Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience. Suddenly, your days and nights are spent caring for the needs of your little one, and it seems that every ounce of energy you have goes into making sure he or she is healthy and happy. The attention and care you give your child is extremely important to his or her development, but it is also important to maintain a balance in your own life. Maintaining your friendships, getting out of the house for leisure or recreation and spending time with other adults can help you relax and relieve stress. Having a social life can feel impossible at times, but here are some suggestions for making it work.
Get rid of your excuses
New parents often have a million reasons why they think they can't have a social life. It's true that when you become a parent, things change, but too often these excuses prevent parents from making time for themselves. Here are some of the most common excuses.
- There's no time anymore. Caring for a child can seem like a 24/7 job, but there are ways to carve out time to spend with others even when also working outside the home. You may not be able to spend as much time with friends as before the baby arrived, but there's no reason why you can't make time for a weekend brunch, an afternoon or evening walk or a movie occasionally.
- My baby needs me. It's true that your child depends on you a great deal and is probably best comforted in your arms. However, it is important to allow your child to spend time with other people (family members, a caretaker or a baby-sitter) and learn to be soothed in many ways.
- I don't get to spend enough time with my baby. If you work outside the home, you are likely to feel this way from time to time, but connecting with others is especially important when every hour of the day seems full. Planning a weekly activity to reconnect with friends or your partner will keep your social batteries charged. Many social activities can be a two for one: spending time with friends while also including baby.
- Something bad is going to happen. Often new parents let fear control their actions. It's hard to imagine that something so tiny and precious will survive without your constant attention, but your child will be ok in the hands of a competent family member or caretaker.
- I don't need "me time" — my priorities have changed. Hopefully, your priorities have changed in some ways with the birth of your child. Putting his or her needs before your own is what makes you a good parent. However, it's not selfish or wrong to need ‘me time.' It's normal, healthy, and good for you and your child to take a break once in a while.
Accept that things change
It's true, you can no longer easily spend late nights out with friends, grab and go on the weekends or make last minute plans to have a date night with your partner. But this doesn't mean that you have to give up your social life all together. Your social life can still be full and exciting; it's just going to be different.
- Learn to plan. Instead of making a last minute decision about when and where to have date night or a night out with friends, make plans in advance. Pick a date, a convenient time (that works best for you and your child) and make reservations or any other plans to ensure that you get the most out of your time away from home.
- Use a calendar. Sit down with a monthly calendar and select an activity each week you can commit to that encourages an active social life. It can be as simple as a walk with a friend, a lunch date or a drink on your back porch with a neighbor.
- Find a trusted caretaker or baby sitter. If you don't have family nearby, ask around and find someone you can trust to watch your child. If you are nervous at first, do a couple practice runs and stay home while the sitter interacts with your child.
- Learn that your child is portable. Too often parents allow a baby to confine them to their home. Children can go where you go! Meet a friend at the park, use the day care resources at the gym or take your child on a shopping excursion. Once you get in the habit of leaving the house with your child, it gets easier.
- Make time. Maintaining a social life is important to your health and happiness, so make time for it in the same way you make time for work, exercise or other important aspects of your life.
Since your lifestyle has changed with the arrival of your child, you'll need to get creative to ensure you maintain your social life. Here are some suggestions.
- Make friends with other new families. Finding other families who share your interests is a great way to socialize with adults while you're with your children as well.
- Call your military and family support center to find out about playgroups or other activities and resources for young families on the installation or in the local area.
- Invite friends over after your baby goes to bed. If bedtime is 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., you can re-think how you spend time with friends. Instead of a dinner party, have them over after your child has gone to bed for dessert, coffee, games or anything else. This way you can be home while your child is sleeping, but you can still enjoy time with your friends.
- Change things up. Going out at night isn't the only way to keep up with your friends. Try making morning or afternoon plans. Meet for an early morning run or plan an afternoon or early evening picnic. These are fun activities and you can tote your child along for the ride!
Being a new parent can be overwhelming at times, so it's important to have outlets for stress relief. A strong social circle can help you stay refreshed and happy even with all the new demands of parenthood. Military OneSource's Parenting page offers great resources and advice on parenting skills such as creating and maintaining routines that may be helpful to you and your family. In addition, your Family Advocacy Program offers many different resources and services to help new parents deal with the challenges of parenthood, including the New Parent Support Program, which may offer classes, home visits, playgroups and much more for new or expecting parents. Reach out if you feel like you could use a helping hand!