In the first session of the Gottman Bringing Baby Home Program, couples are asked the somewhat mandatory 'transition to parenthood' questions.
1. What words would you use to describe how you see the transition to parenthood?
2. What physical changes do you feel you will experience?
3. What psychological changes do you feel you will experience?
For many couples, this is the first time they will get to think about how they might answer these questions. New parents have a generalised notion about some of the changes that may occur, but they almost always involve the baby or personal changes. Very rarely do couples think about the impact of the transition to parenthood on THEM and their partnership.
Most people say that everything changes after having a baby! Amongst many other things, this includes how new parents communicate with each other. Usually, all topics become quite mono-topical and centre solely around the baby. When there is an opportunity to discuss other issues, these conversations can become stressful and quite conflicting.
Gender roles also become more defined between new parents, with many couples reverting to behaviours emulating the way they were bought up as children. We can often see the 'mums' morph into 'gatekeepers' as they learn to micro-manage their partner with everything they do around the baby. And we also see a cult-like 'society of women' assemble around the home that can leave dad feeling alienated and like the '3rd wheel’ in his own family. Dads often begin withdrawing at this point.
Current research highlights the fact that there is a profound philosophical shift with everything a couple will think – feel and experience when they become parents for the first time. New mums and dads can go through enormous changes in identity which can also include a radical shift in goals and life values.
Additionally, while parents often work much harder - both physically and emotionally - after the birth of their baby, they can also experience a profound sense of feeling unappreciated by the other.
The frequency and intensity of these relationship conflicts can for some couples increase significantly over that all first important year, with 67% of couples becoming unhappy within their relationship with each other. The reality for 7 out of 10 couples bringing home a new baby can also mean:
While the Bringing Baby Home Program covers all these points, here are three simple ways to keep couples on track during that transition to parenthood and beyond.
1. Maintaining Friendship with each other. It is easy to fall into the pattern of just becoming a couple of new parents and forget you were a couple first and foremost. Making sure to allocate even the smallest fraction of time each day to maintaining a friendship between a new mum and dad is paramount. A great way of doing this is to re-focus on each other’s Love Maps. Getting a new couple to download the Love Map App and just asking one or two questions of each other a day, helps keep a healthy focus on the relationship.
2. The 20-minute Stress-Reducing Conversation. Oh, how easy it would be to greet each other after a day apart, with an entire 2-hour rundown of everything the baby did for the day. And while there is a time and a place to learn about the baby’s adventures for the last 8 hours, it is vitally important that a couple has the opportunity to discuss the general frustrations of the day that may otherwise get lost in all of the baby talk. Having an opportunity to vent about traffic, or misunderstandings with work colleagues or overzealous relatives offering unsolicited baby advice allows each partner to be heard and most importantly, understood, by the other. A mere 20 minutes a day that will ensure great connection during and after the new parent transition.
3. Gentle Start-Ups – approaching conflict with care. There is going to be disagreements and misunderstandings with every new couple when they bring a baby home. Then throw into the mix a dash of exhaustion and loss of sleep. This is where we see unintentional attacks, blaming and insults that can be thrown in both directions. Teaching a couple how to be mindful when approaching a challenging conversation by using 'I feel' start-ups, will minimise destructive attacks and keep the couple focussed on the outcome. Remaining rational will allow for problem-solving as a cohesive unit.
Yes, becoming a new family is definitely a transformative experience, and the process can catapult a couple into unknown territory. But as with all journeys, while the new direction may be foreign to them, others have travelled the road before, leaving significant signposts to follow. Learning techniques as simple as the ones above will help create Masters of Relationships and ensure the greatest gift a couple can give their baby – a strong relationship between themselves!
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