- Nicole VanDenBergh
Women’s History Month Feature: How Playing Video Games Made Me a Better New Mom
New moms often receive a barrage of advice. Perhaps most famously, we’re told to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” When my son was born, I learned that using the word “schedule” to describe a newborn’s sleep patterns is generous at best. Most new moms would feel lucky to receive 2-3 hours of sleep time each day.
But during those rare moments of potential slumber, I often chose to play video games instead.
My child comes first, always. That’s the non-negotiable contract a parent enters the moment they receive a positive pregnancy test. So, when my baby’s needs are met and naptime is in full swing, is it selfish for me to spend time on a personal hobby that technically has nothing to do with my kid? While we may not be able to game together (yet), making time for this hobby has ultimately made me a better mother. A quick bout of Among Us with friends leaves me feeling more refreshed than a too-short nap. Hopping in the Discord and accusing friends of being “sus” reminds me that there is life outside my little bubble.
Mental Health and New Motherhood
According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 5 women experience postpartum depression. Even those who don’t still face complex emotions after giving birth. One of the most common complaints is a loss of identity -- caring for a newborn is an all-consuming task, and mothers are often left with no time to spend with friends or on hobbies. This loss can affect a mom’s mental health and interfere with her ability to best care for her child. While sleep is a crucial component of good mental health, so is a strong sense of self. This is why I struck a careful balance between getting some sleep and doing something I loved.
Playing video games has always been one of my favorite hobbies. As a young girl, I fell in love with The Legend of Zelda, which ultimately led to a few lifelong friendships. Throughout my life, games have not only served as a form of lighthearted entertainment, but a coping mechanism in tough times. This has never been more true than in the past year, when I found myself pregnant in the midst of a global pandemic. In the year of social distancing, gaming became a way to stay connected to faraway friends and family.
A Deserted Island
We may not have been able to gather for an in-person baby shower, but we could go island-hopping in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the life simulation game that became a smash hit for the Nintendo Switch video game console (as a bonus, the Animal Crossing version of me did not have to turn down a tropical cocktail).
When the outside world became too much, I could lose myself in the colorful landscapes of Paper Mario: The Origami King. And as real-world injustices came barreling to the forefront, Persona 5 Royal reminded me that humanity has a duty to stand up and fight back against evil. All of these games and others helped me maintain a sense of purpose in the unpredictable fog of mothering a newborn.
Staying Connected with the New Mom: You
It’s not just about connecting with others. Gaming keeps me connected to the person I was before I became a mom. Many new moms mourn the loss of that person, as if our former selves perish after we become parents. In reality, we are just new versions of our old selves. We no longer come first and our lives have been turned topsy-turvy, but the things we used to love are still a part of us. Maintaining a connection to those things is crucial. They keep us vibrant and thriving.
When I take on a quick Hades run during my child’s short naptime, I feel fully recharged and ready to take on the next diaper change with no shred of resentment. I can give myself fully to the next feeding because I’m not feeling depleted and lost. In staying connected to myself, I’m remaining a whole person. As a whole person with interests and hobbies outside of my child, I’m able to commit myself more fully and enthusiastically to my role as a parent.
Ultimately, this is just my experience, and it comes from a place of privilege. I’m a married mother whose husband takes on an active co-parent role. We both have full-time jobs that provide paid family leave, something not all global women have access to. Kind, supportive family members live nearby. I’m immensely grateful for these things that have empowered me to say and do all this.
The fact that many new parents cannot say the same is a societal flaw that others have addressed more deeply and eloquently, but it bears repeating. Studies show that while having children can increase life satisfaction, the time restraints and economic strain that often come along with parenthood negate it -- and sometimes even lead to a decrease. Happier, more satisfied parents would likely lead to happier, healthier children.
I certainly never expected Super Mario Odyssey to be a valuable tool in my parenting arsenal. Nevertheless, moon hunting during my baby’s short naps became an important way to recharge. It wasn’t a cure-all. I still struggled with mental health problems such as postpartum depression and received crucial help from my doctor and therapist, but making time for games helped immensely. Today, I feel happy and confident in my role as a mom. My son is healthy, and our family has settled into a routine that keeps us all at our best.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s baby’s lunchtime -- but after that, maybe I’ll fire up Bravely Default II.
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