When a Couple become a Family | 8 ways to be Emotionally Prepared for Parenthood
By The Parent Practice on August 22, 2014
Are you emotionally ready for parenthood?
The recent tragic news of the death of one of the world’s most beloved actors and comics, Robin Williams, has left many of us reeling and wondering why people take their own lives. His battle with drink and drugs and the ‘black dog’ of depression is well-documented and sadly is not as uncommon as we may believe.
Another tragic case recently, nearer to our practice in SW London concerned a young mother who, also suffering from depression, took not her own life but the lives of her three children. Mental illness can affect us all even without such catastrophic and well broadcast outcomes. A recent report from our local hospital – St George’s in Wandsworth – highlighted that many new mothers are affected by depression post birth.
If you are an expectant parent, I am certain you will have prepared for the physical aspects of having a baby, done the pre-natal classes, prepared your birth plan, maybe even packed your hospital bag; you’ve bought the crib, the stroller, the clothes etc, etc and you’ve probably being nurturing your body during your pregnancy. Hopefully your medical advisers have spoken to you about post-partum depression.
But are you prepared emotionally for the transition to parenthood?
Have you thought about how it will affect you and your relationships with your partner, your parents, your friends? Do you know what to expect of the first few months? How will you cope with all the (well-meaning but possibly conflicting) advice? How will you take care of your own mental health to ensure that your baby gets the best possible start in life?
Every year approximately 720,000 babies are born in the UK, and almost 4 million in the US. Having a baby is an opportunity for a new beginning – new relationships are built, new goals are set and new dreams are created. However, as well as the excitement that comes with becoming a family the transition to parenthood also brings with it stresses for the couple which can impact on the infant. Research shows that after the birth of a child many couples experience a drop in relationship quality which can lead to compromised parenting and decreased quality in parent-infant interaction. (Source: The Gottman Institute)
Years of research show that a strong emotional life between the parents is the best foundation for a baby’s development
As you move from a couple to a family be aware of some of the changes you can expect. Being aware is being prepared and ensures you are realistic about what changes are afoot.
1. Both parents’ love for the new baby can form a very strong bond between them as they take on new responsibility for another life. A couple may act more as a team than ever before; becoming more flexible, learning to adapt, to be creative. You will reassess your values and goals and get in touch with your fun, playful side.
2. Babies can teach adults to wonder and marvel at simple things, to experience the joy of discovery. Children are great teachers and we learn a lot about ourselves through interacting with them.
3. Research shows that both men and women (about 67%) experience a decline in relationship satisfaction after the first baby is born and it continues to decline after the birth of the second child (which adds to the complexity of family dynamics and places additional demands on resources). There is also often a change in relationship with your own parents and with friends with or without children.
4. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression (one study shows even when healthy volunteers were deprived of sleep for one month they became depressed) so get as much support as you can and don’t be a super Mom! Naps are more important than housework.
5. Sex/intimacy declines – Be patient! Developing a culture of appreciation for each other will help greatly – that means telling each other regularly what you appreciate about each other. Develop a daily practice around this or it won’t happen. My partner and I kept a little book on our bedside table and we wrote one thing in it each evening that we appreciated about each other. It created a lovely atmosphere of trust and made us both feel more confident in our handling of our new daughter.
6. Fathers sometimes withdraw if the mother or the women in the mother’s circle, in an attempt to be supportive to her, inadvertently make him feel not needed. He may also feel replaced in her affections as she bonds with the new baby. This needs to be aired. Fathers have a very special role to play with newborns and are just as capable of caring from them as moms.
7. Reduced emotional availability - Conversation and communication declines with tiredness. Awareness of this possibility allows you to make communicating a priority.
8. Philosophical/psychological changes - There may be a shift in roles, relationship roles may become more traditional than previously, which can be challenging for both parents. If you’ve been a working parent in a challenging job and now you’re at home on leave or you’ve made the decision to be a stay at home parent you may experience a drop in status that is challenging. Reframe these assumptions by thinking about how important, challenging and rewarding your role as a parent is. Nurturing a small human being is a critically important job that goes way beyond the physical aspects of her care.
Ensure you are emotionally prepared for your baby.
Had you thought about how having a baby would affect your relationship with your partner? Do let us know what you do to nurture your couple relationship.