Becoming New Parents: What You Need to Know
Posted On: October 20, 2018
by Robyne F. Howard Psy.D, Owner and Founder of Lakefront Counseling Group, Ltd.
Is it common for couples to struggle in their relationships or marriage after welcoming a baby?
Very common, in fact it is unlikely that a couple will not struggle after having a baby. For many couples, relationship satisfaction drops significantly after the birth of their child. New parents often become tired, sleepy and irritable making connection and communication strained.
What tends to be the most difficult time for new parents where their relationships are concerned (pregnancy, immediately after baby, a year after baby?)
All stages can potentially be challenging for couples depending on a variety of factors. Was it a difficult pregnancy with extensive morning sickness, or one with physical or mental health challenges, including pre-and post-partum depression? Was there an unintended C-section or a premature birth setting up an unexpected post-baby phase?
These variables along with many others during pregnancy often impact how a couple experiences the after-birth stage. Most couples struggle with sleep deprivation along with a mutual dependency and decision making that may be very new to them, especially for couples who have experienced their life together with greater autonomy and independence.
Having a child requires good teamwork to make the myriad of decisions necessary to care for a child – from who gets out of bed at night to feed their baby to who changes diapers, buys food, gets to go out with friends on Tuesday night, or goes to the gym on Sunday afternoon and so on. Couples may not be used to spending large amounts of time together tied to their home and child in ways which are foreign to them. Things are often easier for most couples a year post baby when they have a better rhythm of how tasks are divided and more acumen in understanding their new roles as parents and expectations of each other.
What are some mistakes couples commonly make after becoming parents?
Not being clear with each other about what their needs are. Obviously, communication at this stage is crucial and gentle and honest sharing about what is hard and what you expect from each other helps ease the transition to parenting significantly. Being sleep deprived, missing the things which have helped you to feel fulfilled and healthy, take a toll. Being able to share your needs with your partner along with each having a stake in meeting each other’s needs is crucial during the first year of parenting.
What’s your best advice for couples who have just welcomed a baby?
Being gentle and kind with each other. It’s a tough transition for every parent even those who fought long and hard to conceive. You don’t want to underestimate the impact a newborn has on a couple. New routines need to be established and the sense that your lives now revolve around the needs of an infant can create grief for your former life along with an intense joy which combined, can be overwhelming and confusing for many couples. The shift from we are the most important, to our child is the most important, takes time. Patience is key.
I often recommend that couples:
1. Be empathic to each other, it is hard for both of you.
2. Relish in the child you have created and the new life you are embarking upon together. Tell stories about your own childhoods, share dreams and hopes for your child’s future, know that you get an opportunity to do better than you parents did or give back to your child all the wonderful things you have received from your own family.
3. Manage conflict well, using softer and kinder language which gets at deeper feelings and thoughts and needs.
4. Continue to build your friendship system and keep up your intimate life.
5. Fathers or the non-birthing parent are incredibly important, even when they feel less useful because they can’t breast feed. Encourage your partner to take on important tasks and allow for bonding time.
6. Keep aware of “baby blues” and get help if you need it. New mom support groups, therapists, your physician, trusted friends and family are invaluable.
7. Being open to feedback is also often critical. Most of us have instances of “what if our own parents said they were sorry more often”. Be that parent.
What would you tell a couple who is struggling to connect after becoming parents?
Spend time nurturing your relationship outside your role of parents. The value of touch, and communication is enormous. Finding alone time, scheduling date nights, being social with friends, discussing the things which were meaningful pre-baby and most of all, keeping the romance alive even when the last thing you might think you don’t want, is sex.
What are some of the biggest sexual hurdles couples face post-baby?
Time and exhaustion, especially for working parents. For mom’s who are nursing, they often feel their bodies are now given to their child and that there is little room left for their partner. Their partner might feel rejected, creating distance, hurt and anger. Some mom’s take longer to heal and struggle with being intimate again after delivering a baby. They sometimes see themselves as a mom and no longer as a lover or intimate partner. Honest sharing about these very normal and expected challenges are essential.
What are some of the biggest emotional hurdles they face?
Finding time for each other and for themselves is difficult and can create feelings of isolation, detachment and feelings of loss for the life they knew before being parents. Post-partum depression is a serious condition which is often overlooked and quite painful.
Would you say things like date nights and time alone (away from baby) are essential to maintaining a relationship after baby?
Yes, critical. The best thing a couple can give to their child is a warm, kind and loving relationship. This nurtures a baby’s physical, intellectual and emotional development. There is no greater gift.