Men who used to pride themselves in their stoicism find themselves crying when they greet their new daughter. Women who would gag at the thought of vomit share advice on cleaning meconium stains from cloth diapers.
Priorities shift. Love takes on a new meaning.
Life is wonderful, right? New life, new meaning, new love….new stress, new challenges, new fights, new problems.
There are some things parenting books don’t prepare you for. Unexpected challenges appear, and it can be quite disconcerting to a new mom or dad.
Part One of this series focuses on the challenges that new parents face, both in their role as parents to their child and partners to each other.
The birth of a couple’s first child is an amazing time, filled with joy, excitement and love. Often couples find themselves drawn closer to each other in a new and powerful way. But with a baby come new and unexpected problems.
There’s the obvious difficulties when a baby comes: less sleep, the added stress of caring for a helpless new person, and the significant physical recovery. In addition, there are more hidden, less talked about challenges that face a relationship.
- Intimacy: Women often find themselves ‘touched out.’ New moms can feel as if their bodies aren’t theirs anymore. Babies need to be held, nursed, carried, and touched. It’s not uncommon for moms to say they don’t want anyone, including their husbands, to touch them. This can make new dads feel like they play second fiddle to their newborn. Sex is pushed aside and not made a priority.
- Fearing failure: New parents can find themselves feeling like failures. If your child is colicky or cranky, or having a hard time sleeping, parents wonder what they’ve done wrong. This can turn into one parent blaming the other. Mom thinks dad just needs to use the rocking chair, or dad gets angry because mom lets the baby cry too long. Instead of working as a team to parent, moms and dads fight.
- Lack of sleep: Everyone knows that new parents don’t get enough sleep, but it’s important to understand how a lack of sleep impacts a person’s ability to cope with stress. Not getting enough sleep can affect everything from physical health and vulnerability to sickness, to emotional stability (or lack thereof), to being able to tolerate adversity, to clarity of thinking.
- Feeling distant or angry at the baby: Some parents don’t have an immediate emotional bond to their newborn. Moms or dads can feel anger toward their baby. Often this coincides with a lack of sleep. If you experience this, keep a close check on your emotions. If you begin to feel like you can’t control your actions, or fear you may hurt your child or yourself, get help immediately. But flashes of anger at a baby who won’t stop crying, or wondering why you don’t feel all lovey-dovey like the other moms in your mommy-and-me class is normal, and doesn’t last long. (Of course it comes back at full force when you kid is a teenager, but that’s another post.)
- Old childhood issues: Becoming a parent is often a time when old issues from childhood come up. These could be memories of abuse or neglect, strong feelings about your own parents and upbringing, or flashes of grief if your parent has passed away.
- New arguments: Couples quickly discover that, no matter how carefully they discussed parenthood, there are always kinks to work out. Everything from who wakes up with the baby, who changes diapers, disagreements about vaccinations, to your spouse’s beloved but cranky old cat, can cause arguments and distance.
- Jealousy: I’ve heard many fathers say that they wish their wife was as affectionate with them as she is with the baby. It can feel as if this tiny infant is pushing its parents apart. It can be hard to find the right balance between being a great parent and still being a great spouse.
One of the most important things that a new parent can do to make it through those first months is to make a point to connect with other parents. They can help validate your struggles, support you, and remind you that you’re not crazy, you’re not alone, and it does get better.
What unexpected challenges did you face as a new parent?
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