And now we are three…
According to Google there is a baby born every 2 minutes in Australia – and according to Elly Taylor, author of new book “Becoming Us: the essential relationships guide for parents” for prospective and new parents, that is one couple every two minutes being plunged into the chaos of new parenting and stress on their relationship. Admittedly Taylor is writing from the perspective of a relationship counsellor, so she sees all the couples who are having problems, not the ones who are sailing (or staggering) through sleep deprivation, sore nipples, house in turmoil and the joys of having a new little bundle.
In her book Taylor explores how the early romantic intimacy of a relationship can get lost under the burden of parenting, but she argues that this time of disruption can result in a positive outcome whereby both the individuals experience a time of personal growth, and the relationship can grow in depth and maturity.
This is an interesting challenge – is she saying that when new parents are facing one of the most challenging times in their relationship as they deal with all that a new baby brings, not just practically, but also the emotional and psychological trials of new parenthood, that we have to add a burden of needing to think about how we can grow personally at this time?
Taylor talks of the different developmental stages in a relationship, moving from the close “romantic” phase, to a more differentiated stage where couples resume more of the individuality. This is essentially followed by a stage of conflict as couples learn to realistically encompass their personal difference within the relationship. More ease returns as the couple enter the each partner “rapprochement” phase, where each person is competent and well defined; vulnerability re-emerges, and there is alternation between intimacy and independence. The final stage, reached in mature relationships is “mutual interdependence”, where each individual is well adjusted, personally satisfied, but works for a deep and meaningful bond with their partner which is based on desire, not need.
Couples I have seen who have got into the most strife in early parenthood are those are either still in the “romantic” phase or have not negotiated successfully the conflict phase. Occasionally, there are couples who married and became parents without having truly entered the romantic phase – these are those who choose to marry for a variety of reasons, but are not wildly in love and fail to move from being two individuals who share living space into a committed relationship.
Taylor’s emphasis on the opportunity, and in essence, necessity, of personal and relationship growth at this crucial juncture in a marriage is a positive message. She describes three ingredients to successfully negotiating this turbulent time:
• Being prepared: expecting this to be a time of growth, realising that feeling uncertain in many areas of your life and relationship is normal at this time. Get informed about the different ways that you and your partner may react to parenthood. Each will busy in individual ways, she may be preparing the nursery and he will tend to pick up financial responsibility, at least temporarily, and get busy at work. You can be consumed by separate but connected responsibilities.
• Be prepared for some sense of separation as you both negotiate moving to the next stage of your relationship.
• Allow yourself and your partner to be a learner and not place excessive expectations on yourself or them. Neither you or they can be perfect parents straight away.
• Learn, or practice those you already know, good communication skills including conflict resolution. Keep talking with your partner about your difficulties with what is happening without blaming them for the problems.
After the months of expectant preparations, the joy of baby showers and painting the nursery, actually coming home with a tiny, defenceless baby that you are both responsible for and feel relatively unprepared, feeling stripped bare of your usual sense of competence in life, can be greatly unsettling. And yes, a time when you will be propelled into growing into new people, not just as husband and wife, but as wife and husband who are also mother and father.
Feature Photo: Herkle