Demands You Did Not Expect
Becoming a new parent is a joy-filled battlefield -- in large part because there is so much trial and error and a number of unanticipated needs and demands. But there is joy that comes when you keep a sense of humor and build a network of support made up of friends, family and hired help when necessary. It may be the biggest job you'll ever have, but by far it is the most rewarding.
Manage Your Time Like a Pro
As a new parent you have to prioritize. The first step, according to SurfNetParents.com, is to look at your schedule and figure out how you spend your time. Changing and feeding the baby and feeding yourself are priorities, for instance, but hopping on social media sites just to say "hi" isn't. Make lists that have the most important to-do items at the top and the less important ones at the bottom. Then, when you're able to cross them off the list as you do them, you'll feel less overwhelmed, because you can see that you've accomplished something.
Make It a Date Night
Don't forget that other important relationship in your life, other than the one you forge with your baby -- the one with your spouse or significant other. After the baby goes down in the evening, make time for each other. Hire a sitter or lean on a friend and have a "date night" at least once a week -- even if that just means a quiet dinner at home together. Keep the lines of communication open and make time for one another, recommend Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, the authors behind "What to Expect When You're Expecting."
Get Your Zzzs
One of the best things new mothers and fathers can do for themselves is to get lots of sleep, says Julie Wright, a marriage and family therapist based in Culver City, California. Sometimes that means taking the opportunity to sleep when the baby sleeps, and sometimes that means asking your mom to watch the baby while you catch up. "So many new mothers feel better when they sleep better," Wright says.
Help for Hire
Beg, borrow or steal -- or just hire -- reliable childcare. Once you find a trustworthy caregiver, you can take naps, go on dates with your mate, read, go for walks alone and even see and talk to your friends. "It really does take a village to raise a child," said Wendy Sachs, editor-in-chief at Care.com, an online site that connects parents with potential nannies and sitters. But sitters aren't the only hired help you can lean on. Housekeepers and grocery delivery services can be invaluable, too.
Hey Good Lookin', Whatcha Got Cookin'?
Ask any new parent about her dinner plans, and she will more than likely open a kitchen drawer filled with takeout menus. But there are better ways to eat well and eat right. One key, according to Gina Costa writing in "Parents" magazine, is cooking soups, stews and pasta dishes and cooking big. Want to have fun? Have your friends over so you can all make large dinners together. "Whenever you cook a meal," Costa suggests, "always double (or triple) the recipe and freeze the extras."
The Friend Connection
In a perfect world, you and your friends would all have children at the same time and you could all help each other whenever necessary. But since the world is not perfect, you may have to work extra hard to maintain your friendships when you become a new parent and your time is limited. One way for new parents to stay connected to friends, according to ParentMap.com, is to plan girls' and guys' nights out. Or for a more practical outing that helps you both, go grocery shopping together. If you're feeling brave, go out to lunch with your friends and your baby at family-friendly restaurants.
Julie Wright, a marriage and family therapist, once casually surveyed her clients and found that all of them said it is harder to take care of their babies than to take care of work. While that certainly supports the argument that stay-at-home parents have the hardest jobs in the world, it also proves that working moms and dads are more focused work-wise, because that time is so preciously carved out. So while it's hard to go back to work, it can also make new moms and dads appreciate the contrasts and demands of home and work life even more.
Keeping the "Sweet" in "Home Sweet Home"
If your home was your sanctuary before the baby was born, it can still be that. The trick is carving out a space in your home that is just for you and not cluttered with baby toys. While your spouse or a sitter watches the little one, retreat to a man -- or woman -- cave you create in the garage or basement. Turn the bathroom into a spa once a week, or set up a space in the backyard where you can do yoga, suggests MotherEarthLiving.com.
Working Out the Workout
Speaking of yoga, exercise really helps to reduce stress when you become a new parent. The challenge is finding the time and energy to do it. If your favorite activity used to be running, start by walking the dog around the block at a steady jog. You don't need to run a marathon -- although mom and dads who trained regularly before the baby typically continue to do so. Not feeling too ambitious? No worries. Take the baby around the block in his stroller. Make it a family affair by including your spouse.
Make the Most of Free Time
Believe it or not, every now and again you'll actually have free time as a new parent, thanks to unexpected childcare help from your spouse, loved one or friend. On the rare chance that this happens, make the most of it. Take a much-needed nap, read a good book, or go get a manicure or facial.