Welcoming New Babies Into Our Relationships and Family

Welcoming New Babies Into Our Relationships and Family

Rhona Berens, PhD, CPCC

CEO, Parent Alliance

 

I have a friend who, whenever someone she knows faces change—like job loss or marriage—she turns into a cheerleader for new beginnings:

Single life sucks. Married life rules!

While I appreciate her enthusiasm, I’m increasingly uneasy with her minimizing what-was in service of what’s-starting.

Change-expert, William Bridges, makes a great distinction: He says change is an external action or event—like having a baby—while transition is “the inner reorientation and self-definition…to incorporate change into your life;” like becoming parents.

 

Amy*, a working mom with a 3-month old, worries she and her husband haven’t truly transitioned to parenthood; the past tugs at them persistently. Her perspective echoes that of Bridges:

We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one.

 

Easier said than done, especially because letting go of something demands revisiting that very thing, which can be challenging for those of us who choose to have kids, never mind struggle with fertility.

It’s as if our intentional pursuit of parenthood somehow nixes our right to long for our childless past. In fact, once we have kids, talking fondly about life, or marriage, before parenthood can seem suspect or taboo. We fret that missing our past, negates or disrespects the present: our new baby, our efforts as parents, our current reality.

So much so that—even if we secretly yearn for a time before parenthood—if our spouse dares utter the sentiment, we sometimes lash out, get defensive, or feel slighted.

Yet, truth is, we have every right—indeed, need—to mourn and celebrate the past, not only because it’s part of us, but because our present and future fulfillment as individuals and couples depends on it.

So whether we’re talking about our 1st baby or 5th, it’s important to consciously transition into our new lives; for most of us, that’s easier to do before we give birth.

Okay, but how? I suggest Myth Change, a simple exercise developed by the Center for Right Relationship: Carve out 10 minutes with your spouse to ask each other some questions and listen to each other with compassion and openness, while deferring a fix-it impulse. (If you’re expecting your 1st baby, imagine into your answers.)

Myth Change Questions for Expecting Couples:

 

What do you want to celebrate and acknowledge about yourself, your life and our relationship, prior to this new child’s arrival?

 

What do you think you’ll miss about yourself, your life and our relationship after this baby arrives?

 

What experiences or attitudes, from before this child’s arrival, do you most want to maintain in your life and our relationship?

Now, together, think of 1 or 2 ways to honor each other’s requests, even if 60% or only 10% of what’s being asked.

Why? Because sometimes transitions—like becoming parents, like expanding our family—benefit from nurturing a wee bit of our pasts to better embrace our new roles, and each other, in the present.

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5 comments

  1. Stacey

    I suppose one of the benefits of marrying young and starting a family right away is that I had a shorter amount of time of freedom to mourn.

    Parenting is such a give and take. The sooner you, as a mother, recognize how well your spouse can assist in taking care of baby the better. Most women I know are so reluctant to ever leave baby with Dad that they never get out and take care of themselves. Whether you work or stay home, taking care of mom is one of the most important things you can do. I agree that it’s ok to wish for the past, but don’t romanticize it. It was good, but life with family is ultimately more fulfilling. Take time to go out with girlfriends, sure, but be glad you can come home to little ones who call you mom. If you spend too much time wishing for the past, you’ll wake up one day and your little ones will be grown.

    I am a SAHM expecting baby #7 in May.

  2. Rhona Berens (Parent Alliance)

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Stacey, about the importance of moms integrating dads in baby care ASAP, about moms taking time to care for ourselves, about embracing our roles as parents as soon as possible, and about doing our best to NOT romanticize the past. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your insights, especially given what a seasoned mom you are! Perhaps, if we become parents young we do, indeed, have less of a past to mourn, as you suggest; whatever our age when we have babies, letting go of what-was remains an important exercise in making more “internal” room for embracing what-is, both in terms of our personal identities as women, and also in terms of how we co-parent with, and experience our newly transformed relationships with our spouses. To be honest, I’m a big fan of asking the Myth Change questions of ourselves and, if appropriate, our beloveds, for pretty much any major change in our lives, again, NOT to hold on to the past, but to ease our transition from the past into a present and future that are altered in important ways.

  3. Diar

    My husband and I are expecting for our first, and since day one of my pregnancy, I’ve been kind of worried about how our relationship as a couple would change (or transition) after the baby’s arrival. I suppose the Myth Change questions above are appropriate to get us prepared. Thanks for sharing :)

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  5. Rhona Berens (Parent Alliance)

    Thanks so much for your comment–and honesty!–Dari, about the potential impact of having a baby on your relationship with your spouse. While none of us can predict exactly how our relationships will shift, grow, or contract after we have children, we can prepare for (more abstract) change by talking to our beloveds about what we love about our lives and relationships as they’ve been (yes, Myth Change). Also, just being aware that change is afoot, and being compassionate with each other as you navigate the process of becoming new parents (and new parents in relationship with each other) can help a lot. If you’re interested in reading a great book on how to help our relationships transition into parenthood, I highly recommend John Gottman’s And Baby Makes Three. If you want a quick read, check out my post on limiting relationship stress after babies arrive at: http://wp.me/pZuta-64.

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