Tag Archives: newborn

Co-Parenting With a Partner

The First Year Can Be Rough, by Meri Levy, MFT

family twinsIf you’re like me, I really thought that, despite my decision to breastfeed, my husband was so gung ho about being a Dad that we would share the parenting responsibilities pretty equally once our first child was born. I was in for a rude awakening. Breastfeeding meant that much of the time I was literally attached to my new baby, and when I was not, I had an easier time calming him than my husband did. And even when I didn’t, I couldn’t stand to have my husband trying to comfort our fussy baby without stepping in and trying to help. Whether due to biology or psychology, I was so attached to my new baby that I couldn’t tear myself away long enough to really get a break. As a result, I became more comfortable in the baby care role, and he became less.

There are many reasons why fathers often take a backseat in the early days with a new baby. Whether because of a hormonally-afflicted “helicopter” Mom, an inexperienced Dad, a baby who is more easily calmed by the mother, or gender-related attitudes about who does what, newborn care often falls disproportionately to the mother. And since Mom is generally recovering from childbirth, likely adjusting to breastfeeding, undoubtedly sleep deprived, and in the throes of huge hormonal changes, this disproportionate share can become a BIG PROBLEM. You know that saying that “if Mom isn’t happy, nobody is happy?” I think the truth of that statement is widely underestimated.

So, we’ve got a Mom who can’t let go to allow her partner to care for the baby, a Dad who is either mildly incompetent or feels he is (or is being treated like he is), a baby who’s getting used to being cared for by Mom, and a Mom who is at the end of her rope and feels like she just can’t get a break (and is not sure she would take one if she could). Not a recipe for a happy family.

Negotiating who does what, recognizing the barriers to fairly allocating parenting and household responsibility and actually making and carrying out a plan to address those barriers and create a cooperative, supportive and fair allocation of workload is one of the major tasks of the first year of parenthood. Working out a plan for who does what, figuring out how to set goals for change if change is needed, and implementing those changes, can make a world of difference.

I once read a study (and I don’t have a citation, but I like to believe that it is true) that claimed that of all the factors that might predict the well-being of children as they grow up (e.g. praise, affection, discipline, structure, etc.), the one variable that is most predictive of a child’s future well-being is the degree to which his or her parents have a cooperative relationship around parenting. So, if that is true, it matters less who does what (or if it is done correctly), and it matters more that parents are supportive of each other as parents and partners.

Becoming a Parent to Your Newborn

By Meri Levy, MFT

Regardless of your expectations, the arrival of a first baby is, first and foremost, a radical role adjustment for the new mother and father. As you grow from being a child to an adult and into a partner in an adult relationship, most of us experience shifts in our relationships as daughters or sons, sisters or brothers, and friends or lovers.

But the birth of a baby changes everything! Now perhaps your most significant role in life is as a parent. This is an altogether new role, and babysitting experience aside, there is no real preparation for it. But it is truly amazing to see how our babies foster and nourish our growth as parents, almost from the beginning.

While you adapt and grow to fill your new role, it can be difficult at times to hold onto formerly cherished roles, as a professional, a friend or lover, and an independent person in your own right. You may find that you are redefining yourself in ways that make these roles change (e.g. leaving behind a career, changing roles in your marriage, etc.)

Ultimately, however, we are ourselves. While we adapt to our role as parents, we also must adapt our view of parenting to include who we are as individuals — to allow ourselves to fit into our vision of a good parent.

Some mothers plan to stay at home full-time, but must still figure out if staying at home with their new baby is what makes them a happy mom. Or conversely, working mothers may find that they cannot leave their baby in another’s care. For fathers, you may have expected yourself to be the provider, but you still must figure out if spending the weekend satisfying that picky client at home is how you want to be a father — or if your partner is even the better choice as the bread-winner! And parents must weigh all sorts of other priorities, to friends, yourself, and the world, in figuring out how you will incorporate being a parent into your life.

No one can do this for you, because you are as unique a person as your new baby, and uniquely qualified to create the best family for your child.

If the process of evolving into the parent you want to be is more challenging that you thought, working with a therapist who specializes in this transition is a good way to work through your competing goals and figure out the path that is right for you.

Good Grief! Adjusting to Parenthood

Letting Go of What We Give Up When We Become Parents, by Meri Levy, MFT

In becoming parents, along with the love and joy that a baby brings, we often face issues that arise relating to our own childhood experiences. For many people, the unmet needs and wants from our childhood simmer below the surface, and the arrival of a baby and the transition to becoming a parent can bring them to the forefront.

It is important to allow ourselves to grieve the losses that are a part of becoming a parent — the loss of nurturing we feel as the focus shifts to nurturing our child, the loss of independence, and our diminished ability to focus on our own needs — and work on letting go of unmet expectations regarding our own childhood.

