By Mia Edidin
I’ll never forget the quote of a dear friend who enlightened me on the experience of new fathers. He said, “I was prepared to be a father, but I was not prepared to be married to a mother”.
I frequently work with couples struggling with the first year of parenthood. Many women tell me that their priorities have changed, their focus has changed, and describe their experience as being pre-occupied with the caretaking of their baby. Many women express feeling very alone and overwhelmed. I also hear new feelings of anger and resentment towards their partner – for not ‘keeping up’, for not being as focused on the baby, not caring as much, or ‘getting’ the needs of the baby. From fathers I hear – I am doing everything I know to do, I am doing my best to take care of my family, I work hard to provide for my new family, my wife is totally obsessed with the baby, she is missing the good parts because she is worried about all the details, and then I hear – I don’t know how to take care of an infant, I feel nervous and unsure about handling the baby – my wife seems like she knows what to do and so I just let her do it. Any of this sound familiar?
These experiences are not isolated to a small minority of stressed families, but the everyday experiences of many couples. Marital satisfaction goes down the first year after a having a baby for almost everyone. Yet often we feel as though it is our relationship or our spouse that is somehow failing at the game of life. It’s not. The pressures on new families are pretty unreasonable. We are not supposed to do it alone. Additionally, our social policies are not family friendly. We are parenting within too short, unpaid maternity leaves. We are parenting, even when partners can rarely take their parental leave due to expectations at work or due to the family’s loss of one income already. Additional financial pressures like getting health insurance or costs of childcare can either force families to go back to work when they wouldn’t otherwise choose to do so, or to stay home when they would rather be working. These pressures are immense, and somehow our default is to blame ourselves and not current economics and social policies that are failing us. And here is the worst part – isn’t everyone else managing all of this just fine? So what’s wrong with us? With our self-imposed pressures, it’s easy to see why the relationship becomes a pressure cooker.
So what’s a solution? There is so little preparation for what happens after baby is born that both parents are often surprised and upset about these feelings. We all need our partners to understand our feelings – and both moms’ and dads’ experiences are understandable, and also manageable. I encourage couples to talk about it – sounds pretty standard coming from a therapist. In my experience, many feelings go unsaid during this time because of how much there is to do with a new baby – we are just trying to get through each moment. We also often act out our feelings rather than stating them. However, a lot gets missed when we aren’t clear with what’s bothering us. Finally, I encourage couples to turn their anger and frustration outward rather than inward so the other person is freed up to support rather than defend. When the pressure builds, and one person is feeling overwhelmed, the other can step in and help. The blame for the garbage not going out doesn’t get put on one person, but it’s representative of too much work for two people alone. This helps couples to “team up” and reframe the problem as too much to do rather than a relationship flaw.
About the Author
Mia Edidin is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. Mia facilitates,Adjusting to Parenting, a new parent drop in group in Wallingford where we laugh and cry about all the amazing and terrifying things about parenthood together. She has a private practice in Wallingford, and is the Program Manager at Postpartum Support International of WA. Mia’s daughter is 15 and thinks Mia is best mom ever!