Adjusting to Parenthood
Your new role as a parent often means a lot of work and very little time for relaxation or play. Both are essential to maintaining a healthy outlook and relationship with your partner. As you and your partner experience the growing pains that accompany your new life with baby, you will have to allow room for your interactions with one another to stretch and change as well. Many parents join social and/or educational groups whose focus is on life with a newborn. By interacting with adults in similar situations and exchanging anecdotes and information, you will learn how others have adapted to the changes in their lives.
A New Dimension to the Relationship
The parents of this wonderful new human being will never again return to their old relationship, even when the child has grown and left home and they are alone again as they were before they had children. They will move on to a new relationship -- a broader, more satisfying one. They are no longer a couple; they have become a family. The baby has added a new dimension to their marriage and a new reason for each of them to exist. Even if they have initial problems adjusting to the changes, even if they feel out of touch with each other for a short time, their common love for and enchantment with their child will bring them together again. No one in the world cares as much about their baby as they do; no one else can share their particular, unique experience of parenthood.
The period immediately after the birth of the first child can be one of the most difficult in the best of relationships. It seems to the parents they have no time for fun anymore, no place in their lives for the pleasures they used to enjoy. Impossible now are an impromptu meal at a favorite restaurant, a movie on the spur of the moment, or even a quiet evening at home with a well-prepared and nicely served dinner, followed by a few hours of uninterrupted talk or reading. The new parents are too tired for love. Worse, even after the recommended time of abstinence from sexual activity has passed, some women find themselves so preoccupied with their new roles as mothers that sex holds no interest for them. They are still out of touch with their former physical desires. Others say the process of bonding with their infants makes strong or passionate feelings for anyone else, including their partners, impossible. Such a woman finds it possible to willingly give herself only to her baby.
The demands of the baby drain the energy and dull the perceptions of both parents, leaving them often too fatigued to consider each other's feelings, desires, and needs. They're apt to be cranky and short-tempered with each other, quick to take offense and to feel slighted. Unconsciously, the father may resent the baby for taking so much of his partner's attention and energy, and the mother in turn resents his resentment. Their expectations of each other are too high. Their self-images may be undergoing a change in which, temporarily, they no longer perceive themselves as persons but only as parents, caretakers, and suppliers to this new baby and important only as they relate to her.
A couple who has had time to get adjusted to each other and a life together before having a child are perhaps the most likely to sail smoothly through the early weeks of the baby's life. Others who are quite young and have not known each other for long, or who are divided by religious or cultural differences, may be better off waiting a few years before having a baby.
On the days when nothing seems to be going right and life has lost its charm, every couple will be wise to remember the reasons they became partners in the first place: They loved each other, desired each other's companionship, and wanted to share both the everyday aspects and the exciting parts of their lives with each other. They enjoyed being together, either because of the comfortable pleasures of similar tastes and backgrounds or the stimulations and attractions of different ones. All that remains the same. They must recognize the source of whatever problems they have -- and the main problem is not the baby but their own fatigue, confusing emotions, and inexperience -- and somehow take advantage of short respites to concentrate their thoughts and feelings on each other as they used to do.
Praise and appreciation are essential; the parents' efforts at their new job of child care are as commendable as any achievements in the outside world of work, and positive and consistent support of each other are very important. Both need the comfort of touch -- a warm hug or caress can change the whole complexion of a stressful, exhausting day. New mothers and fathers need extra love and attention occasionally, and they can provide it for each other.
Parent Support Groups
New parents should begin again to share outside interests as soon as they possibly can. Because of their mutual absorption in their infant, many couples choose to become involved in parent support groups. As they take a break from home responsibilities and enjoy the company of others in similar situations, they learn the skills of parenting. Local service organizations such as the YWCA sometimes offer seminars or workshops at little or no cost. Parents who have taken childbirth education courses together often continue to meet on an informal basis after their babies are born to reinforce friendships begun and to trade childcare and parenting hints and tips. Still others form their own groups and meet informally with friends and neighbors. Local hospitals may also offer lectures, workshops, and discussion groups for parents, as well as more structured classes dealing with various aspects of effective parenting. Often, when the courses are over, some or all of the parents continue to meet, both for socializing and for sharing with one another what they are learning about their growing children.
As you experience the changes and setbacks of caring for your baby, you will develop an awareness of how frustrating this time period can be. It's beneficial to your marital relationship if you can remind yourself to offer support and positive feedback to your partner -- and, hopefully, he can offer the same. Joining a local support group should provide both parents with an outlet and also be a valuable source of information.
One challenge that new parents might overlook at first is the difficulty getting a good night's sleep. In the next section, we'll explore sleep disruptions and offer some survival suggestions.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.