If you are a parent, do you remember what life was like right after your child or children were born? For me, it was a blur of exhaustion and frustration. In fact, becoming a new mom was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Despite the fact that I was expecting a child for eight months, I was not quite prepared for the changes in my lifestyle and my identity. Prior to becoming a parent, I had lived a very “adult” life. I spent my weekdays in an office. My weekends were generally spent sleeping late and relaxing. In my spare time, I traveled, read novels, and watched movies.
All of this changed very quickly when my child was born. It seemed that everything I did took five times longer than it did before I had a child. Emptying the dishwasher could take an hour because the baby needed to be fed and diapered in the middle. I was reluctant to shower during the day because I was afraid I would not be able to hear the baby crying. And a simple weekend trip would take hours of packing and a carload of stuff.
Some of this frustration was probably related to the fact that I had no friends who were stay at home moms. To this day, nearly everyone I know works out of the house. So there was no adult for me to hang out with to discuss all of the changes in my life. It was lonely.
Gradually, I returned to the working world, and things seemed to get easier over time as my child grew older and independent, had fewer sicknesses, and was enrolled in a great preschool. I became more accustomed to my life as a working mother. My new life was very different, but to me it seemed so much more interesting and meaningful.
Recent research confirms that I was not alone in my parenting stress. A study conducted by Chatterji and others using data from the National Center of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care followed children and their families starting when the child when one month and ending when the child was 4.5 years. Information was collected from the child’s home, the child care setting, a laboratory playroom, and from parents.
As many people know, depression after the birth of a child is very common in mothers. In fact, the study found that one month after the child’s birth, 24% of the mothers were considered depressed. Mothers’ depression decreased over time with 17% reporting being depressed by 6 months after the birth. One surprise was that the study showed that working outside the home can be helpful for the mothers of very young children. In fact, fewer mothers working outside the home were depressed by 6 months when compared to mothers who did not work outside the home. Full time moms working outside the home were more likely to report being in better health and having less parenting stress one month and six month after the child’s birth than mothers who did not work outside the home.
However, there were some differences among the mothers who worked outside the home. When the study just looked at the mothers who worked outside the home, those who worked a lot of hours had higher levels of depression when the child was 3 months of age then those who worked fewer hours.
The good news from the study is that the employed mom’s depression and stress reduces as the child gets older. So, for all of those parents of very young children, hang in there! Seek support from friends, family, and co-workers, if you are working. Remember, things will most likely get easier as your child gets older.
What helped you the most cope with being a parent of a very young child?
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