Got a new baby? Along with all the joy and fun that comes with welcoming a new child into your home, you will notice some other, unwelcome arrivals: tons and tons of unsolicited advice about how to run your life. Everyone has an opinion about what is really important, and much of this advice conflicts with or contradicts other advice, leaving a new mother feeling confused and overwhelmed.
Be at peace, new mama. There are really only a few essentials to keep in mind, in order to live your life in a happy, healthy, even joyful way.
First of all, remember that self-care is essential. Mothers are expected to care for everyone around them, but how can they do this if they are falling apart themselves? Remember to carve out a small amount of time every day just for you. This might sound selfish, but is it selfish when a car needs gas in its tank? You must take care of yourself if you want to do your job right.
An essential part of self care is your spiritual life. Mothers are the cornerstone of society, and we simply can’t bear that burden alone. Prayer strengthens us to take on the physical and emotional tasks we face every day (and on through the night!), so it is essential to carve out some time every day for prayer. When we neglect our prayer life, it’s only a matter of time before everything else we attempt will become a shambles. And nobody likes a shambles.
Speaking of shambles, scientists have shown that order and cleanliness are actually essential to our mental well-being. Chaos and disorder may seem like the easy way out, but they actually make it harder to make decisions and think clearly, which are essential for day-to-day survival in this challenging time. So be sure to carve out some time to straighten up your environment each day, and don’t skip the corners. Don’t be afraid to really scrub hard, and don’t skimp on the bleach. You’ll thank yourself later!
But we can’t always wait for delayed gratification. Sometimes immediate relief is essential, so be sure you’re getting some exercise. Studies have shown that even short bursts of physical movement throughout the course of the release endorphins that go a long way toward keeping our moods stable, our skin clear, our hearts healthy, and our eyes bright and our minds twinkly. Even if you don’t have a full, uninterrupted hour to spare, make it a point to carve out twenty minutes here and there, all day long, all week long, starting right this minute, and really push yourself. Really push hard. No, even harder than that. Remember the shambles.
You’ll also find regular exercise gives you more energy to do something that is absolutely essential: putting in some one-on-one time with your other kids. It’s all too easy for them to feel displaced and neglected when the new baby comes, so it is essential to carve out some special time to connect with them, consistently and intentionally, academically, emotionally, spiritually, and just for some plain old silly old hands-in mommy-and-me fun, or else they will grow up to be crack whores.
Naturally, kids aren’t the only ones who crave and need connection. Did you know that 84% of new dads are unfaithful in the first four hours after their wives give birth, all because the women who vowed to love them weren’t willing to carve out some time to keep that spark of romance alive? After all, your children are important, but your marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament! A SACRAMENT. Come on. What is the matter with you.
And what woman can even think about romance when she doesn’t feel pretty? It is essential that you look pretty. Look prettier! With your hair and your makeup and your clothes, including a flattering, properly-fitted bra that is easy to nurse in, because it is essential to normalize public breastfeeding, which is beautiful, but also don’t be a big weirdo about it, because that is not attractive. If you’re not attractive, the world will see your eye bags and your hip bags and your bag bags, and they think that babies make women ugly, and that will be the end of babies, and there will be darkness and void over the face of the earth, and also crack whores. Carve. Out. Time.
Last but not least: enjoy your baby. Oh sweet mamas, these precious days are so fleeting, so don’t forget to carve out some time for joy. Joy time is essential and there just isn’t enough of it. Seriously, time is running out for joy. Set an alarm and get that joy in.
And that’s it! Just carve out time for these few, simple essentials, and you’ll find that everything else that you need to do just falls into place.
A version of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2015.