From Pregnant To Parent's blog is reader supported. When you buy a product through the links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. We promise, we only recommend products we genuinely like. Purchasing through our links doesn't effect the price you pay, but it does help to support our small business.
The journey into parenthood is an emotional rollercoaster. The newborn phase is no exception. For most new parents, there are moments of pure love, unlike anything they’ve ever felt before. The peace that can accompany time spent skin-to-skin. The purity of those first smiles and giggles. The incredulous joy of witnessing each developmental leap.
For most parents, however, there are also moments of frustration, isolation, and guilt. You’ll likely question if you’re getting it “right” and at times, feel wildly conflicting emotions. On your hardest days, you may even wonder if you’re cut out for being a parent. (Spoiler Alert: Not only are you cut out for this, but we’d be willing to bet you are the BEST person for the job). Little by little, the crushing weight of it can quickly lead to parental burnout.
I was a first-time mom back in 2018. We were still counting our newborn’s age in weeks when I considered leaving him in the car while I ran in to get takeout. My husband was back to working long, unpredictable hours. Family visiting from out-of-state had long since gone home. It had become glaringly obvious just how small our local circle of support really was. And yet, the idea of expanding that circle to fit our needs felt impossible and exhausting.
My commitment to my newborn’s “routine” made support groups feel impossible. I had no idea postpartum doulas existed, and I just wasn’t ready for a nanny or daycare no matter how trustworthy they seemed. It was also nearly winter, and I was afraid to expose my newborn to others during cold and flu season. My anxiety found every reason to keep me at home feeling isolated and alone.
I’ll just be a minute, I reasoned with myself. My hands gripped the steering wheel of my idling car. I stared through my windshield at the poke bowl restaurant in front of me, my seatbelt still fastened as this mental war was waged in my head.
We went into the UPS store across the street just a few moments before. It was supposed to be a simple errand, but my grumbling stomach led me on the detour to the restaurant in front of me. Once we were there, however, this seemingly simple idea suddenly felt so much more complicated. The thought of unloading the car seat, hauling him in, and ordering food just to bring him right back out into the car for the drive home sounded so strenuous to me in the sleep-deprived “bliss” of new motherhood. The pain of exhaustion cut all the way to my bones.
A short film quickly played out in my head. I imagined leaving him in the car while I popped in, quickly making my way down the line and adding toppings to my bowl. Then, just as I asked them to add avocado, someone would smash my car window and steal away my vulnerable baby boy. A wave of fear ran through me. I shook the fantasy, and an alternate possibility immediately replaced it. This time, I’d look up to see the police breaking in to rescue my abandoned baby. I’d run out the door as they were calling CPS, tears streaming down my face.
A fresh wave of guilt washed over me, mingling with the lingering feelings of fear. I’d never leave my son in the car, I reassured myself. Of course, I wouldn’t.
Hunger ached in my stomach, tears burned in my eyes, and shame flooded my mind. A whine of protest came from my now-waking baby in the backseat. My swelling breasts confirmed my son’s fast-approaching need for a feed before I even looked at the clock. I put my car in reverse and headed for home. Surely there was something to eat there. The prospect of preparing something myself made me groan. Resentment filled the spaces left by the residing feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. At that moment, my burnout was so palpable it might as well have been buckled into the seat beside me.
Driving home, I silently empathized with the parents I once judged. At that moment, I realized just how easy it was to continually sacrifice yourself on the altar of parenthood until you break. Although it doesn’t make it right, I could see now how, in a moment of desperation, exhaustion, or maybe even oblivion, a parent could leave their child in the car, fall asleep at the wheel, shake their baby, or maybe even worse.
The truth is, most people don’t have conversations about those inconceivable moments as they enter parenthood. I get it. They don’t exactly make for the liveliest topics at baby showers, but these (oftentimes HARD) conversations about mental health, asking for help, and creating emergency plans are the ones we should be having.
Just imagine if instead of the usual surface-level conversations about names, gender, and nursery decor, we said this to expecting parents:
“Congratulations on your new baby! Have you considered your self-care strategy and who you’ll call when you need a break? Do you have a plan in place in case of an emergency?
