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.