Why New Parents Should Keep a Journal

  Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Contributed by Dr. Carrie Jackson

Becoming a parent is one of the most pivotal life transitions. In the matter of a year, the decision to journey into parenthood leaves your life forever changed. After the birth of a new child, so much happens so quickly. Aside from the sleepless nights, frequent waking, recovery from pregnancy, and constant questioning if you’re doing everything right, there’s plenty of small moments in-between that are easy to miss. And at the same time, you don’t want to miss any of them.

The first week of a parent’s life is full of milestones, lots of growing, and changes you don’t want to miss. No matter the challenges of being a new parent that come up, you will want to remember all of the positive moments along with it. With the utter fatigue of being a new parent, your memory might not always be the best or most fresh to remember the small details. That’s where journaling can be helpful. Before you dive into this article, it may be helpful to revisit another article written focused on how to stay patient as a new parent. Being a parent is a trying time and one that doesn’t come with a lot of extra time. If you find yourself too overwhelmed to even contemplate starting a journaling practice, I recommend you read through that article first. If you are willing to try and give journaling a go with all the benefits it has, keep on reading.

As a new parent, keeping a journal of life’s day to day events can ensure that you don’t miss all of the changes that happen along your child’s life. There are some things that happen and change so fast that you unfortunately can’t go back to remember it all. A journal can be a great way to remember all of these changes and to also help you relax and destress from the challenges of being a new parent. At the same time, you’re probably wondering how you are going to fit in journaling as a new parent when you are already pressed for time and lack of sleep. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the benefits of using a journal as a new parent and how to incorporate journaling into your already busy life. Even thought being a new parent is certainly overwhelming, there are ways that you can make this work within your life that you are building as a family. In the next section, I’ll show you how journaling can be beneficial to you, and may even help make you feel less overwhelmed. 

Benefits of Journaling as a New Parent

1. Processing emotions.

As a new parent, you are likely experiencing a ton of new emotions. If you are a mom, you may also be experiencing the highs and lows associated with the hormonal changes of pregnancy. One moment you are ecstatic and overjoyed, the next minute you are overwhelmed with emotions and feel like you can’t hold it together. It can be hard to take time for yourself to work through these emotions when you are a new mom. Sometimes, journaling can help you to slow down and process these emotions you are experiencing. It can be a chance to understand the thoughts that you are having and to help make sense of them too. After all, this is a time where you likely don’t feel like you have much time for yourself. Taking just a few minutes out of your day can bring you back to yourself and make you feel more understanding of the journey you’re going through.

2. You can remember the small things.

You’ll likely be taking lots of pictures the first day of being a new parent. You’ll want to remember the big events too like the first birthday, first visit with grandparents, and others. These are all moments that you will capture along the way. But what about the small details of day to day life? Most of the times, baby books don’t have a place to add in the day to day events of being a parent. These are the things that are often easier to forget because there’s so many of them. A journal can serve as a reflection on the day where you’re able to incorporate all of these pieces of being a new parent into your journal. These small moments are ones that you’ll be able to look back on and be so happy that you managed to keep track of them in the early days.

3. You can reminisce on them later.

Journals become treasures of memories for you to enjoy as your children go up, and for them to look back on and learn about their life growing up. You might be able to look back on the lullabies you would sing, funny moments throughout the day that were forgotten, or times where you relied on friends and family for support. Looking back on positive events can have a beneficial effect on your mood to. We often look back on days with rose colored glasses, and this can provide a reminder of all the good things that have happened. This won’t only be a way for you to remember the events from your child’s younger days, but a book for all of your children and family members to enjoy if you would like.

4. Journaling helps you destress.

Being a parent is stressful. There’s no getting around that reality. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is take time for yourself to figure out how to feel better. You’re so focused on how to keep your baby alive, healthy, and taken care of. At the same time, you won’t be able to parent the way you want to parent without taking care of yourself. Being able to write out your thoughts and feelings may help you destress and give you some control over your emotions when everything feels like it is out of control. Who doesn’t need a quick and easy way to destress as a parent?

