Surviving the First Year of Parenthood

New parents share their strategies for finding some much-needed "me time" after the baby arrives.

The Stress Factor

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While the birth of a new baby is indisputably miraculous, the demands are daunting, making the first year as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Pride and joy jostle with sleep deprivation, frantic scheduling, marital issues, and work pressures. "It's a tidal wave effect," says psychologist Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., author of The Mother Dance: How Children Change Your Life, of the enormous adjustments each parent must make. "Adding a new family member is supposed to be a happy event, so people underestimate the profound stress of two people in one magical moment becoming three." It's no wonder that about 80% of new mothers experience some sort of mood disturbance, ranging from the baby blues to postpartum depression. Periodically, such high-profile cases as Andrea Yates's drowning her five children highlight how serious these symptoms can be.

Fortunately, most new parents find creative solutions and support from friends and family to help ease the transition. "It's critical to have your own coping strategies so you don't end up feeling totally overwhelmed," says Dr. Lerner. From music lessons and mountain biking to finding more "me" time, moms and dads divulge their secrets to getting through the first year with more grace and fewer tears:

  • "I found that when I was home my kids only wanted to be with me. So what I often did to get some precious time to myself when another adult was there was to act as if I were leaving. I would say good-bye, then sneak back into my bedroom and shut the door to have an uninterrupted talk on the phone with a friend, a relaxing bath, or even just some peaceful time for reading. I did this to get through the first year, and quite frankly, I still do."

    -- Liz Lange, 36, president of Liz Lange Maternity, New York City, mother of Gus, 4 1/2, and Alice, 2

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