Make sure to include mental health emergencies, too. You can call me if you need space to rest or take a little break. Especially when it feels impossible, I’m happy to help you figure out how to take care of your needs while you’re settling into your new role as a parent.
Some days, you may want a break from your baby. I want you to know, it doesn’t make you a bad parent. It’s perfectly normal! No matter how much you love your baby, everyone needs a little time to themself. And no matter how it may seem, everyone needs a little help sometimes, especially in those early days, weeks, and months. I’m here for you!”
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with those fun, surface-level conversations. We just need to make sure we’re having conversations that are truly supporting new parents, too. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
As a parent, you will be needed in a way that you have likely never been needed before. Even the most basic forms of real self-care that you once took for granted—daily showers, meticulous skincare routines, or a full night’s sleep—will feel impossible some days. For many people, becoming a parent really shines a light on our ability to ask for help and set boundaries. Unless you’re a pro at these things, it’s not long before parental burnout starts to set in as a result of consistently putting your own needs on the back burner.
Your instincts will likely reinforce your choice every time you deprioritize your own needs for your family. Societal expectations, especially for mothers, don’t help either. If you’re a mother, pause for a second and think about what you consider to be a “good mom.” Do words like self-sacrificing, vigilant, organized, ever-present, and selfless come to mind? Maybe some Pinterest-perfect images?
In their book Burnout, Emily and Amelie Nagoski have coined this (false and contagious) expectation as Human Giver Syndrome. They go on to define HGS as the “belief that you have a moral obligation to give every drop of your humanity in support of others, no matter the cost to you.”
As Americans, we live in a very demanding culture. Moms are expected to “do it all,” and yet, no one person actually can do it all, and truthfully, our kiddos don’t need us to be perfect. They just need us to be “good enough.” Even better, when we take care of ourselves, our kids benefit as well. So, resist the urge to neglect your own needs. Instead, make the choice to say, “I matter, too” and ask for help when you need it.
Between COVID and modern realities, it can be very hard to find your parenting village, but it truly is amazing the way many people show up when you ask them. You are stronger and more capable than you ever imagined, and you deserve the support you need to experience joy (or at least contentment), even in the grueling phases of life. Childrearing was never meant to be done in isolation. There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do this alone. After all, I firmly believe we were never meant to.
Are you currently in the weeds of the newborn phase? Check-in with yourself. How are you doing? If you’re feeling parental burnout, start by asking for help to get your most basic needs met. Then, work on a plan to refill your cup in slightly more restorative ways until you start to feel like yourself again. If that feels impossible and you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, don’t wait until something happens that you can’t take back. Have the hard conversations with a friend, partner, or mental health professional. Our team is here for you, too!
Are you preparing to welcome a new baby into your family? Make a postpartum plan before your baby arrives. Think through the various ways you may need support, from childcare to housework to social needs and more. Come up with a list of who you can reach out to for those various needs. While you’re at it, think about what fills you up and recharges you when you’re feeling depleted to help you up together a self-care plan as well. Be sure to communicate those plans to your village to make it even easier to use them when the time comes!
If you’d like to add the support of our coaches to your parenting village, we’d love to talk to you! Click here to set up a call or email us at hello@FromPregnantToParent.com for more information about our services. Need help finding local resources, including a therapist, counselor, or support group? We’d be happy to help!
Richelle’s passion is supporting growing families through the unpredictable and transformative journey of pregnancy and the first years of parenthood. In 2019, she set out with a vision to create a modern-day parenting village: From Pregnant to Parent. In addition to being our founder, she is a certified doula, childbirth and lactation educator, sleep coach, and RETAIN parental leave coach. When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two kiddos around their home in Marin County (San Francisco Bay Area).
From Pregnant to Parent
follow along @FromPregnanttoparent
FTC Affiliate Disclosure: When you purchase through the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. By doing so, you don't pay a higher price, but you do help to support our small business. If we ever promote something that was gifted to us, we'll be sure to say so. Regardless of whether or not we are earning a commission, we promise, we will only ever recommend products we genuinely like and use (or would use) ourselves.
Read about our most recent sessions and find out more about us!