THE TRUTH ABOUT PARENTHOOD
NERVOUS ABOUT YOUR IMPENDING LIFE WITH CHILD? CONFUSED ABOUT THE CH-CH-CH-CHANGES THAT LIE AHEAD? HERE’S WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING SOMEONE’S MOM OR DAD.
Ever since you uttered the words, “I’m pregnant!” your life has probably been a whirlwind of activity, complete with ultrasounds, baby showers, nursery shopping, life insurance and car seat questions. Think things are busy now? Your nine-plus months of pregnancy is just the calm before the storm. Parenthood changes you on every level—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially. No matter how you picture it, it’s difficult to get an accurate grasp on what you need to know about parenthood before your little one arrives. Here, we examine the myths, the truths and the lessons of life in the ‘hood.
|THE PERSONAL CHANGE: WHO AM I NOW?|
The Myth: I’ll be back into my size six jeans in no time.
The Truth: Don’t let Heidi Klum fool you—it takes a lot of work to regain your pre-pregnancy body. Dr. Diana Barnes, co-author of The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters ($39.95, www.amazon.com) along with Leigh Balber, says many women underestimate the amount of work that goes into giving birth. Barnes adds that people are immersed in the celebrity culture, where women give birth and then strut down the runway two months later (as Heidi did for Victoria’s Secret). She warns mothers not to be wrapped up in the hype. “Our society romanticizes pregnancy and motherhood, but doesn’t reveal the truth behind it,” Barnes says. “It took nine months to make the baby—it’ll probably be nine months to a year for the body to return to its pre-pregnancy state.”
The Lesson: Moms, cut yourself some slack and appreciate your body, whatever shape it is. It has created a human being, which is well worth a few stretch marks.
The Myth: I won’t be able to support my growing family.
The Truth: For many dads, their reaction to fatherhood depends less on the number on the scale and more on the number in the bank. “They tend to feel an awesome sense of responsibility as a provider, a sense of ‘I need to take care of my family,’” Barnes says.
Keith Morton, father to a five-year-old and author of the fatherhood blog, “FatherDad,” says he is “financially frantic.” As a dad who works in the nonprofit sector, Morton worries about the high-cost of living in an urban area like New York. “Some may say that I am unreasonably obsessed with my ability to provide for my family,” Morton admits. “This is one of my biggest challenges. My role as provider is something I think about every single day of my life.”
Researchers have discovered that fathers play a valuable role in childrearing. In one study, involving preschool-age children it was reported that fathers who took on 40 percent or more of child care tasks, their kids had higher scores on cognitive development assessments, greater environmental mastery and exhibited more empathy than those children whose fathers were less involved.
The Lesson: Dads, your paycheck doesn’t define you. What you contribute to your family during quality time is priceless.
|THE COUPLES’ CHANGE: WHAT’S UP WITH OUR RELATIONSHIP?|
The Myth: A baby will strengthen our relationship.
The Truth: If you believe everything you see in the movies or watch on TV, that having a baby is one thing guaranteed to bring you and your partner closer together, then you’re certainly in for a surprise. The truth is that having children can add a big strain to your relationship with your mate—not to mention an extra dose of frustration and resentment. The time you used to spend together snuggling under the covers on the weekend is replaced by elbow jabs and whispers of, “It’s your turn—I got her last time” to the soundtrack of a wailing infant.
After a 13-year study, researchers at the Gottman Institute (known as the Love Lab) concluded that more than two-thirds of couples in the study experienced a drop in relationship happiness in the first three years of a baby’s life. Common gripes among new parents is that their alone time has whittled down to zilch and that when they do have their private time, the conversation is usually baby-related.
“You’re fed these fuzzy images and it’s a paradox, really,” says Julia Stone, one of the authors of Babyproofing Your Marriage ($24.95, www.amazon.com). “It’s the most beautiful thing to happen to you, but at the same time, it’s a lot of work. When the reality of the situation hits, it’s a huge adjustment.”
The Lesson: A happy marriage is the foundation to a happy family. Take care of each other first and everything will flow from there.
The Myth: The baby will not affect our sex life.
The Truth: Between the diaper changes, around-the-clock feedings and doctor’s visits, you glance at the calendar and realize a month has passed since you last had sex. Yikes! How did this happen?
Relax and know that it’s totally normal. A recent survey of 20,000 new parents revealed that more than 70 percent of respondents said their sex life has diminished either because of sheer exhaustion or incompatible sex drives. “A baby consumes every inch of our mental real estate,” Stone says. “The role of wife gets pushed off the radar.”
But there’s hope! Another 20 percent said their sex life is the same and seven percent said parenthood has been an aphrodisiac.
If you find your sex life to be missing a certain frequency, talk to your partner about it.
