Life is full and lovely for those who soak up all opportunities like peaches. Young parents are all too happy to pick the fruit from the trees: a career, a relationship, children, a house hunt or renovation, a circle of friends, a crowded agenda and an almost constantly vibrating smartphone. It is not surprising that they sometimes lose each other in the crowds. As a young parent, how do you create a balance in time for yourself, your work and your family?
The current generation of people in their twenties and thirties are experiencing a lot of pressure in life. It is not always voluntary. A full-time job – almost a requirement given the cost of living -, a hobby and an evening relaxing with friends already ensure a well-filled week. Even weekends today seem like unopened advent calendars, where there is no longer a slot available. Add a child (or children) to that and there is almost no time left for relaxation. Let alone a moment to look deep into your partner’s eyes and hang out together one day ‘like before’.
“When a couple has children, the little ones put an enormous strain on the relationship. Children simply take up a lot of time and energy,” agrees relationship therapist and sexologist Rika Ponnet. She feels that this pressure not only creeps into the relationship with the partner, but also with others. “We often set the bar too high. And I especially feel the women in my practice. We always want to be present and preferably always entertain,” she says. Dorien Camps (35), founder of COMMANDING and mother of three, feels the high bar. “You are expected to become a mother as if you had no career and work as if you had no children. In addition, you also want to maintain a social life and exercise occasionally. It is challenging with children.”
Plan and prioritize
Parenthood has been a learning experience for Dorien. Her firstborn, the leaf COMMANDING, appeared barely a year before the birth of her son, who is now three. A year and a half ago, her family expanded again, this time with twins. “Having twins was obviously not planned, suddenly we have three children. It’s super nice, but makes it even more difficult to make a good plan,” she says. “At the same time, it almost forced me to outsource more things. I have learned to let go.”
To make ends meet, Dorien and her husband – who is also self-employed – call Foodprepper. Twice a month the family receives a box essential to get through the week healthy. In addition, Dorien has a personal trainer who puts her in training once a week. “In this way, we integrate healthy diet and exercise into our lives. If you want to do all that yourself, it becomes difficult to keep the balance.”
Accept help and let go, is her advice. And also: Make a realistic schedule and set priorities. “I plan my days carefully, including time with friends or me time.” Time that isn’t used effectively slips like sand through the fingers, she knows. “I am very critical of my time and how I want to use it. This way my weekend won’t soon be full with only appointments with friends. You see people who get energy from uninterrupted friends, but with me it can be done in doses, otherwise my keg is quickly empty.”
You are expected to mother as if you do not have a career and work as if you do not have children.
After all, sensing what energizes you and defining what doesn’t has a positive effect on your environment. “What you do for yourself, you also do for your relationship,” says Rika Ponnet. “If you’ve relaxed for a day, you come home a different person.” In other words, self-care also benefits the family. “Don’t forget to consciously set aside time for your partner.” Ponnet sees it all too often: Once children arrive, the romance disappears.
“However, it is essential that you still see each other as partners, and not just as parents. So definitely never call each other mom or dad. Couples who do that actually completely reduce each other to one role and completely ignore the other. Making time for you as a couple is really important.” Dorien and her husband take the latter to heart. Once a week or every fortnight, the two of them go out. “We call it our ‘Holy Wednesday’ and those evenings are really sacred,” says Dorien. “Often we are dead tired, but a little quality time helps. Then you can have a conversation without having to deal with children who may knock over glasses or don’t finish their plate.”
Another tip that Ponnet gives for not losing sight of your relationship as a young parent, despite all the busyness, is simply to take a slightly ‘lazier’ approach to raising the children. “We can just let it go every now and then instead of always being busy,” she explains. “Not everything goes the way you expected or thought, no matter how hard you try. Make peace with it and make it a little more relaxed. I would advocate a little more lazy parenting.”
Finally, the couples therapist says that a little mindfulness can’t hurt: “Live here and now.” Whether you are raising a child, twins or a Von Trapp offspring, it is always difficult. “The first three years are hard anyway. Primary care day and night demands a lot from you, but realize that afterwards there will be more space again, for yourself, your work and for your partner.”