How does a baby really affect the roles, trust, and emotional responsiveness of a couple?
Having a baby, particularly the 1st child, affects the marriage. I mean, it really affects the marriage. There was a movie a few years back called “Deep Impact.” It was about a large meteor striking the earth causing cataclysmic tsunamis, and that pretty much the effect of the first child on the marriage. There’s simply nothing like the deep impact of the first child on the larger family, and specifically the marriage.
When a couple marry, they spend some time establishing the marital relationship. They establish an “Us.” The couple works out roles and responsibilities. They work through differing expectations and build shared goals. They develop intimacy and deal with the effect of their families on their new marriage. They focus on “us,” and may focus on “us” for several months or years. They work out the logistics of being spouses.
When the first child is born all the energy shifts to taking care of a brand-new infant and transitioning into the role of parent. During this time, the focus on becoming a parent often completely, though temporarily takes over the focus of being a spouse. And this seems to be particularly true for women though both parents experience it. The couple goes from simply spouses, to parents and spouses, with parenting usurping the focus on “us.”
Changing Roles and Responsibilities as a New Parent
Secondly, the couple faces changing roles and responsibilities, not only at home, but also at work, in their friend group, and in their own families. The couple often has made a change in working outside of the home, albeit generally temporarily. For the wife, she’s generally given time to really focus on being a mom, while the new dad continues to have tighter ties to his former life outside of the home. This creates some confusion in the couple as to their new roles, which ultimately creates confusion in their relationship. And this confusion is generally felt long before it’s able to be communicated and articulated.
The couple faces role ambiguity. Am I me? Am I a spouse? Am I a mother or a father? Am I a fully capable adult or still a developing child under the tutelage of my own parents?
Again, this role ambiguity is often felt before it’s discussed. The couple will at times feel skilled as new parents, and at other times feel completely inadequate as a new parent and incapable of taking care of this new very dependent human.
And finally, all this happens while the couple becomes increasingly exhausted and distracted. At some point, all new parents face exhaustion. They will be physically and emotionally worn out. And this exhaustion will only exacerbate any problems that they are experiencing while adjusting to their new roles as “us + 1.” Moreover, exhaustion makes communication, which is absolutely essential, all the more difficult.
Tips to Reduce the Impact A New Baby Has on a Marriage
So let me give the new parents some tips that help reduce the impact of the new baby on the marriage:
- Be patient, with yourself and each other.
- Rest and help each other take a break and rest.
- Take the first six months to learn about being a parent. Read parenting books and talk to other parents. You’ll be amazed at all the creative ways that other parents have found to manage the various problems
- Let other people help you. Friends and family want to help. Let them. Ask for help.
- Take time once every week or two to focus on the marriage – the “us.” You’ll need a strong “us” to deal with all the challenges that are on your horizon. Invest in “us” by spending time together and working on the relationship.
- Balance being a parent with being a spouse (and a friend, etc). You’re not married to your new baby. You should not spend every moment with the baby, nor every ounce of energy on the baby. You’ll get it right some days. You’ll get it wrong some days. But overall, seek long-term balance. You’re still a person and a spouse, and you still need to invest time and energy in other relationships in your life.
Having a child is indeed a Deep Impact, but it doesn’t have to be a destructive impact. Remember, one of the best life-long gifts you can give your new child is a model of a healthy marriage. That will create a Deep Impact that will affect your child’s future relationships and family like no other gift.