From partners to parents
Embarking on parenthood is a significant life-changing event, which despite a couple’s best efforts to plan and prepare for can still come as a huge shock. Having in most cases spent nine months getting ready for your baby, it is not uncommon to find that life with your newborn is wrought with changes and adjustments to well-established and familiar routines. All of a sudden there is a small and often vocal ‘little person’ in your lives whose care needs fill both your days and nights. Where you may have imagined your ideal baby and a seamless transition to parenthood, the reality can be very different. Babies are individuals and while some are quiet and settled, others cry more often because they are more sensitive to the world around them; some learn to self-soothe by sucking their fingers/thumb, others need to be held. If establishing breastfeeding, the early days/weeks can also be challenging as mum and baby get used to each other, and gain confidence with feeding. At the same time, parents often find that the increased physical, household and financial responsibilities (especially where there are no longer dual incomes) of parenthood leave them both time-poor and money-poor. Opportunities for me-time, time together as a couple, or socialising with friends fly out the window; as a backdrop to all of this, parents are also feeling utterly exhausted from the sleep deprivation that is synonymous with young babies care needs. Sexual intimacy often diminishes, which can leave some partners feeling unloved and if couples have different approaches to parenting and/or there is intrusion from well-meaning in-laws/family members, tension and conflict can easily arise.
One of the most difficult challenges that many parents face is finding room in their relationship, for their new baby. Whereas, before pregnancy couples were more able to focus their attention and emotional intensity solely on each other, the arrival of their baby diverts this energy into parenting their newborn and it can become very easy to neglect each other. While many couples cope easily with this transition, some become stressed with their partners feeling left out, isolated, not loved as much, or unappreciated. Similarly, the physical changes associated with pregnancy and concerns about their post-baby body changes can leave some new mums lacking in self-confidence. Where mothers may have put careers and long term employment on-hold to start their family, the transition from work to home can also cause difficulties; it is therefore quite natural that many new mothers feel that they have lost their identity. In the same respect, new fathers can feel that they are missing out on time with their new baby because they now have to bring in a salary to support their family. If left unspoken and unresolved, these issues can cause resentment and distance the couple from each other. Some relationships have been known to fail simply because a couple have concentrated so hard on being good parents, devoting all their time and energy to their children, they’ve ended up neglecting their own relationship and personal needs.
Nurturing your relationship is just as important as nurturing your baby and having a support team around you of friends and family can help you strike that balance between being partners and parents. Once you and your baby start feeling more settled into your new routines, you can start ring-fencing couple time together. This might include planning and cooking a meal together, enlisting the help of a trusted relative, friend or babysitter, so that you can go out for a walk or have a mid-week coffee together, or just being able to relax together and read a book. By planning regular dates together, even where this is simply curling up on the sofa to watch a favourite film, couples can rediscover their individual identities. By making sure you spend ‘protected’ time together as a couple, it is also more likely that, when the timing is right, you’ll both feel ready to resume sexual intimacy.
Being a parent is probably the toughest job in the world and provides a constant learning curve; as such, each person’s experience of becoming a parent will be different. While some will find it an easy transition, others may experience unexpected challenges and problems. A strong support network of family and friends is probably the most important resource that new parents can have. There are times when you’ll do brilliantly and other times when you’ll chastise yourself and feel you’ve failed as a parent. Because there are several recognised parenting styles and you and your partner may favour different approaches, you may both need to compromise. By taking what you consider are the best aspects from each other’s parenting style, you can compliment each other and continue to parent as a unified team. More than ever, there is a need to keep your lines of communication open. Where you can talk honestly and openly about how each of you is feeling you will be more sensitive to each others needs, in this way you can support each other in your transition from partners to parents. Your health professional, local postnatal support group and other voluntary groups will also be able to guide and support you with this.