women going through the same challenges.
Staying at home to be a mother to your child or children is a full-time job which requires so many skills; top of the list is patience. But if you find the right balance and make that transition then it can be the most rewarding journey of your life.
Here are my top tips on how to manage the transition successfully – these are the things I wished I had known five years ago:
1. Find supportive communities of fellow parents that you can tap into.
These can be virtual or physical. It is important to be in touch, talk about your challenges, share experiences, listen to other people going through the same journey as you. By connecting with others you will know you are not alone – and what you are going through is completely normal.
2. Ensure you have ‘me’ time.
You may have heard this before but it is even more important when you become a mum. There are no longer days off, weekends or a sick leave… so you must ensure you have a chance to switch off and have time for yourself.
3. Don’t be afraid to share how you feel.
A lot of mums worry about sharing their feelings with their partners, fearing negative reactions and misunderstandings. However, talking things through can help to ensure you get the support you need at home. Partner’s aren’t telepathic – they need you to communicate with them if they are to help you. Do not leave it until it is too late. Also, share how you feel with your doctor, and look for local support if you feel you may benefit from it.
4. Adjust your expectations and reflect on each day.
Ask yourself three questions and write down the answers: What have you learned today? How did you feel about it? What were you really proud of today? Answering these questions each day will help your own self-exploration and allow you to recognise and build upon your progress.
5. Make sure you are happy with your childcare arrangements.
Nothing is worse than constantly worrying about your child while you aren’t with them. Checking up on them every minute and jumping each time your phone rings isn’t healthy or pleasant and will leave you feeling mentally ragged. Invest your time in finding the right solution for you and your child.
6. Keep yourself engaged with outside world.
Learn a new skill – maybe try that course or craft project you always wanted to do but never got round to. Learn about beauty techniques, or photography, or take up sewing. There are so many options and joining a class is a great way to meet new people outside the ‘new mums’ network, give you time away from the childcare, keep your brain engaged, and give you a sense of achievement.
7. Explore the local children’s center.
These are fantastic places which offer so many free courses with crèche facilities – and most importantly parenting courses and peer to peer support groups. You need never feel you are struggling on your own again! How about learning baby signing so you can start communicating with your child earlier?
8. Don’t be afraid to share your skills.
All of us are talented and offer something very unique. Use this to build on your strengths and support others in the community. Consider a skills swap as a way to learn something new.
Using mindfulness is a great way to stay calm and avoid that overwhelmed feeling, especially when Parenthood gets really tough. Just a few minutes each day for yourself could make a huge difference. There are apps, books, YouTube videos and podcasts to help if you feel you need some mindful guidance.
10. Keep things real.
Don’t ignore the outside world. Engage with your partner and their life and work, take an interest in the world outside your baby. Stay in touch with what is happening in the world and how it impacts you and your family.
The family budget is a common cause of conflicts and misunderstandings. So make sure you know what free options are available in your area. There are thousands of community groups offering fantastic free opportunities for parents to learn, for children to develop and play and for parents to relax and have ‘me’ time. It does not cost anything. Invest some time in doing your research – it is amazing what you will find and how little you need to spend!
Enjoy every minute, but be prepared for anything! Having a child is incredibly rewarding and almost every parent will tell you it’s the best thing they have ever done and it’s all over far too fast! So enjoy it, make the most of it, and savor every moment.
And when you are ready to go back to work remember that you were employable before you had a baby and you are even more employable now as you have learned so many new skills. You also have expertise in human development… something you cannot learn in educational institutions. Remember you are getting a new degree through your experience – so make sure you reflect this on your CV.