As prepared as I thought I was, being a new parent was one of the hardest things that I have ever been through. New responsibilities as a parent naturally come with adoption. You can read all of the books, take all of the advice, and yet, at 2 a.m., when you have had no sleep, your baby is crying and won’t stop, and you have a work deadline looming, you might feel defeated.
I was a working mom who was also earning her Ph.D. when we adopted. I scaled back on work to only teach in the evenings so that I could be at home during the day, and I did all of my research and writing in the evenings and on Sundays when my husband was with our daughter. However, with the responsibilities that a child adds from additional doctor’s appointments to a new feeding schedule and ensuring your child is meeting milestones, to also keeping up with a house and feeding yourself, life can be overwhelming.
No matter how hard it seems, you can do this. There are people to help, things you can do to eliminate stress, and ways that you can better manage your time to still feel on top of your game as a parent, a spouse, and an employee.
What You Can Do to Prepare
I wish that I had prepared myself for the reality that no matter what articles may tell you, it’s just not possible to “have it all.” If you aim for perfection and you fall short, you might feel guilt that is completely unfounded. You will have a lot to juggle.
Though it’s impossible to know everything about being a parent, I did read the traditional, What to Expect the First Year and familiarize myself with milestones to anticipate, learn more about feeding and getting my baby on a sleep schedule. I’m well aware that this doesn’t always work, but I wanted to be sure that I knew enough not to be stressing about something that wasn’t really an issue. If you haven’t changed a diaper or given a baby a bath prior to having your own kid, now is the time to learn those skills as best you can so you can ease some frustration that comes with not being able to quickly do these things when you’re in a hurry.
Overall, be prepared for the fact that no matter how much you do prepare, you won’t, and can’t, know it all.
No Matter How Hard You Prep, Parenting Is a “Learn as You Go” Job.
Unfortunately, your new baby isn’t going to come with a manual and this is even true if you adopt or foster an older child–you will have to learn as you go what works best for you. While I have had friends whose children slept through the night almost immediately, we struggled with this (and frankly, sometimes still do) for a long time.
Children have different needs and aren’t going to develop at the same speed as others, so you need to also be patient with yourself, your kid, and if you have a real concern, you should reach out to your child’s physician. Though your friends, parents, and coworkers will have ideas that might help you, their children may have developed differently than yours. Honestly, anytime I had a concern because I was comparing my child to others, when I talked to the physician, I often learned that she was just fine.
Be kind to yourself and remember that every child develops at a different pace.
Learn To Manage Your Time.
I’ve always been excellent at my own time management and organization, but when I threw a new baby into the mix at a last minute’s notice, this proved to be more difficult, but very necessary for work, life, and baby balance.
Invest in a Physical Planner.
Though you might not have used one in the past, I found that my memory was mush for the first few weeks (let’s face it, the first year) that I was a mother. Writing things down and checking off lists was helpful for me. I kept a list of things I had to do for work, household chores and items that needed to get done, and then things I needed to do for my baby from ordering new clothes to scheduling appointments. To this day, I find the Passion Planner to be the best fit for my needs.
Schedule Everything. Literally. Everything.
I carved out all of my time from when I was going to vacuum (not during nap time) to when I would make conference calls happen (definitely during nap time). I carved out time for TV watching and time with friends. It helped me to do this and fall into a routine that came naturally for us as a new family. That being said, it’s not possible to schedule everything.
Learn What You Can’t Schedule and What Times Will Be Off-Limits to Work.
Babies won’t automatically adjust to a schedule that you have set and once you think you have your children scheduled in a nap routine, something will change. Your baby will have a growth spurt or start to teethe and your little routine can be thrown off at a moment’s notice. Have flex time and know what times are just impossible to get anything else done. Typically, it was easiest to get as much done as possible in the morning when my baby was wide awake and happy, but also, that was rough for me because it was the best time to play. Find out what works best for you and remember that it might just not always stick.
Carve Out Time for Yourself.
One of the things that new parents forget to do, but that is imperative for your mental health is to carve time out for yourself.
“Making sure that I spend some time every day to focus on self-care and self-love is important,” says one, now veteran mother. “I didn’t do that for myself at first and feel like I could have been an even better mom if I had. I learned the hard way and thankfully, have done it for the past 5 years.”
The reality is, as a new parent, you will start to feel like your child’s needs are more important than your own, but by not being in tune with your own needs, you could do more harm than good.
