Valentines Post – And Baby Makes A Family

 You remember the intensity at the beginning of your relationship: you were enveloped in an intense, highly sexual relationship; finishing sentences for each other, craving his body against yours. You ate out when you felt like it, had fun cooking together, and spontaneously escaped to romantic getaways. A life of freedom and fun!

Then, you and your partner planned to start a family together! Baby sex was heavenly. No need for birth control. The primal feeling of making love to have offspring was intoxicating. And when you found you were pregnant! The excitement!

Your baby is finally home, after all the planning, waiting, and the drama of the birth. You bring your baby home, and there is a mix of emotion: passionate love, resentment, confusion, perhaps withdrawal, depression, anxiety. Your lives naturally organize around your child.

Parenthood is not what you thought it would be. You feel touched out from numerous responsibilities: breastfeeding, holding, lack of sleep, doctor appointments. Everyone seems to be giving you advice, from sleeping to feeding to teething!

And gee, YOUR baby does not sleep quietly in a crib in another room like on the soaps on TV.

Your relationship with your partner shifts. You’re bickering more than you used to. Your partner sex when you don’t, and when you want sex, s/he doesn’t. You don’t feel in sync anymore. You have parenting disagreements and criticize each other, seemingly for no reason.

You get the awful feeling that your relationship might be over even at the time when you are feeling most vulnerable. You are scared. You want things to get back to pre-baby, although you love your infant!

Those fun evenings of cooking together don’t seem to happen anymore.

What you are feeling is normal. Numerous studies show that rates of depression, anxiety and couple conflict are higher for new parents than the general population (Feinberg, Kan & Goslin, 2009; Gottman & Gottman, 2007). And you are not alone, your relationship can improve.

  • Here are the pieces no-one tells you about:
  • Think long and hard about your identity and a way to integrate the pre-baby you with the post-baby you. You and your partner are going through a seismic shift in identity. You are both expanding your identities to include parenthood. Keep some of the fun things about you before baby. There is no simple how-to for this work. It is an emotional process that takes time and thought. Maybe you don’t like lullabies but love soft folk music. Use your music in your house instead.
  • You are learning to parent and to co-parent. Even if you think these skills are instinctive, much of parenting and co-parenting is learned behavior. Learned from your own family, learned from the culture.
  • When you become a parent yourself, your own feelings about your family of origin strongly come into play. Old wounds and feelings you thought were healed come up. Learning to be a good parent takes emotional energy and thought. There is no quick, easy way to heal your own wounds. Take responsibility for your own healing.

Multiple studies have shown that just eight weeks of therapy focusing on infant care, co-parenting and non-defensive communication, reduces postpartum depression and improves family relations (Feinberg, Kan & Goslin, 2009; Gottman & Gottman, 2007).

If you are feeling overwhelmed in your relationship and hostility is escalating, depression is setting in, and you feel lonely, it is time to sit down and discuss things with each other.

Discuss how lonely you feel, discuss how you want to be close again. Come up with a plan for self-care and for care in the relationship. If you end up arguing and stonewalling and cannot speak authentically with each other, then take the time to consult with a couples therapist.

Focus  on reducing hostility and defensiveness, enhancing co-parenting, rather than being competitive with each other. Truly understand your anger belongs to you, not an external source.

How did having a baby change your relationship?

 

References

Gottman, J.M. & Gottman, J. S. (2007). And baby makes three. Three Rivers Press: New York.

Griffin, R. (2010). Why didn’t anybody tell me? Acer Press: Australia: Victoria.

Karp, H. (2006). The happiest baby on the block (DVD).

Feinberg, M.E., Kan, M.L., & Goslin, M.C. (2009). Enhanced co-parenting, parenting, and child self-regulation: Effects of family foundations 1 year after birth. Society for Prevention Research (10), 276-285.

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11 Responses to “Valentines Post – And Baby Makes A Family”

  • Hi Kathy,
    This is a useful post for new parents. I think the idea of focused, short term therapy for new parents is a great idea. When I meet with parents for parent coaching, I can often see that the differences go way back. Some early work on co parenting and decreasing competition could save a lot of wear and tear on all concerned. Parenting is so complicated.
    Thanks,
    Carolyn
    Carolyn Stone recently posted..Where’s Your Child’s Strength? Bolstering Self Esteem in Children with Learning DisabilitiesMy Profile

    • Hi Carolyn – Thanks for the reply! Yes, I love the idea of some focused short term coaching for parents, think I will add that as a service! Sometimes people just really don’t want to see the forest for the trees. The old poem, a child lives what he learns is so true. What shocks me alot is the issue of spanking…ppl love to come out of the woodwork abt that. They love to feel that hitting is good, as they are so un-healed themselves. Think that will be one of my next blog posts..maybe we should all do an anti-spanking week of posts.!
      Kathy Morelli recently posted..Valentines Post – And Baby Makes A FamilyMy Profile

  • Kathy,

    I think that this post speaks to an important time when many people feel vulnerable. When you are a brand new parent, in addition to the physical demands, there is a sense that you are being watched and evaluated. The reality of that responsibility can be overwhelming. I love the idea of the short term new parent coaching. What an important gift to give fragile new families.

