People say nothing can prepare you for parenthood but this isn’t necessarily true. There’s plenty of great information on pregnancy and birth, and lots on parenting. However, there are also gaps, and information that expecting parents need to know and that, if it doesn’t get through to them, can potentially cause distress down the track.
For example, there’s a big difference between parenthood and parenting. Parenting is our relationship with our growing baby or child, but parenthood is more about how we feel about ourselves as we become a mother or a father, how we feel about our partner as they become a parent, how our relationships with our own parents might change, as well as those with friends, extended family and work colleagues.
These are the sorts of experiences relationship counsellors can help prepare parents for, or support them through, extremely well. Parents get to know their new-parent selves and partners; they can understand how to nurture each other’s new-parent self-esteem. Couples also work on being able to identify what they need from each other in those first few weeks and on managing the emotional rollercoaster of the first few months – and many find this an enriching and enjoyable experience.
Partners to parents
Most parents expect that having a baby will bring them closer together with their partner, and this can be true – but usually after some new awareness and skills have been gained, plus the hard work of actually putting these into practice. Most parents (92%) report increased conflict in the first year after having a baby, and 67% report a decline in relationship satisfaction in the first three. When this happens, many couples make the mistake of thinking that their partner, or their relationship, has changed. It’s more that life has changed – a lot! Sleep deprivation, new stresses and steep learning curves add to the mix. Couples often don’t realise they need to protect their relationship while going through all of this.
One of the first things new parents need to know is that all of this is normal and common, and they shouldn’t panic. A relationship counsellor is likely to work on adjusting expectations, scheduling in regular stress relief and helping the couple learn simple, clear and direct communication that avoids misunderstandings. The latter can contribute to Post Natal Depression (PND), and one in seven mums and one in ten dads suffer from this, particularly if the birth has been traumatic. When they do, there’s an increased risk for family breakdown. There’s much that can be done to prevent PND by preparing couples for the relationship aspects of parenthood. If they’re already experiencing it, there are ways relationship counselling can work through it that can actually make the family much stronger than before.