by Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
All done having kids? Mourning the fact that you’ll never again have a little baby of your own to cuddle?
There are certain milestones – weaning from nursing or bottles, a vasectomy, a health issue, selling the crib, or simply deciding not to have another baby – that may bring up sadness.
Here are four ideas to help you honor your feelings and set you up for conscious parenting moving forward.
Savor Your Favorite Memories
Even if you didn’t take photos of your naked belly every week you were pregnant or capture portraits of your baby with “1 month,” and “2 months” signs wedged between his chubby arms, you can still remember the sacred times when you soothed, snuggled, fed, changed, rocked, and bonded with your baby.
Write down your favorite moments of pregnancy and new parenthood. These might include the day you found out you were pregnant, the first time you saw the ultrasound, or a walk in the woods on an autumn day right before you gave birth.
You might recall details about your baby’s personality, charm, sense of humor, feistiness, or calm demeanor. You might remember gazing in your baby’s eyes for the first time or singing lullabies before bed.
Record the things your baby loved the best (like a blue shiny blanket or when you patted her back) or the comments people made about her (e.g. look at those eyelashes!).
Paint, sketch, or write poetry about the unique time when you were the parent of a baby. Notice the senses you felt including sights, smells, touches, sounds, and tastes. Write a love letter to your child about his or her baby phase.
Jot down thoughts about what felt especially joyful about new parenthood. What were your favorite parts? What was something you were good at? What are you proud of? What were the happiest moments? What’s a beautiful time you will never forget?
Clear Negative Feelings From the Challenges of this Time
If you didn’t get to fully enjoy a part of early parenthood, reflect on the challenges you endured. Spend a moment appreciating the resilience you mustered to get through difficult times.
If you had a pregnancy scare, you had a rough delivery, your baby was in the neonatal intensive care unit, you had trouble nursing, your baby had colic or a health issue, your baby woke up all night, you had trouble with child care, or you had other unique stressors (like a job loss, a move, an injury, or a sick relative) to deal with, acknowledge the strength you needed to get through it.
Reflecting on how you felt during challenges honors and then releases feelings of anger, regret, sadness, guilt, and disappointment. Clearing these negative emotions creates space to become the parent you want to be moving forward. It propels you toward the new phase of your life with clarity and grace.
Use a Ritual to Honor the Unique Time When You Had Babies
Donate your baby stuff to a family shelter or Goodwill.
Give a donation to the March of Dimes, an adoption agency, a children’s shelter, or another organization that helps babies or kids.
Make a book with photographs of yourself with your babies.
Prepare for the Sacred Moments of the Next Phase of Parenting
Go on a family bike ride, go on a vacation, or do something else you couldn’t have managed with babies.
Talk to some of your friends with older children and ask them what stands out for them about that time.
Read a book or a blog about positive discipline for preschoolers, parenting school-aged children, or doing art projects or enrichment activities with older children.
Plan quarterly special time outings with your older children, such as going on a train ride, to the baseball game, or to a water park together.
Set personal goals for your next phase of parenting, such as eating dinner together as a family, upholding the expectation of chores, or spending more time in nature.
It’s natural to feel some sadness about not having another baby or being done with the baby phase of your life. Even if you are relieved, you may also experience this as a loss. Through reflection, clearing, ritual, and mindfulness, you can bring in healing and prepare for what’s next.
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, mom to three, is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. She specializes in counseling for parents of babies and young children. www.erinleyba.com or firstname.lastname@example.org To follow this blog by e mail, click the follow button on the left.