Scripps Ranch and Bankers Hill Therapist Sara Cole.
New Parents Are In For A Bumpy Ride. Here are some of those relationship bumps and ideas on how to survive them.
New Parents have no idea what they are in for. Even if people were brutally honest about what to expect, new parents would still be totally surprised and overwhelmed once baby arrived. Having a baby creates real struggles for new parents, on so many different levels. Their relationship is put to the test and forever changed by having children.
But the good news is that not every new family is not destined for divorce or misery. To do this topic justice would require writing a long book, so in this blog post I will just discuss a few of the biggest obstacles new parents face and some ideas for how to get past those obstacles.
1. Changing Roles - This may seem obvious, but the profound level of change is truly amazing. For a woman, she is now a mother. Her body feels like it is no longer hers alone. Her body has changed physically and hormonally. If she was a professional prior to childbirth, she is not sure where that fits in now. SHe used to only be responsible for herself and now there is this tiny, helpless little being she is responsible for keeping alive.
Most moms also feel like they don't know how to do this mother thing and that can be very uncomfortable and anxiety provoking. For dads some of these same shifts are happening. He is suddenly a father. He may feel ignored by his wife because of the level of attention and care a new baby has. He may feel disconnected from his wife emotionally and physically as sex may be infrequent or non existent for a while.
2. Distribution of labor- even in families that report both parents sharing duties, it is usually found that mom is permanently the one "on call". If she is breast feeding, this alone can feel like a full time job. Dad is not tied down in the same way mom is in most cases. This can lead to resentment and frustration. Couples often tend to fall into the traditional gender-stereotypical ways of parenting.
Women are more likely to become the “on call” parent, the one who gets up in the night to feed or comfort baby or who misses work if child is sick. As this pattern progresses, women take on more of the household and childcare tasks and men spend more time outside the home at work. This in turn can lead to feelings of resentment and guilt for both parents. Even is these rolls are reversed or in a same sex marriage, similar patterns and reaction can be seen.
3. Sleep deprivation- Did you know that sleep deprivation can be used as a form of torture? Continual deprivation of sleep can have serious effects on a person. A significant loss of sleep can result in depression, anxiety, moodiness, confusion, paranoia, feeling sick, reduced cognitive functioning, forgetfulness and even in extreme situations death.
We need sleep and babies can make it very difficult to sleep. So it's not surprising that the first few months or even the first year can be very taxing on a person and a family. After my daughter was born I came to the realization that up until that point I had never really know what it was like to be truly exhausted.
4.Hormones- We all have hormones. During pregnancy a woman has all kinds of new things going on with her hormones. After the baby is born, even more changes happen and that has dramatic effects on a woman and her body and in turn her relationships. After giving birth, a woman's body gets ready to feed the baby, causing surges in some hormones and lulls in production of other hormones.
All of these changes can be emotionally challenging. Her body continues to change as she becomes the source of nourishment for her child, whether or not she decides to breastfeed. She is also still recovering from giving birth and may be sore and swollen and tender in all sorts of parts of her body.
In addition to physical restrictions on sexual activity, the hormone changes also may cause a drop in desire for intimacy. Her husband may feel rejected or unwanted. She may feel guilty or pressured to resume sex. They may both feel a disconnect due to little or no sexual activity during this time.
5. Expectations- Whether we realize it or not, we all have expectations as we enter into the unknown. New parents may attend classes about giving birth or parenting and they might even talk about what it will be like to have a child. Other parents don't really do any of this. Either way, things will not be just like they expect.
I think that if fathers and mother to be were given really honest information about what to expect in terms of things they might experience, things their partner might experience and how they each might respond to these things, the struggle might be a little less overwhelming once the baby comes home. You can never prepare for every possibility, but for example, if men were told that they really shouldn't expect to have sex for the first 6 months after baby is born, some of the stress around sex might be reduced. Then if they happen to be sexually active before 6 months, it would be a pleasant surprise instead of a source of possible conflict.
Expectations about everything from sex to division of labor, parenting style and even sleep could also be partially managed by talking ahead of time and trying to plan how it might work. Of course, also keeping in mind that things don't always go as expected.
So the challenges are many, but there are also lots of things you can do manage them. Here are a few ideas.
If your relationship does not work out, it's okay. Sometimes there are other factors that contribute to a relationship ending and there is only so much you can do. Most of these tips can be used to successfully co parent as well. Happy healthy co-parents are great parents too and they can raise happy healthy kids.
For more on parenting, new parents and relationships and self care check out some of my other blog posts here.
Sara Cole MFT is a San Diego Therapist and has been providing mental health support to San Diegans for over 15 years. To learn more about how she can help you, visit her website at www.saracolemft.com.
Sara Cole has been providing mental health services in San Diego for over 15 years. Sara specializes in working with women and teen girls to overcome trauma and major life changes, including postpartum depression, going away to college, marriage, etc. Sara also loves to help people get their anxiety under control. She is also passionate about providing treatment to those whose lives are affected by the addiction of a loved one.