At the very beginning of my ‘Bringing Baby Home’ Workshop, I always ask my couples the mandatory ‘transition to parenthood’ questions.
- What words would you use to describe the transition to parenthood?
- What physical changes are typically experienced?
- What psychological changes are typically experienced?
For many couples, this is usually the first time they really think about these questions, let alone their thoughts on answering them. They have a generalised notion about some of the changes that may occur, but they usually involve the baby. Very rarely do couples think about the impact of the transition to parenthood on THEM personally.
So begins the exercise. They pause the video, or break off into couples in the face to face workshops, and ask the questions to themselves and record their answers. I love hearing the answers and usually refer to them as the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’. I get responses for the general transition as exciting, amazing, tiring, exhausting, overwhelming. With the physical changes, I get fat, leaking, wobbly & painful. And then to really finish off a fun filled exercise, they describe the potential psychological changes as ‘becoming parents instead of just being a couple’.
And while these answers are ABSOLTULEY correct, there is also so much research on this topic that tells us there will be a profound philosophical shift with everything you know – or think you know – when you become parents for the first time. Your existence as you know it will change – your reality will take a completely different course. It will be as exciting as it will be scary. As inspiring as it is overwhelming. Time can now be classified into 2 zones. B.B. (before baby) and A.B. (after baby). Anything that has ever happened to you as a couple, or yet to happen, will be clearly defined by one of these 2 time frames that has now become your life. Conversations between partners can also become mono topical – BABIES! And these conversations can also become stressful and quite conflicting. We also see gender roles become more defined between parents – and often – dads can then begin to withdraw. But wait – there’s more.
We can see the ‘mums’ morph into ‘gatekeepers’ as they learn to micro-manage hubby with everything they do around the baby. And we also see a cult-like ‘society of women’ develop around the home that can further leave dad feel alienated and like the ‘3rd wheel’ in his own family.
And in the Gottman research, this is the where we begin to see these challenges – or this transition – as the making of what we call the Masters and the Disasters of relationships. The Masters are couples who stay together – they are reasonable satisfied, happy and fulfilled with one another AND they create an INCREASE in happiness with each other during the transition to parenthood and beyond. Disasters are couples whose relationship will eventually end OR who choose to stay together, but create a miserable experience for themselves and each other (and in doing so THEIR BABIES). 50% of Disasters will divorce within 6 years – and conflict usually begins at the 6-month stage for women and about the 9-month stage for men AFTER baby comes home!!!!
Nooooooooo – but wait – here is the good news. Research shows that couples who are pro-active during this time of change, and that learn skills to help understand and guide them through this transition, will not only survive, but thrive. They will minimize the relationship meltdown that inevitably happens to 7 out of 10 new parents, and join the ranks of the 3 in 10 couples that grow in love as they grow their family.
Good news prevails – as long as you work hard at what matters – your relationship will flourish. And always remember, the best gift you can give your child is a strong relationship between the 2 of you.
Kylie-Jo Elliott – www.relationshipafterbaby.com