Issue #18| September 2010


Today’s Topic: Strategies for thriving as new parents

Dear friends,

In my last newsletter, New baby challenges will GROW your relationship, I discussed 10 challenges facing new parents. Given your responses, it seems that many of you have friends and family who are welcoming new babies. Thank-you for forwarding this information on to them.

The challenges facing new parents are many! In this issue I offer some suggestions for coping and (better yet) thriving as a couple, at this important time.

(Note: Last issue some readers failed to receive the entire newsletter. If that should reoccur, you can find the full article here:
Strategies for thriving as new parents

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a strong, foundational relationship with our partner. Our children live within the space of our partnership. When we take good care of our relationship, we invest in our children in the process.

Warmest regards,
Shirley

Something to think about

The first year of parenting is the toughest, so be kind to yourselves.

~Tracy Hotcher

Big changes

My favourite parenting cartoon is by one by Bizarro. It shows a mother and dad looking wide-eyed at their young baby. The balloon above the baby's head reads: "Have you been sleeping all night, going out after 7pm, eating in restaurants? Are you used to clean clothes and furniture that looks like new? I'm here to change all that."

Indeed -- a new baby will change your life as a couple like nothing else! And although these changes are common and natural, they may come as a surprise. Even the strongest and most stable of relationships can be tested by the birth of a baby.

New roles

These changes may look different for the new Mom and Dad, as each adjusts to their new role within the relationship.

The new Dad may feel supplanted by their baby in his wife’s affections. Even the most mature man may grieve the loss of the couple’s pre-baby romantic relationship. His sexual desires may be unchanged, while his wife’s responses may have changed dramatically.

The new Dad may also feel inept and awkward in his new role of caring for an infant. (In fact, recent research shows that a husband's involvement with his children will decline in relation to the amount of criticism he receives from his partner regarding his parenting.) He may feel like there isn't enough of him to go around, as he feels the pressure to continue to produce at work, while assuming added responsibilities at home.

The new Mom is experiencing a major physical and emotional transition. Although no longer pregnant, as long as she breastfeeds, her body still doesn't belong solely to her. Exhaustion and mood swings can result in some very ambivalent feelings about the "joys of motherhood". Being at home, rather than working, may result in feelings of lowered self worth, particularly for women whose identity is strongly work-related.

Without a pay cheque or workplace recognition, the new Mom must learn to generate her feelings of validation from within. She may experience little recognition for the myriad of repetitious tasks she does each day. Her fears and anxieties about being a good mother, as she is learning-on-the-fly, may make her sensitive to criticism and unsolicited advice. At times, her spouse (despite his best intentions) may show up as just one more demand on her dwindling energy.

Given these pressures, new parents can benefit from strategies designed to support and nurture their relationship. So here are some suggestions:

1) Reach out for and accept help.

Being a new parent is demanding, so take advantage of all possible perks! When friends or family ask what they can do to help - TELL THEM. Let them know what you need. Meals for your freezer? Errands run? Babysitting? A night out? Some company?

This is not a time for false pride and impression management. Let your loved ones express their caring by taking on some of the tasks that could free you up to nap or have some quality relationship time.

2) Make time for the relationship.

Go out on a date REGULARLY. (Some parents make a weekly commitment. Monthly is a minimum.) Do something fun and relaxing that both of you would enjoy. There are many low-cost dates, so don't use money as an excuse not to go. The point is simply to do something enjoyable together.

Agree NOT to talk about the baby. Let this be a time to focus on the two of you - and other interests you share. This is a time to remember what it's like to be a couple again. You'll be amazed at how quickly romance and fun return when you make space and time for it.

3) Hire temporary help if you need it.

This is a great time to invest in some household support, until you both feel you're on top of your new responsibilities. This could include such things as: babysitting, housecleaning, laundry, meal preparations, grocery delivery, etc.

Look for creative ways to get breaks and to reorganize household responsibilities. You won't need it forever, however if things become stressful, a little paid support might make the difference between surviving and thriving. If there is no budget for extra help, let your friends and family know these are ways they can help.

4) Reach outside the relationship for emotional support.

Both of you will feel stretched, so don't expect to get all your needs met by each other. New mothers need to be with other mothers, who are also interested in the minutiae of baby care and development. If you don't have friends with young children, seek out parent and baby drop-ins, fitness classes and educational talks. These parents share your concerns and challenges and you can be an invaluable source of support to each other, both emotionally and practically. Many new parents form baby-sitting co-ops, to give each other breaks without cost.

If the at-home parent is a Dad, he will also benefit from these kinds of activities and social contact. The new Dad also needs hang-out time with other men with whom he can "de-pressurize" and blow off some frustrations. Other Dads have been there and know what it's like and can normalize (probably through humour!) what you're experiencing. Your family and friends can provide that additional energy, understanding and perspective that each of you may need.

5) Educate yourselves regarding the changes affecting your sex life.

Pregnancy and childbirth will disrupt and affect your sex life. It's not personal! Understanding these changes will help reassure you both that these changes are temporary. For example:

  • Women typically experience diminished arousal in the 4 to 8 weeks post-partum.
  • Many nursing mothers don't experience a return to pre-pregnancy hormone levels until after their baby is weaned.
  • Healing of episiotomies and caesarean incisions take time.
  • Vaginal dryness is common for most new mothers because estrogen levels are low.

    Couples will need to adjust and find creative ways of dealing with these physical changes, as well as the fatigue factor affecting their love life. Educating yourself regarding what to expect will help couples normalize and be able to talk about these sensitive issues. Enjoy finding those creative solutions!

6) Respect your partner’s parenting differences.

You and your partner may come to parenting with different models, standards and experiences. Talk about them! Seek to understand how things were done in each of your respective families, so you can take the best from both. Taking a parenting course or sharing a good child development book can give you a common frame of reference, teach you some valuable skills and provide a forum for discussing what is important to both of you.

7) Take time out to communicate feelings when tensions arise.

Remember that when you are stressed, there is a tendency to turn your partner into the enemy and blame him/her for not doing more. Let your partner know what you're feeling and needing BEFORE you're ready to bite off his or her head. Try to listen non-judgementally to each other, by simply mirroring back the frustrations your partner is expressing. You may want to consider having a weekly meeting, to check-in and plan. See Take time to align with your partner.

8) Get help if you’re struggling to resolve conflicts.

According to research, married couples wait an average of 7 years from the onset of a problem before seeking marital help. How unfortunate! By this time, many problems have crystallized into major resentments.

The pressures and fatigue related to a new baby increases the likelihood of frayed tempers. So be proactive in getting help if you're unable to wade through conflict on your own. Many of us weren't taught good conflict resolution skills - so there is no shame in seeking help. In fact, it's a sign of wisdom. Books, courses and good professionals abound.

A time of growth

The birth of your new baby heralds an unparalleled chapter of personal growth for you and your partner. So give yourselves the best possible chance of turning baby challenges into growth opportunities. Commit to strategies designed to nurture and grow your relationship. The payoff will be huge for you AND your baby. And your relationship will benefit long after your baby has grown up and left the two of you on your own again.

Invitation to action

For new parents: Plan a date with your partner for the coming week. Even if it's only for an hour, do something together (that you'd both enjoy) and focus on being with each other - no talking about the baby! Make a joint commitment to having regular ongoing dates and discuss how you'll support each other in making that happen.

For friends and family of new parents: Trustworthy and mature babysitters are critical for new parents, especially when their baby is very young. Offer if you can. Keep asking how you can help and what supports their changing needs. Let them know what a great job they're doing!

Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website at http://shirley.vollett.com
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Copyright © 2010 by Shirley Vollett. All rights reserved.