There is a plethora of psychological study around being a new parent. However, while most parents read the books and blogs focused on the health and wellbeing of their new child and how “best” to raise them, many new parents often don’t give themselves the same consideration to how best to take care of themselves during this exciting and often stressful new chapter.
A wealth of psychological study highlights the potential new stresses and struggles for parents. Some that we expect and prepare for, and some that throw us altogether. For example, unexpected loneliness:
The following is from an article on Psychcentral (a resource I strongly recommend) entitled “How Moms can care for their mental health”;
“There’s pressure to do it all and be all—from being present for your kids to having a tidy home to having a small waist to making super nutritious meals to being successful at work. In this societal climate, moms can’t win. “We’re neglectful or hovering; we’re too focused on ourselves or we’re overly focused on our kids and don’t have a life—it’s a trap”.
In this societal climate, it’s also easy to dismiss our mental health because it’s not seen as important, said Julie Bindeman, Psy.D, a psychologist and co-director of Integrative Therapy of Greater Washington. “We can see this within our health insurance model or the difficulty in finding a practitioner as well as the continual stigma that mental health concerns have.”
Many moms also have a heavy “mental load.” We’re typically the ones who keep track of schedules, doctors’ appointments, household items, meal planning and more, Bindeman said.
Her clients also are plagued with fantasies of being perfect and finding a permanent sense of balance. They think they should give 100 percent at work and 100 percent at home—without feeling burnt out, she said.
Psychologist Emma Basch, Psy.D, sees the same thing at her Washington D.C. practice. Her clients have a hard time embracing “good enough.” They also fear that any mistake in their parenting or their work will be catastrophic.
Sullivan has noticed that many moms struggle with excessive envy and a kind of obsession with other moms, which is “like poison.” “Moms also struggle with depression from the loss of their ‘old’ life; from the hormonal changes of mid-life; from the loss of support from a broader circle of friends, and from the loss of taking care of themselves.”
In other words, moms deal with a range of challenges, which makes prioritizing our mental health even more important.
Mental wellness affects everything, Basch said. It affects our mood and our physical health and longevity. It affects our ability to parent, to concentrate and to be productive, she said” https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-moms-can-care-for-their-mental-health/
A long-term client of mine (let’s call her M) recently had her first baby. When the little one turned 10 weeks, M felt ready to return to therapy but was unsure of how to find the time and childcare, never mind commit to a regular weekly slot with such an unpredictable new job! My response was: “Well how about just bring the baby along for a session and we’ll see how it goes? If it’s too distracting or stressful, well at least we will know.”
So that’s exactly what we did. I worked as a nanny to get myself through my postgrad and half of my friends have children, so I am very comfortable around babies. What I was concerned about, however, and what is every therapists ethical obligation, was my ability to give my full attention to my client and to create a space where she felt fully heard and focused on. Whether it was me cooing over the baby making her feel that my attention was decreased, or her worry about the baby not giving her room to focus on herself and our conversation, there were a few potential obstacles facing us.
So we had the session. Yes, the baby was as adorable as I could have imagined, and, yes, she cried a bit sometimes, but we did just fine together. Except for a brief feed, I held the baby throughout the session and, to my surprise, it was just as productive a session as most of our previous ones had been. It got me thinking: How many new mums and dads out there are in need of therapy, or are desperately missing their self-care time of previous therapy, but aren’t in a position to be away from their baby? So I decided to ask M for some honest feedback on what she thought of the session. Below is her response (with consent for me to share):
“Having a session with my baby there was great! I mean, it would have been nicer to not have her there, but it was way better than not going at all. It was really great that you held her and I was able to have my body to myself for a while.
“I’m not sure up to what age I would feel comfortable having sessions with her there. My approach is that babies are fully cognizant beings, so I’m not sure I would feel comfortable saying some things or expressing certain emotions in front of her. On the other hand, it might set a good example for dealing with stuff… I guess it kind of depends on the emotional tone of the session. But that’s me and I doubt most people would think about it that way.
“I fully support you (offering sessions to) new mothers! This is a population so desperately in need of support, and being able to get out of the house to a place where they know their baby is welcome as they are, where someone else might hold them (and especially if you offered a cuppa tea or coffee!). New moms will totally be into it….. yeah I defo don’t feel like the baby took your attention from me”.
But that is just M’s experience. Other sessions may be tougher; some may be easier. Other babies may scream in my arms, some may sleep right through. Only time will tell. But the option is there, and, as M said, it was better to have a session with the baby there, than having no session at all.
So that’s what I intend to do – welcome new parents of babies and young children to bring the little ones along if they can’t get a babysitter. Or if they are simply not ready to leave their baby with someone else just yet, which is also very common.
If you think this is something you would like to try, feel free to email me here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My professional opinion (based on research in the field of developmental psychology) regarding age limit for children is that if baby is at full capacity for understanding language, then it would not be good for them to be privy to their parents’ therapy session, particularly if emotions are high. Children can absorb negative energy and emotion if their parents are distressed. However, tone over topic can protect against this and I insist on being very mindful of this around young children in a session where necessary. For more information I recommend this article from parent.com interviewing psychologists specialising in language development, regarding just how much toddlers actually understand when their parents speak, giving you an idea of age range that you may be comfortable with. https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/language/what-toddlers-understand-when-adults-talk/
However, if this is a major concern – the below options are always possible (and adorable!)