As a postpartum doula, I spend plenty of time with awesome new moms and dads who haven't quite discovered their own inner-awesomeness (that's totally a word, trust me). These are parents with great instincts and unlimited amounts of love for their new baby, yet they are often lacking confidence. One of the things I love about my job is helping these families discover their own parenting strengths and build their confidence. Because before I was a postpartum doula, I was also a new mom, standing where they are, questioning my own instincts and abilities.
I distinctly remember one of those moments, nearly five years ago, as I set out on a major expedition. The thought of it had kept me up the night before - going over and over the logistics and making sure all contingencies were accounted for. The day of, bags were packed and re-packed, gear checked and re-checked, troops assembled. So what was this major expedition? A trip to my neighborhood playground with my 2-week old and 18-month old! Okay, you can stop laughing now. But, seriously, at the time, an excursion like that was nightmare-inducing because I had never attempted a solo outing with my toddler and new baby. I had no confidence that I could pull it off. No confidence that we would return from Mission Playground.
So, diaper bag and baby carrier at the ready, my two little people and I set off for a playground adventure. Despite the near-constant glances at the rearview mirror, the car ride over went smoothly. Once there, I wore my baby in her carrier and followed my son around the playground, pushing him on the swings and helping him up and down the slide. The baby slept the whole time and my son had a blast. Other moms even complimented me on my bravery. As we left to head home, I was so elated I wanted to turn cartwheels (I didn't, of course, since I had a baby strapped to my chest). My first outing had been a success - a small one, but a success nonetheless. And I went from having no confidence to having a little to bank on.
I didn't see it that way at the time, but what I did that day was to make a small deposit into my confidence account. Yes, confidence account. We all need one. So, if you don't have one, get one. Open that sucker up and start making deposits. This was a concept that my friend and former co-worker (and fantastic life coach) Caroline Greene introduced me to. As we discussed some task that had been daunting me, she told me not to focus on that. Instead, she advised me to focus on doing smaller, more manageable things along the way. These would be deposits into my confidence account. And as my deposits accumulated, my overall confidence would grow. And in time, I would have enough confidence to tackle those major obstacles.
Don't you just love this concept!? This is great advice for anyone, at all stages of life. But I think it is particularly valuable to new parents. And not just first-time parents, but really any mom or dad with a newborn, whether it be their first or fifth. As families adjust to their new normal, so many things can feel overwhelming. But take a step back and start small. Here are some tips to tackle some of those new parent fears and doubts.
- Does the thought of your first trip outside the house with your new baby have you wishing for some valium? Relax and start small. Take a short walk around the block with baby in her stroller. After that deposit, turn those short walks into longer ones. Build your confidence little by little and soon enough you'll be reaching for baby, car seat, diaper bag, stroller, carrier, etc. without a second thought. (See, it does take a little more planning to get out of the house these days, confidence or not.)
- Or maybe fantasizing about going out to eat with a newborn is limited strictly to establishments with a drive-thru window. Remember, start small. For your first time out to eat with the new baby, try a coffee shop or bakery. Some place that serves you quickly and gives you the option of to-go cups, just in case. After several successful outings like that, your confidence account will grow until you're ready to graduate to an actual sit-down restaurant with menus and waiters. Those menus probably have some variation of mac-n-cheese or chicken fingers and those waiters probably dropped some crayons off at the table, but still, you've made it past the drive-thru window!
- Perhaps it's the thought of that first outing with more than one child that has you living a hermit-like, Howard Hughes existence. Don't worry - you just need to make a few small deposits into your confidence account. Try a small neighborhood playground or park for a quick outing. Or take a trip to the grocery store for just one item - just to see if you can successfully get in and out (I know you can, but you have to learn it for yourself). Pick a place you feel comfortable with and only shoot for 20 or 30 minutes out at first. The more your confidence builds, the longer and more adventuresome those outings will get. Just keep making those deposits, little by little.
And don't forget to use your support network. If any of the above sounds unmanageable when you're flying solo, call in some backup. Your partner, the grandparents, friends, and, of course, postpartum doulas can all help you make these deposits into your confidence account. And once you've successfully tackled these things with an extra set of hands, you will feel more ready to go it alone.
I would be doing you a disservice if I led you to believe that every outing will be a smashing success. It's not. There will be times when an explosive blow-out cuts your trip to the playground short. Or times when you're boxing up your food and paying the check before you've even had a chance to eat. But that's okay. There will be withdrawals from your confidence account. But the key is to make those small deposits, little by little and day by day, so when those withdrawal days happen, they won't leave you flat broke. You'll still have plenty of confidence to bank on. And that's why you won't be afraid to get out there and try the next day.
As a new parent, where did you lack confidence? What did you do to build it up?