5. It helps you fall asleep.

Sleepless nights are the norm when you are a parent. You may fall asleep for a few hours and the next thing you know you’re up again trying to take care of your newborn. Just as journaling can help you deal with stress, it can also make it easier to fall asleep at night. This is because parents are often up late at night stressed out. The extra stress leads to physiological changes which make it more challenging to fall asleep at night. So, in addition to the other benefits of journaling, it may be helpful for you to catch up on some extra sleep that you’ve been missing out on. If it doesn’t help you get extra sleep, it’ll at least improve the quality of your sleep since you will feel less stress.

6. It can improve gratitude.

You’ll likely be overwhelmed with all of the things that you have to do in the early stages of parenting and throughout your child’s life growing up. Because of this, you may miss out on the things that you are grateful for during the time. Journaling can help new parents feel grateful for smaller things even when they are going through a tough day or week. Focusing on a few positive things that have happened throughout the day can improve your overall positive outlook on parenting and help reduce some of the stress that comes along with it.

7. Have more certainty.

Parents often wonder if they are doing everything right. As a parent, you’re often forced to make many decisions throughout the day. These can range from smaller decisions such as what diapers to buy to larger decisions about what daycare is best for your family. None of these decisions are easy. They especially aren’t easy when your mind is cluttered throughout the day and overwhelmed. If you have a journaling practice, it can help you sort through some of these decisions that are difficult to think through. By writing them out on paper, you may find that it’s easier to understand all of the possible options and outcomes for the decisions you’re considering. Things often become clearer when we can see them visually. 

8. Keep track of important to-dos.

You probably have a million things to do as a new parent. You might be keeping a to do list somewhere, or maybe that type of organization has gone to the wayside. Or maybe even you are just trying to keep track of what all you have to do inside of your head. A to do list is probably the last thing you want to have to worry about during your new life as a parent, yet keeping track of the tasks you have to do is very important. There may be your daily life tasks such as paying bills as well as tasks for your newborn such as timing their feedings and sleep schedule. Within your journal, you can track all of these things and keep them organized in a journal format. It will not only help to serve as a reminder of the things you were doing throughout the day as a parent, but also help with keeping you organized and on top of your tasks.

9. Keep track of parenting goals.

Many parents often go into being a parent with lots of high expectations. They have plans for sleep training, sticking to a regular feeding schedule, or having designated tummy time for a certain amount of time each day. When the reality of having a baby comes around, these goals can be pushed to the side as other priorities seem more important. A journal can help with keeping track of and setting goals throughout the day or week that you would like to achieve. Even if you don’t meet all of the goals you were hoping for when you started your journey of becoming a parent, a journal can help you keep track of and modify your existing goals. Parents need the little wins that they can get, and this journal can help you notice those wins even more.

10. Recover from a distressing event.

Although some people may have great pregnancies and deliveries, this isn’t the case for everyone. And unfortunately, that’s not what we see on social media either. More often, there’s the picture perfect birth story showing up on our newsfeed. For many new parents, their pregnancy and birth can be filled with challenging and event traumatic events. In order to process the emotions associated with this, writing your thoughts to process what happened can be incredibly therapeutic. If you are concerned about how you are feeling, you can always also reach out to a local therapist, by finding one in your area. If you aren’t sure of how to find a therapist near you, try checking out this guide with advice on where to start your search and signs to watch out for in therapists.

Why Choose a Journal Over a Baby Book?

Many parents often receive baby books as gifts when they have their first child. Baby books are memory journals that have been already developed with a way for your to respond to journal prompts, include pictures at different milestones, and keep track of important events and progress on developmental milestones. These are a great option for someone to keep track of the bigger things that happen when you are a parent. However, these books often miss the smaller day to day events going on. These books are typically structured in a way that doesn’t allow for much creativity or going off of the prompts provided. By having your own journal, you have the flexibility to incorporate whatever you would like into it and can often provide more detail than what is included in the baby book.