One mom explains that she so often put everyone else’s needs ahead of her own that she felt “depleted and always down,” which makes it difficult to fully engage.
As a new mom, I was fond of just taking a bubble bath and my husband and I were both lucky enough to have parents that would come and take our kid when we needed a break. I had great babysitters so that I could get a haircut, lunch with a friend, etc. just to clear my mind and for a little bit of time, remember who I was. It’s a hard concept and a hard thing to navigate as a new parent, but you aren’t entirely defined by the tiny human stealing your sleep and your heart. And before you start to feel guilty, remember your child needs a break from you as much as you do from him or her. It’s healthy.
Remember to carve out time for your partner as well as yourself. Being new parents can take a toll on your relationship If you can, try to schedule date night too!
Obstacles for New Parents Who Adopt
I didn’t realize how hard it would be when I adopted, and I felt guilty even saying this since I had waited so long to be a parent. But the reality is, when you are adopting that one day, you’re not a parent and then, suddenly, you are. You don’t often have nine months to prepare, to get a nursery ready, to think of names. You don’t go to appointments and hear heartbeats and start to nest. You’re literally living your ordinary life and suddenly, it’s anything but ordinary.
Postpartum Depression Happens to Parents By Adoption As Well.
One misconception is that postpartum depression only occurs in those who give birth. This simply isn’t true, and those who adopt may hesitate to come forward to speak with a therapist or physician about this because there is a stigma that it won’t or shouldn’t happen to adoptive parents. If you start to feel depressed, it’s best to speak to a medical professional right away.
Read more about postpartum depression and parents who adopt here.
Parent Shaming is Real: Don’t Fall into the Trap.
It was difficult for me and other adoptive mothers when I and others tried to get help from other mothers. I often was left out of parenting conversations because I hadn’t carried a child and didn’t breastfeed. It’s hurtful to assume that this is the only thing that defines someone as a mother, and it’s alienating when you don’t know other parents who have adopted. You’ll be going through your own journey of attachment, learning about your child’s culture, and dealing with your own emotions of grief and joy as you understand more and more that you are a parent because someone else suddenly is not. None of it is easy, no matter how you become a parent. So, if someone thinks you’re less of a mother because you adopted, that person is someone you likely don’t need in your life.
Learn more about this phenomenon here.
You Will Need Help: Ask For It.
Many times it seems that if we are asking for help, we are failing. However, this isn’t true. In this day and age, we are all busier than ever, and sometimes, we need help.
There are certain people in our lives I had to have to make my life work and that includes a trustworthy babysitter for work and nights out and someone to do a deep clean of my house a few times a month so that I could keep up.
When your friends ask the question “What can I do?” or if you need something from a quick chat to a meal, don’t hesitate to ask. I know from experience that when I ask someone this question, I mean it, I want to help. And if you need someone just to hold your baby for 15 minutes why you take a shower, ask them. Everyone loves baby cuddles.
Find “Your People.”
You shouldn’t just dump all of your friends who aren’t parents. You need those friends too, but it is super important to find friends who “get” what you’re going through.
Notes one parent, “Try to find other parents who are at a similar stage of parenting to have camaraderie. Also, look for parents who have been where you are to learn from.”
I met one of my closest mom friends in a local group for moms. Though it was a group that didn’t work for my schedule long term, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to make a new friend (who literally is always going through something similar at the same time) but also get advice from more experienced parents.
Though it seems daunting making new parent friends, it will come organically from chatting in the pediatrician’s waiting room to baby swim lessons and music classes.
However, I did learn the hard way that not all of your existing friends will make the cut when you’re a parent. I’m not saying you’re going to eliminate your friend list but be prepared for some people to distance from you when you don’t have the time you once had for certain people or crowds.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned doing this parenting gig (the best and most stressful job I’ll ever have) is that I’m my own worst enemy and judge. If I feel guilty, it’s not often because someone else has inflicted those feelings on me–it’s what I’ve done to myself.
You won’t get everything right all of the time, but you also won’t always be wrong. Be kind to yourself and remember that whatever stage you’re in with your child, it will pass. You’ll be reminding yourself of this your entire parenting journey, and it’s the truth.
Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University. Julia has a passion for diversity and in educating about the nuances of adoption as that is how she chose to grow her family. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures, and knitting. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Kyle, daughter, Brooklyn, and Australian Shepherd, Hunter. For more information, visit www.juliakayporter.com.