We welcomed our second child on July 29, and it’s been a beautiful 6 weeks of adjusting to life as a family of four. Our first child is almost five and a half, and I’ve learned a lot about soul care since she was born, principles I’ve learned to apply to various stages of life, including being a parent of an infant. Being able to focus on soul care in the midst of this busy season of transition has been a huge help to my overall health and recovery. So whether you or someone you know has an infant at home, I offer these 15 practices that have been giving me life in this season. (Plus, there are 5 practices for dads at the end!)
1. Sleep! Seriously one of the most soul-loving things you can do with an infant at home is sleep any and every chance you get. Take that afternoon nap when your child does. Go to bed early. Have you partner care for you child in the morning so you can sleep in a bit. Sleep is necessary for your physical, mental, and emotional health, and even a little extra sleep goes a long way in helping you feel more like yourself.
2. Say “yes” to help, and “no” to the extras. This takes both humility and boldness. Gladly accept help that allows you to rest more, be more at peace, get to appointments, or make your life easier. But if there’s something that you think you “should” do like attend a family gathering that’s stressing you out, just say “no.” Seriously, you have to do what’s best for you and your baby. That's the real truth of parenting.
3. Surround yourself with beautiful things. This is a season of utilitarianism: your job is to eat, sleep, and feed your child. So surrounding yourself with beauty may seem bizarre or trivial, but using a pretty burp cloth or having flowers around can make you feel more human. After all: we aren’t robots. We’re creative people created in the image of a good God.
4. Get outside. If you can’t get outside, at least open the curtains and let the sunlight in. Especially in the early days when no one in your home seems to know night from day, getting some fresh air and feeling the sun on your skin has huge benefits.
5. Let yourself feel whatever you feel. And if it starts to feel overwhelming, get help. There’s no shame in feeling all the feels right now. And there’s no shame in needing help with depression either.
6. Actively love your body as it is. Your body has done something amazing! Actively be proud of your body and all its accomplished and the miracle of carrying and feeding a child. It has come out of the experience changed—and it’s still changing a lot—and it’s still a body to love.
7. Stretch. Your body has been through (and is still going through) a lot! Take even just a minute or two to stretch and move your body. My upper back is always sore from holding my baby and breastfeeding. A quick downward-facing dog or even reaching my arms above my head can help.
8. Eat something decadent. Seriously, you are doing so much right now. You deserve a treat. Go the extra mile and eat it off a pretty plate, too. Make it a feast for your eyes and taste buds!
9. Connect with friends. Life with an infant can be incredibly isolating. And there’s nothing that magnifies issues, worries, and fears like feeling alone. Grab coffee with a friend and bring the baby along, or have a friend stop by to chat. It doesn’t have to be a long, complicated get-together—just get together. One caution: choose to be with people that allow you to be yourself and feel at ease. This is not the time to get together with that person who grates your nerves or makes you feel bad about yourself. Instead, get together with your natural cheerleaders.
10. Be present with your partner. In this season of trying to survive and care for an infant, it’s easy to let the relationship with our partner slide to the background—and in some ways it needs to. But make a point to be fully present with your partner for even just a short while each day. Maybe after that bedtime feeding, or during dinner. Actually make eye contact and talk about something other than the baby. Settle in, be present, listen, and enjoy each other’s company.
11. Do something that makes you feel like you: cook, paint, shower, listen to music, etc. I spent 30 minutes the other day playing with watercolor paints next to my five-year-old daughter and I felt so much more like myself. I also carved out time one day to make a recipe I’ve been dying to try. And, the other day while in the car, I put on music that I want to listen to (instead of a Disney soundtrack), and it was glorious.
12. Take your time. Sometimes the worst thing we can do in the early days of a new baby is have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. Move slowly, plan to get only one thing done per day, and allow yourself to put off cleaning up the kitchen. When you’re ready for more, it’ll happen—and all the work and tasks will still be there for you to do!
13. Listen for God in the quiet. There’s so much time spent rocking your child, or feeding her, or quietly bouncing your baby in a dark room. Try to listen for God in the quiet and see how he’s showing up.
14. Pray while feeding your child. I was struck the other day of how similar feeding an infant feels like fixed-hour prayer. Few things cause us to stop every few hours to do the same thing over and over again. So I’m trying to be mindful of this pause in the day and spend at least a moment praying, especially over my daughter.
15. Sing a hymn or worship song to your child. When my five-year-old was an infant, I began singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” to her as a lullaby each night. Today she still asks me to sing it to her, and she finds it soothing. Plus, the old hymns teach important theology, and I love that every time I sing it, I remind myself of God’s truth and teach it to my daughter. So with my new daughter, I’ve chosen another hymn to sing as a lullaby, in hopes of having the same effect.
Are you a new dad? I’ve got a few suggestions for you as well:
1. Let yourself feel whatever you feel. We rarely talk about the shift that happens for dads, and they usually have little time adjust. You're rushed back to work after only a few days or weeks, and we make endless jokes about incompetent dads not knowing how to change a diaper. But that’s simply not true for most new dads. So truly, feel however you feel, and talk about it. It’s a huge transition for you, too.
2. Know that you are needed. A lot of dads feel a bit helpless in the early infant stage. If the baby is being breastfed, you can’t help out with feeding. Plus, mom is usually preferred by the baby and probably gets to spend more time with the baby, too. Know that you are needed, though, and you can be helpful. Even just changing the diapers at each feeding is a huge help! Or rocking the baby to sleep after that late night feeding can allow mom to rest.
3. Be fully present with your spouse. As I said above, this is a draining season, but even just a few minutes of intentionally being present goes a long way for both of you and your relationship.
4. Do something that feels normal. In a season where everything feels different and new and maybe even awkward, doing something that feels natural and normal and part of your pre-baby life can really ground you. Maybe it’s a regular gathering you go to, or attending church together, or Taco Tuesday. For us, attending the farmers market Saturday morning and making a delicious dinner with our finds is part of our normal Saturday routine, so getting back to that with baby in tow made us both feel more grounded.
5. Connect with friends. Of course you probably have less time to be out all day or all night with friends, but you need to connect with your people. Bonus points if you have friends who are also dads and can talk about parenting with you.
Amy Jackson is founder and director of The Perch.