Managing the Overwhelm: How to Prioritize Day to Day Life as New Parents
It seems like the older you get, the harder it becomes to find time to get everything done. With household chores, work, car maintenance, personal hygiene, and so much more, it often feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day! Then comes parenthood… and BAM! Suddenly, everyday essentials, like showering or sleeping, have to be added to the growing list of things to squeeze into your day… AND, you have a newborn to care for. It’s not as if all the original tasks have gone away!
So, how DO you prioritize your life as a new parent when everything feels important, and nothing feels easy?
I am a postpartum doula and while working with families and being a parent myself, I have developed some parenthood tips to make organizing new parent priorities a bit easier. Although you may not struggle with this as a parent, try following these steps and see if it eases some of your stress.
STEP 1: EVALUATE PRIORITIES
Ask anybody with a newborn at home how they are doing and the words “tired” and “overwhelmed” will likely be part of their answer. When I am visiting a new family as their doula, one of the first things I do is sit down and have a quick conversation about their priorities. I start with a few questions:
STEP 2: MAKE A LIST
Once each parent has thought about what things feel important and necessary in their lives and what things they should be doing, it’s time to make a list.
Well, TWO lists.
List #1 is for things that feel necessary to do most days or every day. This list can vary greatly between families because daily priorities are different for everyone. Think about what matters most to YOU, what brings you back to center, and what do you NEED to do to take care of yourself.
Examples of items I’ve seen on List #1 are:
- Drink water
- Cuddle with the dog
- Get outside for a few minutes
- Brush teeth
- Take daily medications
List #2 is for items that can wait. It’s crucial to note that items on List #2 are still important! Tasks don’t make this list because you don’t care about them. They make this list because if they aren’t completed for a few extra hours or days, your life and household will still function just fine.
Items I’ve seen on the List #2 are:
- Washing and folding laundry
- Responding to texts and calls
- Taking your dog on a long walk
- Visiting with family
- Washing dishes
- Cleaning the house
- Grocery shopping
Your lists will be unique to you and that is okay.
The takeaway– You have a newborn to care for which means priorities are going to shift. Just like the oxygen instructions on an airplane, before caring for someone else, you have to take care of YOU first.
STEP 3. REFER BACK TO YOUR LISTS
Once your lists are made, the hard part is done! Now you get to use them. Here’s how.
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed or touched out or like you aren’t cut out for this whole parenting thing, I want you take a deep breath and pull out your lists. When you are feeling this way, it’s time for List #1.
Have you eaten recently? Had a glass of water today? When was the last time you showered? Did you remember to take your vitamins?
Do you see where I’m going with this? List #1 contains the items you deemed necessary to function, to feel clean, to feel like yourself. Pull from this list to get back to those places, even if you can only fit in one or two of them. The goal isn’t to complete every item on List #1 every single day, the goal is (and I’m going to say this very slowly so you don’t forget)…
…DO NOT FEEL GUILTY about skipping items on List #2 if List #1 isn’t getting completed.
If you have a huge pile of laundry to fold, but you forgot to eat all day and haven’t showered since Tuesday and you got 2 hours of sleep last night… forget about the laundry. The time for laundry will come. If you “need to go grocery shopping,” but still have enough food for a few more days, then eat another grilled cheese sandwich with canned soup, and consider ordering groceries online for home delivery soon. If you have a pile of unread text messages that you feel awful for not responding to, remember that those people love you and they understand that having a new baby means you are busy and exhausted and may not get back to them right away.
And then one day, one glorious moment will arrive when you realize that you are full of nutritious food and water, your baby gave you a 3 hour chunk of sleep, you squeezed in a shower and now you are sitting on your couch with the dog in your lap while the baby sleeps… and the time for List #2 has arrived. Maybe you feel ready to tackle the laundry. Maybe all those texts don’t seem so daunting to reply to. Maybe you even feel up to going for a walk or going to the store in person. Whatever you choose will feel great, because all of the “shoulds” were taken out of the equation and you know this is the task you truly want to do in this moment.
STEP 4. HIRE A POSTPARTUM DOULA
This may sound obvious, but many parents are surprised at just how helpful it can be to have a postpartum doula. Not only can we teach you tips and tricks like making List #1 and List #2, but we also take some of the weight off your shoulders by assisting with the tasks on both lists. We can help calm your baby or put them to sleep while you shower or rest. We can help you set up lists/schedules/alarms so you don’t forget important tasks. We can bring you food and water while you feed your newborn. Or we can simply be a supportive presence in your home to remind you that you have the skills you need, and you are doing a great job.
Taking care of a newborn is really hard. Taking care of yourself while you take care of a newborn is even harder. As postpartum doulas, we recognize these things and love being part of the village that helps bring you peace and routine into this new season of life. We hope these priority lists make things a bit simpler for you and help you find ways to get YOU back… a little at a time.