Baby books also often take significantly more time and energy than a regular journal does. Baby books are designed to be scrapbooks that require work to organize and complete the entries in. Something like a journal is much easier as journal entries can be developed based upon the time you have as a parent. That means that if you only have five minutes to write in the journal today, that is still enough to get started with your journal unlike a baby book. Because of this, it’s often easier to start with your own journal. After you decide between a baby book or a journal, it’s helpful to consider the time that you want to journal, how often, what to journal about, and how to make it a habit that is one you can keep.

How to Journal as a New Parent

Starting a new habit or journaling as a parent may seem like a daunting task. You are already taxed from the sleepless nights, lack of self-care, and overwhelming amount of responsibilities. I get it that this doesn’t seem like something that is feasible right now. Even though it may seem like it is overwhelming to start with, the benefits of journaling can actually lead to decreased stress along the way which will allow you more time to use journaling in your day to day life. Over the course of the next few discussions, I’ll be detailing more about how you can start a journaling practice before or during the process of becoming a new parent. 

When to Start Journaling

Ideally, you will already have a journaling practice that is incorporated into your schedule and you can modify it once your baby is born. If you are currently pregnant, it may be best to start this process prior to the delivery of your child in order to fully incorporate this practice into your daily life. Some people also enjoy keeping a journal throughout their pregnancy to document it. If this is something that you are interested in, check out this guide where we discuss the benefits of keeping a journal throughout pregnancy. This isn’t always the case for everyone depending on when you are finding this article, but the earlier you can implement a new habit, the easier it is to stick with. This also means that you can start journaling when you have less stress and more free time so that it isn’t something that is easily tossed to the side once you have more responsibilities. There’s a rule that on average, it takes about two months for a new behavior to become automatic. So the earlier you can start within your pregnancy, the more automatic this will become once you are a new parent. 

That is of course the ideal situation, but it is not possible for everyone to be prepared to journal throughout their pregnancy. Journaling is probably going to be the last thing on your mind once you arrive home as a new parent. After things are able to settle for a little bit, consider starting to implement journaling into your routine a few times a week. It’s important to find a way to journal that works for you. Many people argue for journaling at a certain time throughout the day or night; however, all new habits will fail if they aren’t individualized to you. When you feel ready and prepared to journal, make a decision and come up with a plan for journaling.

Choosing a Journal

Journals come in all shapes and sizes and formats. As mentioned before, journals can be much more helpful than baby books because of how flexible they are in their format and what you can include in them. That being said, if you do decide to use a baby book, it can provide some structure that can be helpful for new parents. If you do decide on wanting a journal instead of a baby book, there are some other considerations for choosing the journal that is the best fit for you. 

The next important decision is deciding on if you would prefer a paper or electronic journal. Paper journals have the benefit of being able to write down things going on throughout the day which may be therapeutic itself. They also can be easily seen, and you can include things in them such as pictures, doctors note visits, and letters from friends. These are some of the best advantages of using a paper journal. Many people also enjoy having something physical to take with them throughout their day. It can serve as a visual reminder to journal unlike other electronic options. When choosing a paper journal, there are tons of different options. Some of the options include predated journals, journals with prompts, as well as simple notebooks that only include lined paper. All types of journals can be purchased in most big box stores or even online through Amazon, so that you can have them delivered to your home easily. 

On the other hand, some people prefer electronic journals because they are easily taken anywhere, and the technology can make journal writing much easier. With all of the technology that is now available, there are also many more options for electronic journals. If you are interested in apps for journals, there are multiple ones that you can find throughout the App store. I love the DayOne app which allows you to quickly insert photos, your location, as well as audio files into your journal entries. Other people may prefer something that is much more free flowing such as a Google Document. On Google Drive, you can simply create a blank document and date it with the day. This option allows a talk to write function where you can speak into your phone and then your journal entries will be typed out onto your document to review later. This comes in handy in particular for adults who are juggling multiple things at once and may not have all of their hands free. You can also add photos to these types of Google documents which can make it appealing. Having your journal in an electronic format also ensures you will not lose it and that it can be accessed or shared anywhere. 