The phases of grieving have long been studied and are well understood, although their duration, order and intensity can vary greatly, and each individual’s experience is unique.

The first phase is denial: in this case we deny feelings of loss because they seem inappropriate or are too uncomfortable to deal with.

The second phase is anger, and this can take many forms: anger at our partner for their lack of support, anger at our parents for perceived flaws, anger at friends for their lack of understanding of the changes we are experiencing. And even sometimes anger at our child, for the endless demands or because our baby differs from our expectations.

The third phase of grief is bargaining: attempting to avoid or undo our uncomfortable feelings. “If only I had a more supportive husband…, or an easier baby,” etc. These are ways we avoid dealing with the fact that parenting is incredibly hard work, and that our unmet needs from childhood have not and most likely will not be met.

The fourth phase of grief is depression. This can include intense sadness, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in life, and a feeling of numbness. Depression is a normal phase of grieving, but when it becomes severe (i.e. thoughts of harming oneself or others) or persistent (more than two weeks), it is crucial to get help.

The fifth and final phase of grief is acceptance. We feel comfortable in our new role as parents. We accept, and can even joke about, how our life has changed and how our child has become the center of our world. And importantly, we do what we can to nurture ourselves, without blaming others, without feeling guilty, knowing that we deserve taking care of, even if the only one who can do it is ourself.

Nurturing the Nurturer

By Meri Levy, MFT

Taking Care of Yourself as a New Parent

As parents, our job is never-ending. For the next 18-21 years, you are either “on duty” or “on call” 24/7. Strangely, while this never-ending job doesn’t necessarily get easier with time, it often seems less like “work” as our children (and we) mature, and more like “life.”

But it is easy, as we grow into our role as caretakers of our children, to forget another important person who relies upon our care – ourself. We all make this mistake sometimes. If you don’t make sure that your own nutritional, health, emotional, and spiritual needs are met, who do you think will? It has been my experience that the answer is “no one.” As much as our partners may want to attend to our needs, they cannot do it for us. No one but you really knows what it is you need, and many of the things that fulfill us as human beings cannot be done for us.

No one but you can make sure that you eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, indulge in treasured hobbies or activities, get needed downtime, or connect with beloved friends and family.

How important is it to make sure that your own needs are met? Only you can say. One mom might be able to tandem-nurse twins and a toddler while home-schooling her older two children and never see a movie or have dinner out for five years. And be perfectly content. Another might feel burdened and overwhelmed if she doesn’t have lunch with a friend or enjoy a leisurely uninterrupted bath weekly. Or maybe you need an hour every day to drink a cup of tea and read the paper or a good book. You are the only person who can say when your engine’s running low on gas, and what it takes to fill it up.

And it doesn’t help to feel guilty about what you need to do to take care of yourself. If your child needed a nap long after his peers had given it up, would you tell him to “tough it out” and be grumpy for half the day? No, you would do whatever you could to arrange things so that he could get his nap. You deserve the same recognition for your unique temperament and needs.

And you don’t do anyone any favors if you let yourself run on empty for too long. No one wins if you allow yourself to run out of gas on the side of the road. And everyone is affected when you are running low, not just you. You don’t make it to the finish line any faster if you never slow down and take it easy.

This is your life. And raising children is a path, not a destination. You cannot travel the path with joy and stamina without giving yourself the same care you give your children. So take some time this week and plan a couple of activities you can do that will help “fill up your tank.”

The Importance of Attachment

Why Bonding with Your Baby Matters So Much

By Meri Levy, MFT

Attachment to one or more caring adults is the most important developmental task your baby will complete during the first three years of life. If this attachment is not achieved, a child will likely have lifelong problems in forming relationships.

Luckily, babies are very good at teaching us how to help them become attached. Their cries, their coos and smiles, and later separation anxiety help us to see how much our children want to be attached to us. Meeting a baby’s early attachment needs is what allows him to venture forth into the world and learn to be a separate human being, secure in the knowledge that he is loved and cared for.

Our attachment to our children is what causes the anxiety and worry about being a good parent and the drive to maintain our baby’s well-being. If a couple is arguing about the best way to care for their baby, it is a sure sign that they both are firmly attached to their baby, which is a good thing.

Attachment with your baby can bring up different feelings in different people. It can feel stifling or overwhelming, or is may be blissful and heart-warming, depending upon your own feelings about attachment. It’s helpful to be aware of these feelings and to recognize that by staying connected in a responsive way to your baby, you help him or her develop the ability to love others and nurture their own children when they grow up.

Our attachments to loved ones, including family, spouses and friends, are the fuel that helps us nurture our children. Make sure you don’t neglect your own attachment needs now that you’re a parent. If you are having difficulties in your adult relationships, focus more attention on those connections. Making your relationships with loved ones strong, and getting coaching or counseling if needed, can help maintain your own mental health and well-being as well as the well-being of your children as they grow.