“Your sex life will require some heartfelt conversations,” Stone says. “It’s better to say, ‘How are we going to deal with this?’ rather than, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Women need to understand sex is still important to your husband. It’s how they connect emotionally.”
The Lesson: Sex is important. Sex is important. Sex is important. While it may not be top of your to-do list (no pun intended), making it a priority, more often than not, will help keep your marriage on an even keel.
The Myth: He doesn’t appreciate all that I do.
The Truth: Another big issue that develops between parents is score keeping—the practice of silently counting points regarding who does more. For example, Mom got up with the baby three times last night while Dad snored in bed. Mom gets three points. Dad plays with the kids for two hours the next day so Mom can go to the salon. Dad gets one point. An argument brews whenever the score is out of balance.
“Score keeping is only natural,” Stone insists. “There’s so much to do, but the number of hours in the day stay the same. The first place you look is the validation of the spouse, but you get caught up in the competition of who has it harder, it becomes the currency of your relationship.”
To prevent this, Stone says, “The first thing to do is to lose the martyr badge and then divide and conquer. Make a list of what needs to be done. Split it up and stop arguing about it.” Basically, Stone feels that score keeping comes down to the simple need to feel appreciated. “Our kids’ smiles and hugs are wonderful, but sometimes you need to hear it from another adult,” she says.
The Lesson: Take the time to tell your partner how much you appreciate what they do. It’ll go a long way in avoiding martial blow-ups.
|THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS’ CHANGE: WHAT’S WITH EVERYBODY?|
The Myth: It’s still all about you.
The Truth: From now on, you are no longer known as [your name here]. You are now [your child’s name here]’s dad/mom. For moms especially, it can be a hard shift from the spotlight. All throughout pregnancy, people asked about your condition, you were treated like a princess and all eyes were on you. After the baby arrived and in your mind, people only care about seeing the baby, not whether you got any sleep the night before.
For dads, it may seem like you’ve been bumped down the totem pole once again. During pregnancy, focus was on your wife, now the focus is on your wife and the new baby. Whereas your wife used to focus on you, now her energies go toward the little one. Does anybody still notice you’re around?
Dr. Barnes says the worst thing you can do is to resist the inevitable. “The biggest wish among parents is to turn back to the familiar routine,” she says. “That’s impossible. To pretend nothing has changed, it will set you up for failure.”
The Lesson: It’s no longer just about you—and that’s a good thing. Instead of hoping for bits and pieces of your former, relatively carefree life, focus on the bright spots of your new life. Before you know it, your new life will become what’s familiar comfortable and wildly satisfying.
The Myth: Being a parent is all-consuming.
The Truth: After baby arrives, the people in your inner-most circle will either fall into one of two categories: (1) they can’t stop talking to you about it or (2) they avoid talking to you about it. The first group are the people who will want to babysit all the time, buy baby clothes and laugh it off when your little bundle of joy vomits on their shoulder for the first time. The second group of people might fear you’ll be lost to the League of Parents and will no longer be able to relate to them. Either way, a noticeable shift has been made.
You might not have the same amount of time you did, when you were childless, but this may be a good thing. For instance it might make you more efficient at getting things done and maximizing the time you do have to spare. Arrange to spend time with both your fellow parents and your childless buddies. While you have innate commonalities with your fellow parents, hanging out with your childless pals require you to be more creative with your conversation since your default topic—baby news—isn’t likely to be interesting for more than a few minutes. Every now and then it’s good to be out of the parent mode. Dr. Barnes agrees: “Nowhere else in life is someone expected to be on call 24/7. Taking a break is a good thing.”
The Lesson: Becoming a parent means sacrificing some important things like sleep, flexibility and time. But it’s still important to have a few activities just for yourself, for your sake and the happiness of your family.
The Myth: Everyone else must know more than I do—I’m new at this.
The Truth: Everyone from your parents to that guy you met last Friday in line at the grocery store will try to give you advice on how to raise your little one. But it’s the way you handle it that will help you keep your sanity.
“Know good advice when you hear it,” advises Keith Morton. “Most people, whether they believe it or not, have never taken a moment to sincerely listen to another human being. Strangely, these people seem to be doling out advice at every opportunity. Ignore them, and consider the advice of the people who actually listen to you and your concerns.”
The Lesson: Do what feels right to you. You will naturally, instinctively know what’s best for your child. If you value someone’s opinion, feel free to consider his or her advice. Otherwise, let it run in one ear and out the other.
—Tara Pringle Jefferson
Tara Pringle Jefferson is a freelance writer based out of Cleveland, Ohio.
Gorgeous photo by Suzanne Fogarty. To see more of her outstanding work go to www.suzannefogarty.com.
Posted in Family