Overwhelmed by life with a newborn? Make time for sleep, learn to prioritize, and give yourself a break, advises Skinnygirl brand founder and mother Bethenny Frankel, author of A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life.
1. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Sleep is essential. You already know it, but you actually have to live it. This remains one of my greatest crosses to bear. Lack of sleep will add to your anxiety and stress, and it can make you look old. Turn off the TV and read until you get tired, or take a bath. On the plane, stop paying attention to the movie and close your eyes. If you’ve shorted yourself on sleep all week, don’t make plans on Friday. Go home. Go to bed. Forget that idea that you can sleep when you’re dead. If you don’t sleep, you’ll go through life as if you were dead.
I’m still working on this, and as I write this, I have dark circles under my eyes because I have trouble sleeping. When I don’t sleep, everything is harder, takes longer, and feels more like torture. When I’ve had enough sleep, I can be a human being again, I feel good and healthy and I feel as if I can handle everything. I still find it challenging to balance my schedule with downtime, but I’m working hard on this because I strongly believe that sleep can cure almost any ill.
Sleep noise is a big problem for some people. It’s maddening for me. You think you just don’t have time to sleep, but that’s like saying you don’t have time to breathe. If you have the overwhelming urge in the afternoon to put your head down on your desk and slip away into sweet dark oblivion for just a minute, you are not getting enough sleep. Sleep should always be your priority, ahead of anything else that isn’t absolutely necessary, including exercise. But don’t let it stress you, either. If you lose a night and feel horrible, make up for it the next night. Your body will catch up.
I am not always good at exercising and sometimes I didn’t go to yoga for weeks. But that’s fine. It’s an ebb and flow. You do what you can, when you can, and only after you’ve had enough sleep. If your mind is racing, just lie there and relax. Sometimes you simply have to stop moving your body and your brain for a while. Both sleep and exercise are gifts to yourself. Give them whenever you can. I’ve realized how important it is for mothers to be good to themselves.
2. Prioritize. Prioritizing means that sometimes you have to say no in order to come from a place of yes. I’m working on this with my therapist because it’s difficult for me. Sometimes you have to say no, even if it means people will be upset with you. You have to prioritize your time when you are a new mom, because all of a sudden you don’t have nearly as much as you used to. Sometimes I feel guilty that I can’t give everything to everyone. I’ve recently missed events that were very important to some of my friends — a wedding, an art opening — but the fact is that I’m just trying to hold it all together, and I can’t possibly do it all. Some things have to go. Just remember that at different times in your life, you’ll have more or less time, and you’ll be able to do other things later. Nothing is forever, so prioritize what matters today, and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. It’s not selfish, it’s survival.
Especially prioritize family time. When the baby wakes up, make yourself get out of bed. The baby will make you smile. Put away your BlackBerry or your iPhone and focus on your family. Giggle, dance, tickle, sing, do all of that. Children know when you’re not focused on them. Bryn can already tell when I’m looking at my phone and not her. When I’m focused on her, she giggles and coos and smiles, and when I focus on work, she begins to fuss and looks uncomfortable — and that makes me so sad, to think about how many children grow up without anyone really paying attention to them. They deserve your attention! Let work time be work time, and family time be family time. Also prioritize what’s important to you, whether that means making time for your hobby or exercise or cooking or friends, or whatever fulfills you. You have to have something to run on. The more I prioritize family time, the happier I become. It fuels me, and helps me to focus when it’s work time.
The fact is that most of us take on too much, we try to do and be everything and that’s a killer. I am certainly guilty of this, and then I get to the breaking point. Just remind yourself every day about what’s really important.
3. Let yourself be happy. Many women beat themselves up all the time, myself included, making ourselves miserable about sleep, body image, men, dieting, or whatever it is. You have to give yourself a break. You can’t come together with anyone else if you can’t even get yourself together.
Sometimes your sanity is the most important thing and if channel-surfing for two hours will help preserve it, then that is your priority. Regular exercise can make you feel happier, but if you just don’t have time, let it go. You’ll get back to it soon enough. Sometimes all you need are a few deep stretches and cleansing breaths.
If you can stay calm, play your own game, and appreciate yourself, then you will find time to enjoy the little things in your life. Work when you have to work, then let yourself play. Go to a movie. Go on a date with your husband. Take an afternoon off and hang out with your kids. Bryn and I have “Mommy Mondays” whenever we can.
I’m not always the best at letting myself be happy, and I’m not ecstatic every moment of every day, but I’ve recognized how much joy there is in the little things, like being there when my daughter wakes up each morning and starts her day with a big smile. Little things like this make me very happy. Embrace them. Let yourself feel them. Do it for you. Everyone who loves you will be happy about it, too, and those little things might just be what get you through the day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bethenny Frankel, author of A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life (Copyright © 2011 by BB Endeavors, LLC), a graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City, is the star of her own Bravo show, the second season of which airs in 2011. Her recipes and health tips can be read monthly in Health and her trademark Skinnygirl Margarita is available in stores nationwide. She lives in New York City with her husband Jason, daughter Bryn, and dog, Cookie.