Parents-to-be have certain assumptions and expectations about what life will look like when their little one is born and comes home. This is understandable. All of us hold a slew of ideas about any big change in our lives (about anything really). But often those expectations don’t exactly align with reality. Which can affect how we prepare for the transition.
A common belief parents have is that their child will automatically fit into their lives, said Elizabeth Gillette, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in supporting couples as they transition to parenthood and in treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. They assume that growing a family is a natural and organic process, she said. Or they assume that their relationship won’t change.
“Having a child is adding an entirely new person to your relationship—someone who has a lot of basic needs that they can’t meet themselves.” Which means that the focus shifts from your partner and your marriage onto your baby. And this “can put a significant strain on your relationship,” said Gillette, who sees clients in private practice at Porch Light Counseling in Asheville, N.C.
Plus, there are other considerations you might not be considering. Below, Gillette shared three of them—along with what can help.
You might not be considering what you’ll do once the baby actually arrives.
There’s so much focus on the birth of the baby—but not so much on the “after.” According to Gillette, it’s common for parents to receive most of the support in the first few weeks of their baby coming home. After that, they’re “often left to figure out how to manage on their own, which is very challenging when there is already little support for new families in our country.”
This can create a lot of miscommunication, confusion and even resentment. Because who does what? And when? And how?
Gillette highly recommends couples iron out logistics—as best as you can, because things, of course, change. Consider these questions: “When we are both exhausted, how will we manage when the baby wakes up in the night? What if one partner is going to work and the other is staying home—how will we make sure the parent who is working gets adequate sleep to manage, but is able to support the partner who is staying home?”
You also might want to discuss your families visiting—another common topic that comes up, said Gillette, also a volunteer coordinator for Postpartum Support International. For instance, how will you manage the different ways your families spend time with your kids? “How will you work together as a team around this?”
Keep having these conversations as your child grows up. For instance, “if a family member wants to feed your children lots of sugar but that is not what you want as parents, how will you address this in a way that feels good for both of you?”
You might not realize that your previous way of coping isn’t helpful.
Some of the ways you used to relate to your partner or used to cope with conflict might not work after your baby arrives. For instance, maybe before baby, you were able to shrug off an argument, walk away or agree to disagree, Gillette said. However, your weary, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived self is more likely to get stuck on the little things—which can grow into big things if they’re not worked through, she said.
What can you do? Start with grounding techniques, which “help couples remember what is important and manage strong emotions that undoubtedly arise in parenting their baby.” For instance, she suggested trying square breathing: Inhale for 4 counts. Hold your breath for 4 counts. Exhale for 4 counts. Then pause for 4 counts before your next inhalation.
“This type of breath balances the nervous system and reminds your body that you are not in crisis, even though it can feel that way emotionally.”
You might be surprised to find childhood issues resurfacing.
As you’re learning to parent your own child, issues related to your parents might come up, Gillette said. These might be memories or feelings from your childhood, both good and bad. This is totally normal. But it might be confusing to your partner—and to you.
If you notice this happening, it can help to work with a therapist, Gillette said. For instance, this helps “partners sort out what is going on so their partner can be more responsive, and they can be more communicative with their partner.”
In general, when you both start to feel more grounded, Gillette suggested having a “state of the union” meeting once a week to check in with each other. “It can be as short as 15 minutes to make eye contact, ask how your partner is really doing, and remind each other how much you care about your relationship.” This helps you reconnect and remember why you’re doing this in the first place, she said.
When baby arrives, life tends to get more complicated. But this doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. Rather, it helps to know what you can really expect so you’re able to brainstorm helpful solutions. Together.