So much happens naturally during pregnancy that it’s easy to assume you can just “fall” into the parenting game and everything will be fine.
In most cases, this will be true – to a point.
But as Dr Kristy Levin, a psychologist and co-founder of The Parents Village, told Feed Play Love, just like anything else that’s important in life, the more time you invest into planning the type of parents you’d like to be – together – the better the outcome for everyone.
A strong, healthy and respectful relationship is the most important benefit of all. Here’s how:
- Ask for help
- Be honest about your expectations of each other
- Identify what you need to thrive
- Renegotiate, renegotiate, renegotiate
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Ask for the help that you really need
“Asking for help doesn’t mean you are precious or lazy,” says Kirsty. “For the mum, it alleviates the burden and weight to be everything to everyone at all points in time. After giving birth, your body is battered and you are exhausted. You need all your attention to give to your newborn who is helpless and all-consuming. All the everyday activities that you were so used to be in control of will have to be reassigned or set aside for a while.”
Kirsty recommends spending some time before baby arrives to think about the services and people that would help you to feel truly supported, i.e psychologist, physiotherapist, sleep and settling consultants.
“Financially secure people can invest money into a bank account that is set aside for having a baby and recuperating. In the same way you’d plan money for a wedding – it’s for the baby,” says Kirsty.
“People lacking in finances and struggling – you can use social media or engage in free community counselling services, and there are lots of pay it forward type community groups that are typically mothers helping to support other mums where they are.”
Be honest about your expectations of each other
Once baby arrives, one partner will stay at home while the other goes back to work. What often happens is that the person who stays at home takes on the full burden of childcare, and over time can become overwhelmed, isolated and even resentful.
“Assumption is the root cause of this,” says Kristy. Conversations about your expectations need to be had as soon as possible, “and be rediscussed as the goalposts move and the baby grows.”
Identify what you need to thrive
Nothing in life stays the same for too long. But identifying what your core needs are as individuals and how to best incorporate them into your schedules is key.
“You’re making a psychological contract about what’s important to you and what you’ll both be responsible for,” says Kirsty. “Understand what energises and depletes each other. Once you understand that, you can develop a routine that supports those things.”
Kirsty recommends each person identify their core needs – the things that help you to thrive and feel happy and connected to the world, i.e going to the gym, socialising, reading, etc. Next, work out how you will both fit those activities into your schedule.
“You also need to think in a structured manner about the invisible and visible tasks of having a baby,” says Kirsty.
“Write down a list of all the tasks that crop up in a day (stuff that needs buying, ordering, bills that need to be paid, etc.) Then work out what’s urgent and what’s not, and crucially, who will be accountable for the task. “
Renegotiate, renegotiate, renegotiate
With those things in place, sit back and get ready to renegotiate the terms regularly!
“For example, just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you have to ALWAYS get up with the baby. There are alternatives, like mixed feeding can work well. Once the mother feeds the baby, the dad then puts the baby back into the cot to settle her back to sleep. There should be an opportunity to divide and conquer this as a team,” says Kristy.
The same rules apply to me-time. Regardless of whether you’re the person working or staying at home, you both need time to yourself.
“Me-time is paramount to feeling independent,” says Kirsty.
“Get out of the house, go away from your baby for a period to do something for some of it. Read a book, get a massage, get out of the context of the home. Over time the home starts feeling like a prison because that’s all they see. So, a change of environment is just as important.”
While there’s no perfect formula for parenting, getting in early to tighten up your communication strategies is absolutely the most important thing.
No matter what happens, learning how to understand and respect each other’s needs and making them a priority will never lead you astray.