Figure out which format for a journal is most appealing to you. Some people do really well with online journals while other people much prefer hard copies of journals to write down their thoughts. If you start off with one format of journal and realize you need to switch to something else, that is okay. Now that you have the first step for figuring out what type of journal to use, the next step is moving into deciding how often you should journal.

How Often to Journal

What’s great about using your own journal instead of a baby book is that you are constrained to the page and time limits of a premade baby book. Instead, you have the freedom to decide how much you want to write for and what you want to write about. So, journal entries can be as short and sweet as you want, or as long and detailed as possible. It’s less important about how much you write, and more important that you simply begin writing.

For those who are new to journaling, it is typically best to start with incorporating small amounts of journaling into your day. Journaling for as short as 5-minutes per day can be effective in writing down the main points throughout the day. For others who have been journaling for longer, you may find that you prefer longer writing sessions of around thirty minutes to one hour. Journaling practices can always be adapted and flexible. What works for you one day may not fit into your schedule the next day. The most important thing is that you allow yourself the flexibility to make adaptations to your journaling practice.

The next important step is to figure out how frequently you should be journaling. So much changes in infants from day to day that it would be nice to be able to journal daily about all the joys and challenges of being a new parent. This is likely unrealistic for many parents who are overwhelmed with many things that are going on. Journaling can be helpful when it is done only a few times a week. If you can, try to set a goal of how many days per week you are realistically able to journal. If this is only one time per week, that is still a goal that you are able to achieve. Avoid trying to overshoot on what you may be able to accomplish knowing that things will come up as a new parent. Oftentimes, this will lead to feeling more guilt and shame about being unable to maintain a goal you set for yourself so it’s very important to stick with realistic goals.

When to Journal

Finding time to journal can be a challenging feat for new parents who are sleep deprived, busy, and just generally at a loss for free time. Prior to starting to journal, it’s important to plan for some optimal times that you may be able to journal. You do not need to schedule these times within a calendar, but it’s important to think through sometimes where it may be more feasible. For example, do you find that there is a nap time that may work well for you to start journaling during? If you notice that your child tends to take naps or sleep at the same time each day, this is a great option. Other parents find that in the evening at the end of the day it’s much easier to journal. Nothing needs to be set in stone for when you are journaling, but it is important to think through typical times that may be the best for journaling. If you are only able to jot down a few sentences throughout the day, that is okay. Make sure that you give yourself some self-compassion for everything that you are taking on as a new parent.

Make Journaling a Habit

In order to make journaling a habit, it does require some careful consideration for how you are going to implement. The steps outlined above are great ways to incorporate journaling into your life in a way that works well for you. When your journaling is individualized to your schedule, it is much more likely that you will be able to follow through on your plan. In addition to these ideas, it may be useful to try and use habit stacking as a way to help journaling stick.

Habit stacking is a way of building habits on already built habits to increase the likelihood of following through with them. Instead of linking new habits to a specific time of the day, you link them to already established habits and routines. This way it helps you to reduce the cognitive load of having to remember to do an entirely new task. In order to use habit stacking, it’s important that you stack it on top of a task that only takes around 5 minutes to complete. For example, maybe you add journaling to your morning routine of getting ready or in your evening routine. Since these are habits that you already routinely engage in, adding a new task to them is a lot easier than incorporating another task into a different part of your day. 

What to Journal About

As a new parent, you may have an excess of ideas for what you can write about in your journal. There are going to be tons of new changes, new stressors, and new joys that fill your day over and over again. You may wish to have certain topics that you center your writing around to help with your organization. For example, you may consider highlighting challenges and successes of the day. Feelings of guilt as a parent are completely normal and worth considering in more detail. This will help with emotional processing of events that are going on as a parent.

Another topic that parents commonly write about is their child’s development and growth. You might want to write down the different changes that your child is encountering on a day to day basis such as their first word, when they start to babble, and when they start to walk. These milestones can continue to be celebrated throughout your child’s life. As they grow, you may continue to document their first bike ride, first days of school, and other big life events.

