Love After Baby

by Holly Keich

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© Hollis Healy

Raising a baby is hard work. Harder than you can ever imagine before arriving home with your beautiful, new bundle. It’s a significant life change that requires 24/7 vigilance, love, understanding, compassion, and patience on just a few hours of interrupted sleep a day.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a tall order for me.  In fact, it’s a tall order for many parents and in turn directly effects couples relationships with each other as well.  In fact, 67% of couples become very unhappy with each other during the first 3 years of life. (1)

The relationship between parents can become the first thing to take a hiatus when baby arrives.  But studies show that the best thing you can give your baby is a happy and strong relationship.  So how do you do that when you’re feeling overwhelmed and what used to be disagreements between the two of you turn into destructive fights?

Babies offer new things to fight over and before you know it you’re even arguing over things you agree on. How does this happen?  Disagreements become less about the content or what the real issues are and become arguments about how you fight. For example, you disagree about where the bottles should be placed in the dishwasher.  It’s an extension of your usual disagreement about the proper placement of dishes in the dishwasher.  You think bottom shelf, he says top shelf. Instead of discussing the real issue, that you feel overwhelmed by this whole parenting thing and just want to do right by your child, you dig in and say he’s wrong and here’s why. He feels attacked when he was just trying to help and defends himself with a quick, snarky comeback.

And Baby Makes ThreeAll couples have arguments and disagree, it’s part of life. That won’t change, but how you relate to each other when there are conflicts could be significantly improved with just a few healthy conflict management skills.  And Baby Makes Three by John Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD is a wonderful book that offer us guideposts for maintaining a relationship while parenting based on years of work with couples and a 13 year study that looked in detail at couples interactions after baby.  Let’s take a look at what they identified as healthy conflict management skills.

1. Soften  How You Start the Discussion

As soon as the first word is said, you know there’s a going to be trouble. Take a breath, check in with yourself.  What are you feeling? How can we express what we need if we don’t even know how we feel. Once you’re clear with yourself, state how you feel, neutrally. Describe the situation and state what you do need, not what you don’t need.

2. Accept Influence by Recognizing There are Two Valid Viewpoints

We’ve all heard there are two sides to every story, but in the midst of an argument, we’re convinced that ours is the right side. Regardless, postpone your attempts to persuade your partner about how correct you are.  Listen to your partners’ story, ask questions and restate them so they know you were listening. Get communication flowing before adding in your side of the story.  Remember you’re in this together. If the boat sinks, your both going down and now the baby’s coming with you.

3. Calm Down by Self Soothing

When we’re in the midst of a fight it’s likely that we’re experiencing a heightened arousal state. And whether we realize it or not we become flooded. We move into a fight or flight state and our lower brain centers take control. It’s hard if not impossible to be rational when in this state. So take a mommy and daddy time out for at least a 1/2 an hour. Reduce the adrenaline and cortisol release flooding your body. Don’t sit and ruminate about the fight, unless you’re focusing on your contribution, how you feel and what you need. If you’re feeling completely beyond rational thought do something that is a soothing activity. Then schedule a time to get back together and reconvene the discussion.

4. Compromise

It can be hard to consider, but compromise is a daily staple of a healthy relationship. It’s helpful to identify your core areas of need, things in which you can’t yield. Then consider what areas have greater flexibility? Then discuss how you can come together on a solution.

5. The Aftermath of a Fight: Process and Understand It

Sometimes this needs to be a scheduled event. Find a time where you have the time to  sit and discuss your feelings and point of view without blame. Realize that you have an active role in the argument as much as your partner. Take turns confessing the part you played in the drama. Then take a look at how you could make it better next time?

6. Figure Out the Conversation You Needed to Have Instead of the Fight

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, often we end up arguing about superficial things when the real heart of the issue is much, much deeper. Each of us have our triggers, some we may not even realize until we’re standing in the dust and debris after the smoke clears. Take a look at what triggers you more closely. Discuss your triggers with your partner so that they know these are the things that set you off and flood your brain with stress hormones. Delve into why these specific items are triggering. Where do they arise from – is it related to past experiences? How could you handle them differently? Make sure you each take time to listen to each other with compassion and avoid delving back into the argument.  If that happens, take another parent time out and reconvene at another time.

