How to find time to relax with a newborn, a question I also found myself asking regularly, often coming up with the same answer – you don’t find time! Relaxation becomes a thing of the past when you are caring for a little human, and you may often question when you will be able to find the time. And in my experience, what I found was not that I ‘found time’ to relax with a newborn, but rather I had to change my mindset towards what I was already doing. Finding ‘relaxation’ within my duties as a father, enjoying the moment and practicing this idea you may have heard about called ‘mindfulness’. Although you may no longer get your extended moments of relaxation, hopefully through the use of some general mindfulness strategies (and adjusting the way we think about a situation) you can find a few moments to relax with your new baby.
As always, any information included in this post is of a general nature and applies to my personal experience. If you are having difficulties with managing your stress and need support, please speak to your doctor or other relevant health professional.
Let’s Be Real – The First Few Months
We know the first few months are pretty hectic. You have a newborn who potentially has a sleeping pattern much different to yours, they may only settle when in your arms or your partners arms, and you’re too busy trying to juggle work, supporting your partner and taking care of your baby to be able to get a moment of rest or relaxation in. I get it, I did very little relaxing during this time. I stopped going to the movies, out for meals (although we started going for brunch again towards the end of the third month), watching movies on the couch, playing computer games and catching up with friends. And for a lot of my friends when they had their firstborn, it was very similar. We can’t deny that having a baby has a massive change on our routines and the way we manage time.
In my circumstance, my wife and I also didn’t have much help to draw upon for the day to day care of a newborn, so this made it even more challenging making time available. And then the moments that did present themselves (i.e. our baby was sleeping in her bassinet) it was a choice of:
- Spend time with my wife
- Do my own thing
- Do some sort of housework or chore
- Get some sleep
And being completely honest, I ended up mostly doing some long overdue chore that probably didn’t matter!
So Where Is This Magical Thing Called Time Then?
After adjusting to the fact that life was completely different from what it was before, I then had to look at my time management and routines differently, and learn to make them flexible to the needs of our daughter, re-prioritise tasks and drop some tasks off completely. This step was crucial, as it allowed me to identify that certain chores (cleaning the house, doing the garden) were not that important, and didn’t need to be done too frequently (we stuck with a once a month clean rather than once a week, though sometimes fortnightly was needed). Other tasks like washing clothes and dishes were now a bit more important and frequent, as these tasks now also included cleaning baby’s clothes and cleaning her bottles and dummies (thankfully we have a dishwasher, and had bought a dryer before she came along which was a major time saver in those first few months!)
I had to accept that going out to places (movies, food, events), particularly if I wanted to go with my wife, was something that we had to ‘play by ear’ and see if the day was right to go out, and if I did want to go out on my own to meet friends, then I would be scheduling that in advance (but being flexible if my wife needed extra support that day). And then my own self-care tasks, I had to change how I did them. So exercise went from a 30-60 minute weights based routine every second day, to a ‘light horse trot back and forth’ through the house to help settle baby whenever it was needed (and trying to activate my calves during the process), or completing some ‘weighted squats’ while holding baby (if I somehow had the energy to get off the couch). Gaming also went from playing long quest based Role Playing Games, to turn based strategy games, fighting games or games that could be saved at any moment I needed to stop!
By making these adjustments, it helped reduce my frustrations when things weren’t done (chores), make the most of when we could get out of the house, and reduced my annoyance at having to stop a game midway through a quest!
Changing My Mentality
Changing your routine and becoming more flexible is important, but as I mentioned it was the change to my expectations that had the biggest impact on how I was able to get some time back. And so the most important aspect of dealing with this change was changing my mentality, or the way I now viewed the day to day tasks I was doing.
So changing my expectations of what I could complete, how good a job I did at that task and how long I could engage with a task was a good first step, and now my second step was trying to find the ‘silver lining’ when it was there, and focus on the end goal when it wasn’t. What I mean was that in everything that I did, I tried to think about the purpose of that task (or end goal) and how having completed or achieved that task would help me feel, and then I tried to find a way making any mundane or stressful tasks slightly more enjoyable. I have listed some examples below:
Refining The Purpose
- If my daughter was not settling, crying and had already had a feed, and I needed her to sleep, I would focus on my actions of rocking her gently and how this was going to achieve the end goal of getting her to sleep, rather than focus on my stress and her cries.
- If I had making a choice between doing some chores or playing a game, I would focus on which one was going to achieve a more important outcome for me at that point in time. So I might way up the options by thinking that completing the chores would make me feel good because I have a clean house, versus playing a game would give me a short period of self care, and then decide which was more important at that point in time. (By the way, both of these options are equally important as one another, it just depends on other factors at the time whether one is more important than the other).
Finding The Silver Lining
- Using an earlier example, if I needed to hold my daughter to help her settle or sleep, I would try to do something fun with that time like doing some squats, lunges or ‘light horse trotting’. This had the bonus of making me feel like I was working towards my goal of doing some exercise!
- If I was too exhausted to exercise, then I would just focus on observing my daughter and her newborn facial expressions. You might be thinking ‘how does this help?’ but by choosing to focus on her face, it removed my focus from my frustrations, and started making me smile (I mean newborn babies pull some funny expressions whether they are awake, asleep or even crying!)
These are just a few examples, but I’m sure there are plenty more times that you can probably think of where you have done the same in your life!
You Mentioned Mindfulness – How Does This Fit In?
Mindfulness is a bit of a buzz word going around at the moment which you may have already heard. If not, chuck the term into Google and I’m sure you will come across 101 articles to do with mindfulness (all somewhat useful, depending on if it clicks with you or not). In short however, Mindfulness is about ‘being in the moment’ rather than getting caught up in our past experiences or anticipation of potential future experiences. Now some people use mindfulness as a way to relax, and it can definitely help you relax, but being honest, sometimes there are moments that you just can’t relax in (i.e. baby crying and not settling for a few hours). I prefer to use Mindfulness as a way to ‘shift my focus’ to something that negatively impacts me less, rather than having my ‘focus’ on something that negatively impacts me more.
Using the newborn facial expressions example from earlier, when my daughter was doing her full-blown wail of a cry, I would find myself focusing on the cry and thinking ‘stop crying, please stop, I’m doing all that I can, why won’t you stop!’ This would generate a lot of frustration, annoyance and anxiety in me. But when I focused on her face, and noticed how it looked when she was crying, sure it didn’t stop the crying, and sure I was still rocking her and trying to do my ‘horse trot’, but I no longer had all these thoughts that were making me feel frustrated (I actually had thoughts of ‘wow, my daughter looks funny when she cries’). So I wasn’t exactly more relaxed, but I was definitely less frustrated.
Relax – You Got This
Being a dad, being a parent, it’s a difficult role to take on, and like me you may find yourself questioning everything you are doing and getting caught up in your thoughts. But these thoughts have the power to help us through the tough times if we are able to use them right. These days, I don’t even know if I’m able to find time to relax with our daughter, she is now so full of energy that I’m doing my best trying to keep up with her. But what I do know is that when I get my mind right, have a clear focus of what I’m doing, and do my best to be in the moment, I’m less frustrated, have fewer worries and overall I feel happier.
I’ve talked a lot about our thoughts and getting these right to help you relax, but feel free to share your thoughts, ideas and strategies on how you find time to relax with a newborn, in the comments below!
Any information included in this post is of a general nature and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. If you are having difficulties with managing your stress and need support, please speak to your doctor or other relevant health professional.