Restoration was a key central topic at SRSS 2021. In fact, throughout this entire year, Stuart and Susan have been really banging the drum for Practice 5 of Self-Reg. They even changed the name from Respond to Restore. And that’s because, to oversimplify, if we are unable to restore—that is, if we can’t shed the tension caused by excess stress and then replenish the energy we burn when we’re overstressed—we won’t be able to get back to that balanced brain/body state known as homeostasis. In his second keynote Stuart pointed out homeostasis is fundamentally tied to growth. If the system (in this case, the brain body systems that help us respond to stress) doesn’t grow it eventually slides into dysregulation. “We are constantly being exposed to new stresses,” Stuart said. “We cannot stay in homeostasis unless we develop new strategies for dealing with new and unexpected stresses.”
That got me thinking about new parenthood. That’s been top of mind for me this summer since one of my sons was on the threshold of first-time parenthood during the symposium. And now he is two months into new parenthood. Those of you who are parents know that this time of life when:
a) there are lots of new stressors
b) a lot of growth needs to (and does) take place real fast
c) it is not easy to find time and ways to restore, at least in the ways you used to.
Ergo: new parenthood is a uniquely hard time to maintain homeostasis. Yet, you’ve got to grow like mad into your new role.
Stuart’s words got me wondering. How the heck do you “Restore,” let alone find time to do it, when you’re a new parent? Even though it can often be an amazing time filled with excitement and joy, it’s also stressful. New moms and dads have huge to-do lists, lots to learn and lots of new stressors. Most of the kinds of life balance (work/play, work/family, me time/we time) you used to look for pretty much go out the window. Normal changes.
With such rapid growth taking place in all five domains of experience it would be really great to find ways to reduce stress and focus on restoration, to help yourself maintain the energy you need to not only learn, but flourish in early parenthood. But the reality is that a lot of new parent stress comes from that very large to-do list— stuff that all needs to be done. How do you find time to go for a run, do your yoga routine, have a coffee date with your best friend, or catch up on your sleep?
I’m not going to try to answer that today. But I do think there is one really important way for new parents to restore, with our help. That’s through social support and practical help from the important people in their lives.
When it’s done right— helping unobtrusively and supportively, as opposed to directive advice-giving —support from family and friends can be inherently regulating and restorative in a way that gives new parents some of the energy they need as they adapt, grow and deal with new stressors as they find their way in early parenthood.
Good—unconditional, non-judgmental—social support is inherently energizing. It’s so restorative to, not just know, but experience that someone cares about you enough to support you and perhaps ease your to-do list a little bit. I’ve now had a chance to see it in action. I haven’t spent as much time doing in-person support as I expected I would have at this point. But I’ve seen how much my son and his partner appreciate and seem to get energy boosts from small but useful kinds of support, such as deliveries of homemade comfort meals, short visits and even text exchanges. Early on I managed to find my son a same day optometrist appointment, when he had so much else to do (his glasses broke while his wife was in labour, if you can believe that).
Each little bit of help, and in some cases reassurance around baby care and breastfeeding questions, seems to give them a little, but very meaningful, lift. I believe that helps them replenish the energy they need to best experience another kind of restoration that is unique to this period of life. That’s the moments of joy, wonder and amazement as they get to know and fall in love with their baby. That experience can be incredibly restorative. (I’m seeing it in action these days!) My daughter-in-law keeps texting photos of the baby smiling at her: real socially engaged smiles eye contact. Those pics absolutely melt our hearts. Imagine their effect on the parents! New parents need to be able to grab the energy of those lovely moments of early connection and wonder. Most parents are able to find them, thank God, but such moments can seem unattainable at times if new parents are overwhelmed and swamped with exhaustion, or a particularly challenging baby.
Obviously, I did not invent the idea that new parents need lots of support. People all over the world—well, women—have understood this for centuries. That’s why women in all societies find ways to surround new moms with circles of support, including practical help: cleaning, cooking, looking after older kids etc.—and the emotional support that goes with all that.
But, in the face of modern life, when families are separated geographically and so many mothers and sisters have considerable paid work responsibilities, these circles of new parent support are sometimes in short supply. So I think we need to keep reminding ourselves about the need to support new parents, and as much support as we can.
If we want the new generation of kids to be OK we have to keep refilling new parents’ tanks. This is a uniquely sensitive time of life for both children and the adults who care for them.
Interested in learning more about a Self-Reg approach to parenting?
Check out our online Self-Reg Parenting Course.
Read Stuart Shanker’s book, Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and you) Break the Stress Cycle and Fully Engage with Life .
Or join our Self-Reg Parenting Facebook Group.