In life, every day brings new decisions. It always has, even long before we had kids. To put blueberries on my cereal or not? Press the snooze button? (Ah, those were the days!) Take this course in college or that one? Accept this job offer or wait for a better one?
When we become parents, those daily decisions we make not only multiply, but they suddenly have a (seemingly) huge impact on a life other than our own. Yes, the number and import of decisions changed when we entered into a relationship with a partner. But there’s something about making decisions for someone who is completely dependent on us for survival that just doesn’t compare.
I’m an over-thinker / over-analyzer type. So the first year of new parenthood brought with it a type of overwhelm not only related to the sleep deprivation and physical care of a baby, but also a new sort of decision-making overwhelm. One that put my already-anxious brain on overdrive.
The decisions I was making about my baby’s life flashed red alert signals of infinite importance. They covered unfamiliar territory for me. And it seemed I could always be making a “wrong” choice. What type of child care should we choose for our baby? Will I ruin my son’s sleeping skills for all time if I nurse him to sleep? Should I enroll him in baby swimming lessons? Should I keep baby home when he has the sniffles, or send him to daycare and risk having him sent home (with the edict not to come back for another 24 hours)?
Yes, these are questions with many possible answers. But they also ultimately require decisions. Actions or inactions. There was simply no “deciding not to decide” about most of them.
With children, as with life before they arrived on the scene, decisions come in both the big and small varieties. It’s easy for them all to feel so extremely important in the moment, though. And to get caught up in the fear of making the wrong choice.
Here are 5 skills that helped me a great deal in my days of decision-making overwhelm in early parenthood. I’m hoping that by sharing them, they bring you some calm and reassurance, too.
5 Skills to Help You Make Decisions in Parenthood (and Life)
- Research like mad if you must, then STOP. Research and analysis is one of my strong suits. It serves me well in my legal practice. But to research every possible decision in new parenthood is certain to lead to crazy-making, paralysis, or both. Yes, I researched all the local daycare centers, and my husband and I took one tour per month throughout my pregnancy. At some point, of course, we had to stop researching. Trust that we knew what we liked best. (And then lobbied the heck out of that top choice option!) If you know you are prone to over-analyzing, set an outer boundary for yourself around how long you’ll be permitted to research and consider your options. Then decide and let it go.
- Back burner it. My violin teacher growing up was both an amazing musician and a brilliant composer. He came in to speak to my high school humanities class one day about the creative process, and he told us how most of his composing happens while he isn’t even intentionally thinking about it. He called it putting the idea on the “back burner” and letting it simmer. And that image has stuck with me ever since. Decision-making is, ultimately, a creative process. One that defines our days and our lives. So give that tough decision some time alone, just to simmer. When you turn back to it, you’ll likely find your soup is already cooked.
- Sing the catchy tune from Avenue Q, “Everything in life is only for now.” Somehow, decisions that feel like they may have been “wrong” lose their power if they aren’t forever. So you wound up choosing a childcare option that wasn’t optimal. You can make a change. You signed your kid up for a class and regret the decision. The class will end. You returned to work and decided to read every single e-mail you missed during maternity leave, and now you’re feeling remarkably behind? You can stop reading them mid-stream. Or commit to doing things differently for the next baby.
- Talk it out. Have you ever found that just hearing yourself articulate your options out loud makes it painfully obvious which you are more passionate about? My husband is an excellent sounding board for me when I get stuck in decision-making overwhelm. But talking it out doesn’t even have to be to another human being. Check out Daniel Pink’s “Pinkcast” on how talking to a rubber duck can indeed get you unstuck.
- Get quiet. Get still. Listen to your intuition. When my first son was born, I read every baby sleep book on the shelf and still couldn’t decide what to do about nursing to sleep, trying to put him on a schedule…the works. Until I got quiet. Asked myself what I wanted to do. And trusted that I didn’t need the books. I knew myself, and I knew my son. And if there were a “right” answer, there wouldn’t be an entire shelf of books on the subject.
With the frenetic pace of modern (very wired and connected) life, I think we often forget how brilliant we innately are as human beings. That we have an intuition to listen to. One that can and does serve us well. The more we seek out that “white space” in life, the more access we have to this inner wisdom. And the more we can calmly approach each decision we need to make.
I kept writing the word “seem” above for a reason. Looking back, all of those decisions I worried so much about weren’t so remarkably life-altering after all. YES, the love and care we put into taking care of our little ones is important. But as parents of small people, we don’t have bandwidth to analyze every little decision to death.
So let’s support one another in trusting what we think is best. Deciding. And sinking into the baby cuddles, instead of the decision paralysis.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.