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New Parents, You Won’t Regret Keeping a Journal

Which is no surprise. While research on so-called “baby brain” is mixed, the effects of fatigue — the bane of new parents — on memory are well-documented, said Rachel Marie E. Salas, associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins.

The thought of journaling while caring for a newborn is admittedly exhausting. Others have good intentions, and duly buy a baby book to fill out — for the first child, anyway. “I remember being so upset that my mom made my older sister a photo album, complete with notes and a lock of her hair from her first haircut, and she never made me one,” said Katherine Bunker, a library associate in Fort Collins, Colo. After Bunker became a parent, she confessed, she made “a wonderful baby book for my first kid, complete with all sorts of milestones and details. My third kid has nothing.”

But it’s never too late to write down the story of your child’s birth or adoption and early years — even if you only remember impressionistic little bursts, or your kids are older. And given how wildly uncertain the future seems at this moment, it may be a good time to look backward.

While it’s true that parents who are worn out by working and remote learning aren’t necessarily craving a “pandemic project,” scribbling a quick sentence here and there not only provides a future keepsake for your child, it’s a form of therapy to make sense of the confusion and chaos that is parenthood. Eventually, these small recollections will form a larger narrative that tells your child’s story, said Morgan Stromberg, a marriage and family therapist in Chico, Calif., and a single father.

Stromberg created an email account for his daughter four months before her birth, when he decided on her name. “I did it because I wanted her to know she was loved from the first moment, and have access to stories from the man that knows her the best,” he said. Stromberg has been regularly sending emails for her to read when she is older. “This creates a sense of unity and safety with our children that molds their identity and aids in their sense of belonging,” he said. These accumulated memories and moments, he added, act as a foundation against the uncertainty of the larger world.

“I have a 6-year-old daughter, and I’ve written things down since she was born because my mother did it in the ’70s,” said Takara Rooks, a therapist in New York City. “She kept a journal while she was pregnant with me, and wrote a letter to me when I was six months old, telling me how wonderful it was to be my mother. I once asked her what prompted her to do this, and she said there had been a movie out where the woman had a baby, and then recorded a journal and died. And my mother just bawled her eyes out and said, ‘What if something happened to me?’ I commend her for doing that, because having a newborn is the hardest thing in the world.”

Family stories, Rooks said, speak to our psychological need to say, You belong. We belong. “My grandmother kept a diary every day of her life,” she said. “We are an African-American family, and we as African-Americans don’t usually have a record of our history because of slavery, because things were taken from us,” she said. “But our family does.”

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