It seems that the health of parents is of big concern to many; the younger the offspring, the higher the concern. I reached out to a number of parents in my network and asked them for their best tips in four categories of health: spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. I then picked the one or two top advices in each category and ran through them within the same group of parents.
Turns out, these are some pretty simple and solid tips that every new parent might consider taking a go at. It brought significant results in a short amount of time, and were easy to maintain. Unfortunately, they are also easy habits to drop, so if you do decide to adopt some of these, don’t take any formed habit for granted!
Many of the parents I initially reached out to agreed that the first thing they either had or wish they had taken care of was their spiritual health. “I didn’t feel good in my soul, so my healthy eating and exercising didn’t really make me feel any better”, one friend said.
But how do you insert meditating, prayers, and studying Sacred Scripture in your daily routine? It’s easier than you would think. “Meditating during walks became a breeze once I started humming while pushing the pram,” one Mom said. “I would also be very conscious of my breathing and walk at a steady rhythm.” As for prayers, using them to put baby to sleep seems to be a preferred technique. “You’re singing to your baby anyone,” one Mom said. “Might as well sing something for the both of you.” And even if you can’t sing, saying your prayers in a sing-song voice can work wonders. Don’t know prayers by heart? Print a few and place them at eye-level at different locations on your “route”.
As for reading Sacred Scripture, turning it into a short activity with even the youngest babies worked wonders. Do tummy time with baby and read a couple of lines out loud; sit on the couch together every morning after breakfast and read a few lines, then “discuss” the meaning with your baby; with older babies, bring a book to the dining room table and after your meal, read a few lines that you then, again, “discuss”. Then, not only are you taking care of your own spiritual health, you are making it a natural part of your baby’s life from it’s earliest days.
All of the parents I talked to agreed that the lack of lengthy adult conversations would drive them, sometimes, completely up the wall. And one of the easiest ways to take care of their mental health would be to listen to podcasts, with, for parents of babies who demand your attention, a running commentary for the little one’s benefit. The BBC, the CBC, CNN, NPR, and The New Yorker are a few of the places mentioned as great sources of attention-grabbing podcasts, even for the most tired of parents. Of course, you might have to listen to each podcast at least a couple of times before actually hearing the entire thing…
Constantly having to think about the needs of a little one, making sure than he or she grows up to be emotionally strong and mature, while taking care of life’s obligations leaves little to no time to really think about one’s own emotions. Some parents felt like they were quite a mess—except those who had at least two or three people to talk to regularly. One of the important pieces of advice that was given was to speak to your closest 2-3 friends at least once a week. If in person isn’t possible, make a Skype call happen. Just make sure that you can talk to someone about anything and everything. Many parents also highlighted that just talking wasn’t enough. “You have to open up about the darker sides of parenting,” one mentioned—like the stuff that you don’t want to do, but that you would never admit to anyone else. “I hated breastfeeding,” one mom said, “but after I opened up about how much I hated it, did I actually start appreciating it. I never liked it and I was happy when it ended, but at least I appreciated what my body was able to do.”
Sometimes, faking it until you make it really helps. Makeup was a thread common to many Moms. It’s incredible, after all, what a difference it can make to not look as tired or drained as one feels. First sub-tip: simplify your routine and stick to the same thing for baby’s first year. The essentials are a must: moisturizer, mascara, and lip gloss. Concealer is a great pick-me-up on particularly difficult days, and eye shadow can easily give you that extra pop should you need it. Have identical makeup bags available in different spots of the house with the essentials and a little mirror: do some in the dining room while baby is eating, some in the play room while baby is playing, and some in the bathroom when hubby is around to take care of the little one. Don’t have money to buy full sizes of everything? Ask your favorite cosmetician for their help, you’d be surprised at how people can be generous when it comes to helping young mothers.
It has been said a thousand times, but it is well worth repeating: one of the best pick-me-ups is a good, sweat-inducing workout. One friend of mine makes sure to work out every day with her baby right before a nap, during which she takes a shower—she has to contend with being a little uncomfortable while putting baby down for his nap, but it’s well worth it (and, as she puts it, babies love the smell of their mothers, so she is doing him a favour!)
Dancing with baby is one of the favourite workouts mothers I reached out to mentioned. But don’t just randomly dance around; you can have a set of 3-5 songs during which you do specific movements that tone different areas of your body. It’s never the same thing as a full workout, of course, but it does wonders for both your mood and your tone.
It’s really hard, being a parent. It’s even harder being a parent when the very fabric of society is crumbling, our usual support systems are lacking, and our fears multiplying. It might not seem like a lot, but most of these tips have really helped the parents in my “focus group” feel much more grounded in fulfilling one of the most important roles they will play in their lives. And some of it can be a lot of fun!