Other parents enjoy documenting their child’s favorites of a specific time in their life. You may want to document their favorite foods, favorite tv shows, favorite characters, and favorite toys to play with when they are an infant. As they grow up you can change the questions to become more reflective of where they are at developmentally. As a parent, you can also document your favorite moment throughout each day, week, or month of your child’s life.

Journaling does not have to be limited to writing and written word, rather you choose to keep your journal on paper or if you store your thoughts electronically. A journal becomes even richer when you have pictures, audio files, and other information to remind you of specific days and times. If you choose to keep a hard copy of your journal, you may want to print off pictures from your baby’s life and incorporate them throughout the journal. You can also consider adding pieces of memories to the journal, such as tickets to see a movie, or information from their hospital visits. These added pieces help make the journal feel more alive and breathe personality and character into the days that you have lived.  If you choose to keep your journal electronically, consider adding audio files of yourself or your child into the journal. These can be fond to look back on when you revisit your journal. They will also be keepsakes for your child to remember when they have access to their journal.

What to Do with Your Journal

The act of writing in a journal has many benefits, and you can still continue to benefit from having a journal even after you have continued to write in it for a while. Journaling isn’t only helpful to the parent, but it can be a great tool to build connection around the entire family. Here are some ideas on how you can get the most benefit out of your journal.

First off, as a parent, you will benefit from revisiting your journal from time to time. One of the benefits of journaling is that it helps with emotional awareness and processing of difficult events. In order to further process events that have happened, it’s helpful to revisit journal entries several times and see how your reactions to them change. You may notice that at first you have strong reactions to certain entries that gradually decrease over time. This shows that you are learning to process and understand yourself better. It can also help show you how far you have come from difficult events. And if you are using your journal as a way to monitor your parenting successes and challenges, it can be a great way to see the progress that has been made in yourself as a parent. The same idea happens for goals you are setting as well. You can monitor your progress on goals and identify any challenges that got in the way of goals or see how far you were able to come in achieving goals you made. When journals are revisited this way, they serve as a way to increase emotional intelligence and act as a form of self-improvement for new parents.

As your kids grow older, if you are willing to share you journal with them, it can be a comprehensive memory book that they will look back on in fondness. Many kids are unable to recall memories from when they were a very young child, but if you have kept a journal throughout those years, they will be able to reexperience them through a different lens. Many kids tend to appreciate this type of journal as they can experience their lives through their parents’ eyes. It can create a sense or gratitude and connection between you and your child. This is especially true if you maintain one for each child you have. It’s recommended that you maintain a separate journal for each child that you have. That way you will have the benefit of writing a journal for each child, and they will also benefit from receiving your interpretation and memories of them throughout their early years.

In addition to your kids looking back fondly on the journals that you have kept over the years, many other family members will likely enjoy reading through them as well. They will be able to look over many events that they may have missed or even those that they attended long ago. They’ll be able to see pictures, other items, and your thoughts around these different events which will be a treasured memory for them. Although journaling is often started due to the benefits it can have on a parent, the benefits truly spread to all parts of a family.

Time to Start Journaling

Now that you have all the steps to get started on journaling as a new parent, there’s really only one thing left to do. Start. This is often easier said than done and it can take several tries before you are able to truly implement journaling into your new life as a parent. Don’t let your own hesitations and worries about doing it correctly or not having the time to do it stop you from starting this practice. There are options that will work for every parent out there, but it’s all about finding the right process that works for you. Once you do find that process, it will be something that you, your child, and your family will treasure forever.

About Dr. Carrie Jackson

Dr. Carrie Jackson is a contributor of JournalOwl. Her primary interests are to increase access to evidence-based mental health treatments for children and adolescents, providing specific information to parents and individuals with ADHD.

Carrie is a graduate of West Virginia University with a doctoral degree in Psychology, and a specialization in Clinical Child Psychology. Carrie has worked as a therapist and evaluator at several children’s hospitals, providing care and treatment to clients with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and anxiety. She has also worked with children with chronic medical conditions, providing supportive mental health care to children with cancer and burn survivors. 

Although originally from South Carolina, Carrie has lived in two countries and four states. She enjoys hiking, traveling, and trying new recipes.

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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