Help for the Early Challenges of Parenthood: Part 1 of 4.
Protecting Adult Relationships.
Babies put a huge strain on relationships. With a second child the stress is logarithmically increased. Your life will be savagely altered by the needs and demands of parenting. At times, you will be exhausted and hurting.
You may find yourself taking out your frustrations on your spouse. Their failings may be magnified by your own frustrations with how life is unfolding in these days of personal loss, massive sleep deprivation, life shaking responsibility, and deep heart stopping joy. Sigh. The first year of parenthood can be emotionally very confusing.
You’re supposed to be content and happy, joyous and fulfilled. But the truth for many is much more complex. You’re giving up a lot from your old life, and the demands of the new one are truly daunting. There are going to be some negative emotions popping up. It’s important to know that it’s okay to have mixed feelings about the whole motherhood — fatherhood deal you just bought into.
This transition from adult to parent is challenging, but insight can ease your way. Let’s start with how to protect adult relationships while feeling overwhelmed. I recommend reading Baby-proofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less as Your Family Grows by Cockrell, O’Neill, and Stone.
It discusses many of the most irksome issues that develop between partners who are now co-parenting a helpless and needy baby. The book is written with input from both the male and female perspective on many issues.
After reading it, my husband said he was relieved to know that the struggles we were having were so common. If other people had worked them out, then so too could we.
The demands of the first year are truly huge. That’s why communication with your partner is very important. In all likelihood, you will both feel that you have no more to give, and that the other person is not doing enough in the new much larger work load of family life.
Let’s review some of the issues a child’s presence generates in today’s families. Discuss them with your partner.
1. Childcare work is an especially difficult and draining type of work that is distinct from other forms of family and life work. (Yes, it has rewards…yada, yada, yada.)
2. House work that is done while supervising or teaching children is really a form of extra hard childcare work.
3. House work that allows a parent to work alone without supervising children is work. It is also a refreshing break from childcare. There is a huge difference between painting the fence by yourself with your favorite tunes blasting as opposed to painting with pre-school “helpers.”
4. By evening everyone’s tired. However, an outside working parent is “kid-fresh” after a day of adult interaction. A stay-at-home parent is “kid-fried” after a day of unrelenting service and little adult interaction. These are the facts like them or not.
5. Primary working parents feel the burden of financially supporting the family in a deeply stressful way. They are also balancing powerful and conflicting demands between work and home.
6. Primary at home parents make a huge personal financial sacrifice when they stop paid work to “lean in” at home. Years away from work, reduced hours, or taking a less demanding positions results in lower pay that is never caught up. This has a huge impact on Social Security and other retirement benefits. A stay-at-home parent brings years of unpaid labor to the table of family life. Consider an IRA or savings account in their name with regular deposits from the family paycheck.
7. Many women (not all) feel that with the arrival of a baby, the woman often becomes the sole family-care professional and that their husband has become the family day-laborer.
8. Many women (not all) want their partner to step up to the role of a family-care co-professional and not become a passive day laborer. Without a co-professional partner, most women are unable to lighten the family burdens enough to maintain an adult life. This can lead to significant emotional pain.
9. Some women (not all) have a hard time sharing control over family life.
10. Some men (not all) have a hard time knowing how to be a professional co-parent.
11. If you want to have a co-professional parent, you have to cede some control over things. Let go of perfectionism. Embrace different approaches to tasks. Leave the field of play and don’t hover.
12. If you want to become a co-professional parent, then act like a professional. Look for what needs to happen. Learn, discuss, track, plan, research, be present and involved in an on-going way. Expect the job to be constantly changing. Stay on your toes. No waiting for The Boss to spoon feed you instructions.
13. Being a wage earner and a professional co-parent is hard, yet it offers tremendous rewards. Love, intimacy, connection, purpose, pride, joy … all the things that make life worth living.
14. Being a stay-at-home parent and ceding some authority to a co-parent is hard, yet it gives you the space to breathe, lets you release resentment, and draws you closer to your partner. Most importantly, it allows you to acknowledge parts of your identity that are not related to motherhood.
If you haven’t discussed the implications of these issues before the birth of your children, then do it now. It’s never too late.
Next Week: Handling the Stresses of Modern Parenting. Part 2 of Help for the Early Challenges of Parenthood.
Kathleen Cawley is a physician assistant and author. She is a regular guest columnist for the Auburn Journal where she writes on parenting and childhood. Her book, Navigating the Shock of Parenthood: Warty Truths and Modern Practicalities — from a mom with twins, is available in ebook on Amazon. Paperback coming Feb. 15, 2023.