Q.My husband and I have a 4-week-old baby who keeps us both worn out. I feel so depleted, but I have to keep myself going. Some friends have offered to watch the baby while I run an errand or go out for a date night with my husband. But I feel so guilty when I leave our baby with someone else. Do other mothers feel this way? Do you have any suggestions for me?
A. The Independent (a British publication) reported on a study that found new parents sleep an average of four hours and 44 minutes a night, which is far from the eight hours most of us need. This leaves new parents in a sleep-deprived mode. No wonder you both feel worn out. Luckily, you have friends willing to help out.
The guilt you mention presents a challenge. Many mothers have huge amounts of guilt when leaving a baby with friends, family or sitters. Even though the point is to get away for a bit, you’re actually stressed instead of relaxed. As one mom said to me, “Mom guilt is the worst.” Here are a few suggestions for keeping that mom guilt under control:
- Try letting someone care for your baby in your home while you take a nap. You’re still available but getting some rest. A rested mom is better prepared to care for her child later. A good nap might let you to feel strong enough to take on more baby care at night, so your partner can get some rest.
- Enlist someone to care for your baby while you do chores at home, such as wash clothes, load the dishwasher or tidy the kitchen and plan ahead for a meal. Of course, don’t turn down any offers of help with the chores.
- Gradually move into having someone care for your baby while you run a short errand. Over time, lengthen your absences, popping back home in between errands to assure yourself everything is alright.
- Instead of a long date night, take friends up on the offer to stay with your baby so you and your husband can grab a quick meal out or run an errand together. As you adjust to being away from your baby, you can begin to lengthen the time to create a real date night.
- Invite a friend to walk with you as you push the stroller. Having social time with friends is restorative, and the walk will probably put the baby to sleep.
- Notice when someone’s comment produces guilt feelings. One mother shared feeling guilty when someone said, “I can’t believe you made it out while your baby is still so young.” How do you respond to a comment like this? Perhaps something like, “It’s a miracle, thanks to good, caring friends who are helping me become stronger so I can best care for my baby.”
- Recognize that each time you get away, it will probably become easier. Most of us live with some sort of guilt, but when it gets too stressful – causing loss of sleep or appetite or thinking about it too much – then seeing a mental health therapist would be a good idea.
I hope all our readers will recognize the importance of helping new mothers. Offering just an hour of childcare is so helpful. If the new mom turns you down, take a meal or ask if you can do chores like shopping or laundry. Anything you do adds to the village it takes to raise a child.
Betty Richardson, PhD,RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.