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Recently I talked to columnist Jenn Sinrich in an article for Wedding Wire. Jenn is a writer for many top-tier journals such as Reader’s Digest, SELF, and Women’s Health, and she is such a pleasure to talk to! We got to thinking about the most important things couples should do before having a baby. Here’s what I had to say!
1) Work on building a strong respect and sense of teamwork with your partner.
Don’t forget you are in this together. This is a “we” problem to work on together, and the goal is to avoid abandoning your partner and to handle the stress of feeding, changing, and caring for your baby as a team. It is important to work on our skills and tools for how you as a couple will handle the real symptoms of sleep deprivation so that it doesn’t create an environment of irritation and conflict. Part of this team building means not excluding Dad right after baby is born. Many new moms create a society of other women to help out and provide support. Doing so often crowds Dad out and creates a withdrawal response, which can be tragic for a new baby.
2) Start having regular stress-reducing conversations.
One of the tools I teach my clients to utilize when they come to couples therapy as new parents is known as a stress-reducing conversation. This involves the couple setting aside twenty minutes a day for processing the events and frustrations of the day while receiving support and understanding from their partner. Each partner spends about ten minutes talking, and during that time their partner is not solving their problem but listening for understanding to share emotions and express support. Newborns are not a problem to be solved, and since they don’t come with a manual, that’s not even possible. What does work is to have your partner connect with you emotionally about the frustrations, worries, anxieties, and stressors you are experiencing and show genuine empathy and support. Once this pattern is firmly established in the relationship as a part of the normal coping skills as a couple, it will be an easier transition into utilizing it as new parents.
3) Have many conversations with your partner about your dreams and goals as co-parents.
Many new parents express a desire to be better at parenting than they perceive their own parents were with them. Having conversations with your partner about the strengths and weaknesses you will encounter as parents opens the door for these kinds of conversations. Couples should be having conversations on all kinds of issues that cover emotional, physical, and moral chores with baby. For instance, who will be the parent tasked with physical activities such as taking baby to doctor’s appointments or taking off work when baby is sick? How will decisions be made about whether to pay your child an allowance for chores done around the house or for good grades? Will your child go to private or public school? It is also essential to have conversations about setting healthy boundaries with family members.
4) Develop skills for compromise and accepting influence from your partner.
New parents don’t get into conflict because they don’t love each other. They are in conflict because they both have strong beliefs and opinions about how they want to raise their child. Your partner will never agree to anything if they don’t feel heard and validated for their perspective. Ig you don’t agree with your partner, you can acknowledge what your co-parent is saying. Once both partners feel they are sufficiently understood and appreciated, then compromise can begin. Compromise starts with finding the core issues you have in common. In the case of new parenting, don’t forget both of you want the best for your child. Approaching issues from a place of understanding your partner’s needs gives both parents a place to positively work to compromise.
5) Commit to regular date nights and intimacy, even with a new baby.
Many of my clients tell me they don’t remember the last time they went on a date. They hardly have the energy to have sex with each other. The reality is that your sex life will unlikely be the same as it was prior to baby’s arrival. Let your partner know that you appreciate them and are still attracted to them. Flirt with them, reminding them that you recognize you aren’t having sex like you used to but that you still deeply desire them. Having conversations about your worries, fears, and concerns about keeping your intimacy alive is important.
Make the commitment before you have a new baby to build a community of friends, neighbors, and babysitters who can help watch out for baby on a regular basis so that mom and dad can have time to connect and go on dates. Start having conversations about how you are going to give yourselves permission to step outside of your roles as parents for a few hours a week and experience romance as a priority.
6) Consider taking a Baby-moon before the big event.
Many of my expecting clients are making it a priority to take a relaxed vacation getaway in their second trimester. This an important milestone event since it is likely the last trip they will be enjoying alone with their partner. They consider this a last hurrah trip. Once baby is born, they envision that trips will be done traveling in threes. Obviously, couples will want to make sure their health insurance covers any unexpected needs where they are traveling. Many clients are now considering these trips a rite of passage for entering parenthood.