Moving towards parenthood for the first time is filled with mixed feelings and experiences. There are so many unknowns: some exciting and some anxiety-provoking. There is a huge focus on the physical changes in pregnancy and a preoccupation with labour and birth. But once baby is out – then what? Few parents are prepared for the practical and psychological changes in becoming a parent.
We can’t fully predict the impact a baby will have on you, your relationships and your life, because there are so many factors involved. But, you can have a go at psychologically preparing by thinking about how things might be. We might think about three core areas of psychological change for parents: defining the kind of parent you want to be, the changes in relationship with your partner and the impact of a baby on your lifestyle.
How will I be as a parent?
As you prepare to become a parent, you will probably think about your own upbringing – how you were parented and your experiences as a growing child. You might consider the parts of your own parenting that you wish to bring forward into your relationship with your baby and the parts that you hope not to repeat in an effort to leave those experiences firmly in the past. During this time of reflection, past experiences that may have been difficult, painful or remain unresolved can emerge. This adds to the emotionality of the pregnancy period as you prepare for your role as parent.
How will becoming a parent affect my relationship with my partner?
You might consider the ways in which you think your relationship with your partner will change when your baby arrives. Some of these may be positive, while others difficult; some temporary and some longer-lasting. For instance, many couples report that they feel closer to their partner after sharing something so transformative and bringing their own little shared creation into the world. On the difficult side, there can be changes in the amount of time couples spend together as well as changes in intimacy and sexual activity. You might also think about parenting practices and beliefs and the things you hold similar views about and the things you have different opinions about – how do you plan to manage the differences as they arise? How do you anticipate you might help each other with the transition to parenthood?
How will my lifestyle be affected by a baby?
In order to make room for a new member of the family, adjustments and sacrifices need to be made. Think about what you anticipate will change for you and how you might help yourself with these adjustments. For instance, you won’t have as much time for yourself. So, what are the absolute priorities you hope to incorporate back into life after your baby has arrived and you have found your feet a little? Perhaps it is getting to the gym occasionally, or catching up with a friend for coffee, with or without your baby. Consider how you might practically manage these things. You will need to adjust your expectations about what you can achieve as your time will be limited. For instance, time catching up with a friend will feel different. You may not be able to stay as long as usual at the café and your attention will be divided between your friend and your baby.
For more opportunity to reflect on what’s to come consider grabbing a copy of Towards Parenthood: Preparing for the Changes and Challenges of a New Baby (2009, ACER Press). This is a self-directed guidebook that helps soon-to-be and new parents manage the complex demands of parenting and strengthens the parent–infant relationship and the couple relationship. It is co-authored by Dr Bronwyn Leigh. We also understand that thinking through these issues and making the necessary adjustments can be hard to do on your own. If you want some help, contact us at the Centre for Perinatal Psychology.
About the Author
Dr Bronwyn Leigh is a clinical psychologist, perinatal and infant clinician and early parenting consultant. She is Director of the Centre for Perinatal Psychology. Bronwyn specialises in the psychological aspects of becoming a parent, the emotional development of infants, and parent-infant relationships.
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