7. Move From Gridlock to Dialogue When You Have Unsolvable Problems

Do you ever feel like you’re having the same argument over and over.  It’s because you are.  69% of problems in the couples the Gottmans studied were repeats of the same issue. (2) Perpetual problems arise from fundamental differences in your personalities and lifestyle needs.  In these scenarios, the Gottmans found that values, dreams, and personal philosophies also underlie our gridlocked positions. In order to gain a better understanding of ourselves and each other, we must become “dream detectives”.  You’ll find more info here about what steps to take to undo the gridlock and make dialogue possible about these perpetual issues.

While these steps are extremely useful in cooling down heated situations in your relationship, there are many additional considerations to creating a healthy relationship after baby.  Come join Marriage and Family Therapist, Lynn Brooks to take a deeper look at what makes a loving, connected relationship in We Become Three at Om Baby.  We’ll look at additional strategies and techniques to help you face this major life transition while turning towards each other for closeness and bonding, finding joy in your new family.


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Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill.  She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant student in the school of life.

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It’s an Estate Plan: Protecting Your Newborn From Birth

 

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© In the Moment Photography with Hollis

by Rachel Thiessen

Unfortunately, one of the most important things you can do to protect your child is often overlooked:  an estate plan.  Here are five important considerations you need to discuss when setting up an estate plan once your new baby is born:

Naming Guardians. Parents who delay choosing a guardian for their children usually do so because they cannot agree on that “perfect” choice.  Get comfortable with the fact that there is no perfect choice – and if you don’t choose, a court will choose for you.  You can always amend your choice if you change your mind.  When choosing a guardian, you need to think about choosing someone who shares your beliefs and who will naturally be a part of your child’s life.  And you need to make sure whomever you choose is willing to take on the responsibility of raising your child if you are unable to do so.  You can take steps now to ensure your children are always cared for by people you know, love and trust if anything at all happens to you.

Education.  The cost of college is already sky-high; can you imagine what it will be like in another 18 years?  You probably want to start saving right away, either through a 529 plan or an educational trust so you can realize some tax benefits while you save.

Passing on your assets.  Assets cannot pass directly to children under the age of 18, so you will need to think about setting up a trust and naming a trustee to manage the assets you would leave your children.  You also need to examine your beneficiary forms for retirement accounts and life insurance policies to be sure your new child is included as a beneficiary.  Even if you name them in a will, a beneficiary form for these accounts will determine who inherits.

Avoiding probate.  Talk to your attorney about setting up a living trust so your heirs can avoid probate and assets can pass directly to them.  Probate can be costly and time consuming.  Many parents also worry about the public nature of probate because they would never want predators to learn that their child is about to inherit money.

Asset protection.  If you have a higher value estate, you will want to discuss asset protection strategies that will help you minimize taxes and protect assets for your heirs.

If you’re ready to learn more about protecting your children through estate planning,  contact local mom and attorney, Rachel Thiessen for a free consultation.

Baby Proofing Your Marriage

Compiled by Holly Keich

© Hollis Healy

© Hollis Healy

Most of us are totally unprepared and painfully ill-equipped for parenthood.  No one warns us about how hard it can be, or that a little strain in the marriage is completely normal. No one pulls you aside at the baby shower to tell you the truth of the matter and help you prepare.  It’s like there is a curtain of secrecy about how clueless you will feel as a new parent. It doesn’t matter how many classes we attend. It doesn’t matter how many books we read.  It doesn’t matter that we worked with children in a past life.  We are not ready. We never will be.  Nothing truly prepares us for a baby.Having a baby is the single most beautiful moment in life. Our lives are instantly richer because of this little person and we quickly can’t ever imagine life without him.  It’s the ultimate paradox, having a baby. It is at once the happiest, most breathtaking moment of our lives and the biggest mess we have ever gotten ourselves into. . As we silently watch this miracle of life, the rise and fall of the baby’s breathing, we feel such extreme, and diametrically opposed, emotions – pure joy and sheer terror.  We begin to realize just how our life has changed and that we can never go back.

