I’m loving my time as a new mum, but some aspects are hard. Juggling household tasks and basic self-care like showering and eating whilst caring for a baby is no picnic! If you have a baby, you'll know that you can’t just hop in the shower when you fancy or cook your favourite meal on a whim; you can't take your eyes off your little one for more than a second. Baby's nap time may provide a little space to do something, but often means doing the mountain of dishes, batch cooking baby food or getting yourself dressed... And that's if your baby naps more than five minutes and is happy to sleep out of your arms! Some days sleep deprivation mists your brain and forgetfulness, clumsiness and the constant thought of ‘I neeeeeed sleep’ occlude all else. Honestly, if babies slept like adults then caring for a baby would be a hundred times easier!
The DBT skills I learnt several years ago have been exceptionally helpful for me as a new mum. They have helped me handle the challenges of parenthood with a little more acceptance and tranquility. Not saying I'm perfect (what even is that?!), but I am mostly able to manage my strong emotions pretty well thanks to DBT. Consequently, I thought I would share my top five most used DBT skills for other parents with babies just in case they are useful.
1. Improve the moment / mini holiday
On days when it feels like 'everything is going wrong', I ask myself: what simple thing can I do to make this difficult morning/afternoon/evening a little easier? Can I put my baby in the pram, walk to the cafe and buy myself my favourite coffee? Can I feed my baby whilst watching my most-loved comfort film? Can I spend two minutes whilst my baby is playing on the floor next to me to get dressed properly or apply some make-up? Sometimes doing something low effort but high impact for myself can make everything feel much more manageable.
On tricky days another helpful question is: what shortcuts can I take? Can I simplify the recipe and the food will still be tasty? How about leaving the playgroup ten minutes early so I don't have to race home? Life is so full and so fast-paced, we can all benefit from shortcuts every now and again. For a person with BPD they can be the difference between making it through the day without feeling really distressed and feeling okay.
2. Build positive experiences
Every time I have a positive experience it's money in my emotional bank for when I have a rainy day. If I have to do something I'm not looking forward to (because let's face it, we all have those chores and errands), then I try to 'wrap it' with something nice. It could be having my favourite food for lunch, seeing a good friend or lining up my favourite show to watch. When my baby had her vaccinations I made sure I had nothing planned for that afternoon so we could go home and cuddle up on the sofa (those were the days before she was on the go 247!).
Some examples of building positive experiences in a small way:
- Giving yourself a little treat whatever that may be
- Spending time in nature
- Planning something nice to do in the near future
- Reading a favourite book or watching a favourite film
- Having your favourite tea / coffee / hot drink
Sometimes building positive experiences may be larger in scope such as:
- Working towards starting a new career / studies / volunteering / lifestyle
- Moving to a new location
- Working towards finding new friendships / relationships / building a family
- Learning a whole new skill such as a language, sport, craft etc
3. Dialectical thinking
Dialectical thinking involves integrating two opposing viewpoints about a topic. When you look at an issue or situation from seemingly conflicting sides, then you are attempting to think dialectically. It's about seeing the shades of grey, not just the black and the white; it's also about knowing that something can be two things at once for example:
- You can work hard and take a rest sometimes.
- You can be a devoted parent and still take a break sometimes.
- You can love someone and be angry with them.
- You can be a good at something and still make mistakes sometimes.
Thinking dialectically is a vital skill for emotional regulation. If you think that 'good parents' aren't 'allowed' to take a break then you will be reluctant to take one (or feel guilty if you do) and quickly become exhausted. Living life in extremes of thought leaves little flexibility for a person to respond to their emotional needs as they arise and no allowances for mistakes. Dialectical thinking promotes living in a more balanced and, ultimately, more self-compassionate, way.
4. interpersonal effectiveness: Give skill
During times of exhaustion and overwhelm, it's easy to be irritable with partners or loved ones. We are all liable to be impatient or use a snappy tone when we haven't slept well, but this is where the GIVE skill comes in handy! This acronym gives reminders for effective communication when the main goal is to maintain a positive relationship.
Gentle. Use a soft, gentle tone and adopt open, relaxed body language. Avoid sarcasm, 'you always' or 'you never' statements or blaming.
Interested. Show interest in what the other person is communicating by paying close attention. Allow them to speak without interruptions.
Validate. Show that you are trying to understand the other person's point of view. Acknowledge their emotions. Validating is not about agreeing with someone, it's about acknowledging their emotional experience and letting them know that their feelings matter.
Easy manner. See if taking a slightly more relaxed and easy-going attitude could make communication easier. Maybe even use a little humour to make things feel more light-hearted.
I need to remember to use this skill on days when everything feels so heavy and serious as a result of having little skill and a to-do list as long as my own arms.
5. Radical Acceptance
Sometimes things happen in life that we wish hadn't happened. Sometimes we wish we could change things, but we can't. As a parent, there will probably be one or more things happening every day that we don't want to happen—even last night my baby scratched her face in her sleep even though I had just filed her nails. Of course this is pretty minor, but there will be times when difficult things happen that we don't have control over such as sickness, accidents, change of plans, bad news, others' reactions. In such instances the DBT skill known as radical acceptance can prevent us from experiencing further stress and suffering.
Radical acceptance involves acknowledging when a situation or an outcome is outside of our control, and accepting that there is nothing we can do to change the state of affairs. To radically accept a situation is to let go of all attempts to solve problems, influence outcomes or change how others feel. Often, the decision to radically accept a situation is not a one-off resolution that happens easily or quickly. Radical acceptance involves repeatedly acknowledging and accepting when you do not have influence over something.
Whenever I find myself wishing trying to change something that I cannot alter, I acknowledge what is going on, how uncomfortable or painful that is, and then remind myself that I cannot change it. Radical acceptance doesn’t take away the discomfort caused by difficult situations, but it frees up time and energy to focus on the things that are in my control. Next time my baby wakes up from a nap after only a few minutes, I need to remember this skill!
I hope you find this post helpful. Please let me know if there are things you do as a parent with BPD that you found especially helpful as I would love to know. Take care!
- Rosie x