Friday, May 4, 2012

New Baby... New World!

by Jenna Elliott, M.A., LPC

Becoming a parent is one of the most amazing, beautiful, and difficult times in a couples life.  It is a huge time of transition in the family life cycle. When I was pregnant, people would ask if I was worried and nervous about the labor and delivery that was rapidly approaching. I would always reply with: " Yes, but I'm more nervous about what comes after that… trying to raise a human being and keep it alive!"  Life as you know it changes significantly in every way. It is such an exciting time filled with love, laughter, tears, and lots of diapers! 

 The relationship with your spouse will unavoidably morph into something different, but it can become deeper and more fulfilling. I heard all of the scary and disheartening statistics. The graphs in my psychology classes clearly illustrated a significant drop in marital happiness when the kids entered the picture. Oh no, I thought. My husband and I had finally got the hang of this whole marriage thing (it only took 6 years) and now this cute little baby is going to ruin it! We will never travel, have long conversations, or see the inside of a movie theater again! This does not have to be your truth. God has blessed your family with an amazing gift that has the power to draw you closer, not tear you apart.

There are several ways couples can make this transition a little easier. The first of these is communication. We all know how important this is in a marriage, and it is of even greater importance when a baby enters the picture. A few important topics of conversation should be parenting styles, expectations, and fears. The more you discuss the fear of the “unknown”, the more “known” it will become.  This conversation should begin the moment you find out you are going to become parents and never end! It is important that you both get to a place where you are comfortable telling the other what you need from them, and how they can best love and serve you. This will help to create a strong foundation and lay the ground work for the “new” family dynamic.

After the baby comes things will inevitably get a little crazy. Sleep becomes a thing of the past, and that little bundle of joy is taking up an incredibly large amount of your time. One or both spouses may begin to feel neglected or unappreciated. It is in these stressful moments that we have an important choice to make: are you going to have a "breakdown moment" or a "growth moment"? When we are sleep deprived and exhausted it is easy to jump straight to the hurtful comments and dirty looks, but this will only serve to weaken the marriage and make caring for your little one even more difficult. It is so important to stop, take a deep breath and TALK about what is going on. Share in a nice way (I know...easier said than done) how you are feeling. This conversation can be a catalyst for positive and growth producing change. When my son was a newborn and I was home all day with him, I couldn't wait for my husband to walk in from work so I could run to him, not kiss him or welcome him home, but hand the screaming baby to him. He would get frustrated...I was frustrated, and after having plenty of "breakdown moments" we finally had a conversation and as a result, our "growth producing moment." I thought he was being selfish...after all, I had cared for the baby ALL day. I failed to even consider the fact that he had also just put in a 14 hr work day. We had a productive conversation and decided he would have 20 minutes to decompress after work and then come and help with the baby. It was a simple conversation, but had huge implications. The resentment that was slowly building ceased to exist. Communication is reparative and a catalyst to a healthy relationship.

It is vital that GRACE becomes a huge part of the marriage. We must learn to choose our battles, and have the strength to walk away and let it go when it will be more beneficial to the relationship. As much as you want to scream at your husband that it is clearly his turn to change the dirty diaper, it might be easier and better for your marriage to take one for the team! You are both exhausted and trying to navigate this baby thing together. Make the choice to be a team. Teammates support each other; they cover for each other when the other can’t quite do it; they cheer for the other when he/she succeeds (you got the baby to burp...way to go honey!). Give grace and give the gift of forgiveness.

A new member has joined the family unit, but this does not mean you have to put your marital relationship on the back burner. Make it your mission and priority to create time for your spouse. Take the baby on a walk together, spend 20 minutes every morning or evening talking, find a reliable babysitter and go get coffee or dinner once a week. It is difficult, but far from impossible! The healthier the marital relationship is, the healthier the entire family unit will be. The marital relationship is an important foundation for a healthy family system.
Marriage is an adventure and a baby will definitely add to the excitement. Healthy communication, acting as a team, giving the gift of grace, and creating time for each other will make the adventure even sweeter! Hang on tight and enjoy the ride!