Men and women can react to parenthood quite differently. No metter how delighted a couple is with their growing families, these differences can lead to conflict.  When a baby arrives, moms are more anxious and fathers tend to feel increasingly helpless that there is nothing they can do to make their wives feel better. Men go into provider mode and women get extremely focused on the baby. As women zero in on the child, it consumes them to a degree that they never expected. Men are surprised by that and begin to think, “Where did my wife go?”

Many families come home to a strong extended family support system.  Unfortunately, the parade of relatives doesn’t last long and most parents are struck with abject terror when they leave. We are petrified at the thought of taking care of a newborn without back-up. We’re still in shock that we were actually allowed to leave the hospital with little more than a shiny new car seat to show our readiness for parenthood. No certificate. No license. No nothing. Can’t everyone see we don’t know what we’re doing?

But although you have primary responsibility for the baby, you don’t need to face the challenges of parenting alone.  There are lots of support groups for new parents that will help keep you connected and allow you to make friends with couples who have children and understand your parenting responsibilities. Connecting with another couple who is having the same issues helps you realize that the problems of parenting are universal.

When we become parents, domestic responsibilities explode.  Financial pressures increase. The pace is relentless.  It isn’t any surprise that this period of extreme parenting leads to arguments about division of labor in the home.  Scorekeeping sets the stage for ongoing marital conflict. “You’re too tired to watch her for a couple of hours? Too bad. I haven’t showered for three days. Suck it up!”  It’s important to remember that you are rowing in the same boat. A little recognition of what each other has done, a compliment here and there, goes a long way to smooth sailing.

It can come as a shock that parenting is a 24-7 job.  Little Joey whose been crying for what feels like hours isn’t going home, he is home.  The work it takes to keep a baby alive is astounding.  Sometimes it is all you can do with your partner to pitch diapers back and forth, go wash another bottle and try not to lose your place in the assembly line. It’s important to commit to spending some time alone together.  While spending time with your little one is important, don’t forget that nurturing your relationship is still essential. This new little being will be out of the house and on his own in 18 years, but you will still hopefully be with each other and have another 30+ years together.  So you can’t just put your relationship on the back burner.

Set aside at least once a week to make a meaningful connection with your spouse. And although the day-to day care of a newborn is fascinating – “when did the baby go down for a nap, when will he wake up, when did he eat last, does he need a diaper, his poop was a weird color, he didn’t poop today, do we need to track his poop, why is he crying” – try to make the most of your quality time by banning talk of topics such as work and the baby. But sometimes even with regular date nights, conversation just isn’t what it used to be. Still, springing for a babysitter and a regular date night gives both parents some time to relax and enjoy each other’s company again without distracting baby duties.  Does date night sound too daunting?  Then reasses. Dates don’t have to be in the evening when your both exhausted.  What about lunch and an afternoon walk?  Don’t feel comfortable leaving baby with a sitter yet?  Have a date at home during naptime.  Set aside an hour or two to connect in a meaningful way.  It doesn’t have be to uber-romantic, the goal is to connect without adding stress to your already busy life.

It’s easy for the marriage to slip into autopilot. Destination: who are you and what are you doing in my bed?  And reconnecting needs to involve more than a tap on the shoulder at 10pm. Although sex is the glue that keeps relationships together, for women it’s hard to mix the roles of mother and dominatrix. Yet men’s sex drive has not changed after the baby. Paying attention to the finer things, spicing it up with a little romance, doing “dad duty” for a night while mom relaxes with a book or a long bath could result in a more rested and ready partner.  And there’s no reason you couldn’t add a bouquet of grocery store flowers, wine and candles to a dinner eaten while baby naps.

When it comes down to it though, having a baby and becoming a family is a transition that takes time to adjust.  You have new challenges, new rituals and new routines that are ever changing just as life itself. Your relationship will never be the same as it was before you had children – and that’s okay. Embrace it. This is a new chapter for each of you. Enjoy it!

Resources:
http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20070321/10-rules-for-baby-proofing-your-marriage
http://pregnancyandbaby.sheknows.com/pregnancy/baby/Can-you-babyproof-your-marriage-6095.htm
http://www.ehow.com/how_5163000_babyproof-marriage.html
http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/16767082/

Get more info & tips in our upcoming “We Become Three” workshop at Om Baby!