    Warmly,
    Ann
    Ann Becker-Schutte recently posted..A Few Tips for Responding to a Pregnancy LossMy Profile

  • Hi Ann –
    Yes, the transition to parenthood is such a vulnerable time…so many of our own early experiences impact the way we parent our own children and how we relate to our partner..it can be a time of great personal growth, or of great despair (or both!).
    Kathy Morelli recently posted..Valentines Post – And Baby Makes A FamilyMy Profile

  • Good post, recogizing that your relationship will change and being willing to talk about those changes are key. My husband and I didn’t do it and we divorced not long after the kids. I don’t know if talking about it would have changed the outcome but he really had a hard time adjusting with the expectations (never talked about) that I put on him. Wasn’t easy. Wasn’t pretty. Cherry
    cherry woodburn recently posted..Day whatever Coming Of Age- Being Sick Amidst Foreign FurnitureMy Profile

  • Hi Cherry – Have to find your “day whatever” post…didn’t see it!
    Thanks for the personal reply! I think that we all have our internal representations of what we believe reality should look like…..and when we become parents, I think a whole new set of internal expectations get enacted, and it sure is hard to sort out the feelings among the loneliness and solitary lives we experience in nuclear families…and sometimes talking is not enough, it’s just not time, or just not possible to make things fit…thanks, Kathy
    Kathy Morelli recently posted..Valentines Post – And Baby Makes A FamilyMy Profile

  • Hi Kathy–

    I think this post should be required reading for couples considering whether NOW is the righ time to start a family.

    Your priorities will shift, as your identity will take on new meanings and shed some of its old characteristics–things you may not necessarily be prepared or willing to give up.

    It’s sad when young families come in and after a couple of sessions you realize that although the new baby is loved, the changes to the parental reality and relationship are often unwelcome.

    This is sage:

    “When you become a parent yourself, your own feelings about your family of origin strongly come into play. Old wounds and feelings you thought were healed come up. Learning to be a good parent takes emotional energy and thought. There is no quick, easy way to heal your own wounds. Take responsibility for your own healing.”

    Because if you don’t take responsibility for your own healing, but project it onto your partner, s/he becomes your mother or father and those old, unresolved wounds are the side show.
    Linda Esposito recently posted..What Whitney Houston’s Death Can Teach Us About ParentingMy Profile

    • Hi Linda – thanks for your usual sage psychotherapeutic musings! The thing is, most people don’t believe that what happened to them as a child or in the past strongly feeds their own parenting feelings and behaviors. For some it;s a hard sell. Others get it, but it seems the ones who need it most…the unhealed angry and narcisstic, just can;t see it.
      I love your line about projection and making your partner into good ole mom and pop. This happens so unconsciously, most ppl dont believe the constructed Imago exists (to borrow Hendrix’s famous imagery).
      ty, Kathy
      Kathy Morelli recently posted..Valentines Post – And Baby Makes A FamilyMy Profile

  • Hi Kathy,

    I am all for an anti-spanking week of posts!

    I think talking is a must. When it is not helping or nor enough is when parents/couples don’t know HOW to talk without feeling hurt, angry and/or attacked.

    My husband and I had waited for 5 years to have our first child and we were in our late thirties, so we felt very blessed. I think we accepted that we were going to be extremely busy for years and din’t have major issues. But I do remember that our focus shifted from each other to our child. When we looked into each others eyes we saw the love for our child first. The love for each other was there too, but mostly we were so proud and we enjoyed sharing all the stories of what happened on any day. I miss that time!

    Wonderful post that I will share!
    irenesavarese recently posted..Valentines Emergency Repair Kit For CouplesMy Profile

    • Hi Irene – I love your description of how you saw the love for your child in each other’s eyes. It is so apt and very brave in these days. There seems to be an anti-child things a-happening lately, such as people commenting on how often one does or does not have a date night…I think there’s room for both, and also, when one’s children are young, there is a period when a responsible loving parent sublimates their needs for the young. And of course there is a balance to that as well.
      Kathy Morelli recently posted..Valentines Post – And Baby Makes A FamilyMy Profile

  • Maude:

    You remember the intensity at the beginning of your relationship: you were enveloped in an intense, highly sexual relationship; finishing sentences for each other, craving his body against yours. You ate out when you felt like it, had fun cooking together, and spontaneously escaped to romantic getaways. A life of freedom and fun!
    Maude recently posted..WoW Leveling GuideMy Profile

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