Parent Stress: Surviving the Early Years
August 1, 2016 | Home and Family
Sarah Damonte Vegas was at a mommy-and-me playgroup with her infant son, Alejandro, when she noticed how exhausted and stressed out many new mothers appeared to be.
“It seemed that there was a need for moms to get a little break, even if just for two hours,” Damonte Vegas said.
She invited a few women to go out on a Saturday night with no idea that it would still be going strong 17 years later. Getting together with other moms is just one way of saving your sanity as a new parent, which can be a confusing, exhausting and lonely time of life. The self-named “Mom’s Night Out” has met every two months, either at a restaurant or potluck style, since 1999. The group decided early on to make it a 5:30 p.m. starting time so that the women could be home for their kids’ bedtimes if they wanted (although some women preferred to stay late).
“A lot of women really look forward to this. It serves as a sounding board and a place where no one judges. It’s a fountain of information, options and possibilities,” said Damonte Vegas.
Being a new parent can feel overwhelming. Old lifestyle patterns are gone, no matter if you stay at home or return to work. Trying to meet your child’s needs on every level can strip away a feeling of self, and some new moms feel guilty if they crave a few hours to themselves. If you’re feeling guilty, you’re not alone. According to a Baby Center survey, 94 percent of moms have feelings of guilt about many things, including not spending enough time with their children. But the importance of taking that breather cannot be overstated. You will be better able to spend a day playing with Legos or pretending to be a fairy princess if you have had an hour or two for yourself. With that in mind, here are some other ideas to help you get time off:
1. Try getting a babysitter at an unusual time. It’s much easier to find a sitter for a Sunday morning than a Saturday night, and you and your spouse can enjoy a long walk and a leisurely hour reading the paper at your local coffee shop. Bonus: When you get home, it’s naptime.
2. Work out a “jogging playdate” with another mom. Meet at one house and take turns on a 30- to 45-minute jog while the other watches the kids. You’ll come away feeling refreshed, with no need to pay a sitter.
3. Truly take people up on their offers when they say “I would love to babysit.” We tend to think others are too busy or that they don’t really mean it, but most people who offer really do miss having young kids and would be thrilled to watch your child. Start small and ask that grandmotherly neighbor to sit with your son or daughter for 45 minutes while you run to the store, or take your co-worker up on his offer and spend an hour riding your bike. If you feel you must repay them, try giving out locally made jams or other regional delights.
4. Be creative from a budgeting standpoint. Money can be tight for new parents. If you’re looking for a cheap night out, try creating your own drive-in theater. Rent a movie or stream one, stock up on snacks and take the laptop in the car to a quiet location. Then tilt your seats back and enjoy. Another option is to stay in but tell the kids you are going on a “home-date” while you watch a movie in another part of the house and someone else entertains the kids.
Damonte Vegas also devised a way to save money while keeping the kids engaged. She engineered a “toy swap” with a friend. Every two weeks they chose three or four toys to trade with each other. This meant a fresh new batch of things for her sons to explore without spending a dime—and just when the kids would start to get bored, it was time to trade back, making their old toys feel new again.
“My kids were always super excited. It was like the toy-of-the-month club. Reduce, reuse, recycle; and if they truly loved it, I could go out and buy it after trying it on for size.”
A toy swap will benefit the kids. An hour alone, a date or dinner with friends will benefit you, and in turn that helps everyone in the family. Parents deserve little breathers, and they should never feel guilty about taking them. The benefits in terms of health and happiness are tremendous.