That moment you become a parent is life-changing; your emotions span from awe to panic, sometimes within minutes. In fact, I distinctly remember carrying our newborn into our home, putting her car seat with her strapped in on the table, looking over at my partner, and then saying, “Now what?” My body ached, I was puffy everywhere, I was exhausted, and yet, I felt immediate pressure that I was supposed to know how to breastfeed, change a diaper, and swaddle. Talk about a steep learning curve! This was also one of my most challenging psychological battles that I’ve ever had to overcome.
Transitioning to parenthood is one of the most challenging transitions you will make, and it is especially tough on your relationship. Research shows that an overwhelming number, 67%, of first-time parents say that they experience significant relationship satisfaction decline after the birth of their first child. You would never know this from social media outlets because everywhere you look, you’ll see couples holding their babies, traveling with babies,and working with babies on their lap as if life is immediately and significantly full of love and ease. Those well-posed photos are adorable, but they only tell one small snippet of the story – it’s the new baby highlight reel. The other (larger) part of the story that often stays hidden is the real and pervasive struggle of adjusting to parenthood, including taking on more responsibility, operating off of less sleep, and spending even less quality time with your partner. When we avoid the challenging but incredibly important conversations about the hidden struggles of parenthood, many parents only compare themselves to what they see on social media. These comparisons further add to depression, anxiety, isolation, or imposter syndrome.
I’d love to see more voices chiming in to normalize the difficulties of becoming a new parent. I’d love so much for hospitals and adoption agencies to emphasize emotional and relational preparation. When my husband and I signed up for classes around our pregnancy, we were shocked and frankly saddened at the lack of attention given towards relational dynamics and how having a baby will significantly impact your relationship. Not enough education was shared about how much our respective mental health would be tested, and how resentment can really get in the way of feeling connected to my partner.
I’m one of those voices, sharing aloud that if you find becoming a parent has been hard and if your relationship has experienced disconnection, you are not alone. There are ways to repair the disconnection and there are ways to move forward being a good parent, being kind to yourself, and ensuring that your mental and physical health are prioritized.
Top Tips for Transition to Parenthood:
- Acknowledge that becoming a parent is a major transition.
- Cultivate self-compassion; your transition is uniquely yours.
- Books are general guidelines; it’s important to listen to your body, your needs, and learn about your baby from your baby.
- Help normalize the difficulty in transitioning to parenthood. If you are already a parent and you have friends or family members who are expecting, say to them, “It’s really hard. You will have moments that are extremely challenging. In those moments, please reach out to me.”
- Talk with your partner about how hard this is and ask your partner about what he/she/they find challenging. More tips on how to have this conversation can be found here.
Items Every New Parent Should Have (Great for Gifts):
- And baby makes three by Dr. John Gottman
- Transition to Parenthood Support – Private Virtual Sessions
- 52 Questions Before Baby Card Deck
The more you and your partner talk about your reservations, fears, anxiety before you have your baby, the more likely you will continue to check in post-baby, when you might need it the most. Keep signing up for those hospital classes, but also look for resources or classes that also prepare your relationship for one of the biggest transitions it, too, will undertake.
Need a bit more help?
Want to prepare your relationship for a baby? Find a specific workshop, like a customized Transition to Parenthood or guided digital Bringing Baby Home, to help your relationship have the tools that will help you strengthen your communication, express your needs, and enhance your emotional and physical intimacy. Therapy can also be a great resource. If you’re curious how therapy can help you strengthen your relationships or improve ways to communicate, find a therapist near you. I’m a therapist in AZ and my practice specializes in relationship health—you can find me here.