Without a doubt, motherhood is one of the most challenging feats in life. However, preparing for fatherhood isn't a walk in the park, either. There are a lot of mental, emotional, and relationship changes that new dads will experience. The transition to parenthood can be daunting for many, but don't worry; you can take the proper measures when preparing for fatherhood.
In this episode: Preparing for Fatherhood, Growing Self marriage and family therapists Jessica Small and Seth Bender talk about how postpartum experiences affect both parents and how to prepare yourself for them. You will also learn how to conquer common relationship challenges after having a baby.
If you want to know more about supporting your wife, maintaining healthy relationships, and preparing for fatherhood, then tune into this episode!
In This Episode: Preparing for Fatherhood
- Find out what mothers experience postpartum aside from “baby blues.”
- Discover how fathers can also have their own postpartum experience.
- Become aware of why mothers tend to be angry toward their partners.
- Understand why sexuality can decrease after birth.
- Know how to connect with your partner in small and manageable ways.
- Recognize the importance of validating negative emotions and experiences.
- Learn how to maintain a healthy and enjoyable marriage after having a baby.
The Postpartum Experience when Preparing for Fatherhood
The months leading up to birth are challenging, but the journey doesn't end after the baby is born.
The postpartum experience is something that couples and families face together. Couples usually worry when they don't experience the romanticized story of having a baby, but every woman’s postpartum recovery timeline is different. That's why it's essential to shed light on the truth about the postpartum experience.
Jessica explains that the “baby blues” often happen during the first two weeks after giving birth. This phenomenon is when mothers have frequent emotional shifts. Upon giving birth, they also may experience:
- loss and grief around their old life,
- lack of sleep, and
- being overwhelmed with the identity of being a mom.
Although they don't experience the same biological changes, the postpartum experience also affects the male or nonpregnant partner. Seth says, “[having a baby] is an incredibly difficult life transition that happens before you know it.” The postpartum experience affects nonpregnant partners in the following ways:
- They feel loss and grief over their old life. The change of lifestyle is difficult for men, especially for first-time fathers. Having a baby affects a father’s work schedule, self-care, and support that they used to get from their partners.
- They feel isolated and not looked after. Usually, it's mom's job to take care of the baby, and it's dad's job to care for mom. However, Jessica asks, “Who's taking care of dad?” In a society that conditions men to become independent, people think men should power through all the challenges. The journey is also tricky for them, and they need support.
Why Does My Wife Hate Me After Baby?
“It is hard for dad. But let's be honest, it is harder for Mom,” says Jessica. Moms get exhausted and frustrated with all the baby work, leading them to feel tenser and emotionally fried.
Most of the time, moms are not mad at their partners. She might project the exhaustion and frustration she experiences from motherhood onto a safe person like her partner.
Sometimes, however, moms can also be mad because their partner isn't stepping up the way they need them to step up. There needs to be involvement from the partner to anticipate the mother's needs and take on some emotional energy.
Decreased Sexuality in Marriage
Dr. Lisa and Jessica brought up John Gottman‘s ideas on marital crises. One of these crises is a decreased sexuality among new moms. Sexuality may not be compatible with mothers as they're adjusting to their new role. Here are some possible explanations as to why this happens:
- Issues such as sleep deprivation and hormonal shifts make it harder to have a desire for sexual intimacy.
- Mothers may also experience insecurity about the postpartum body.
- As biological evolution has prevented mothers from getting pregnant immediately after having a baby, sexual desire naturally decreases.
- If the mother had a difficult pregnancy, it takes much more time to recover fully and be sexually active.
These problems also affect the fathers because they don't get what they expect. Seth says, “I think the misconception is that for some men, it's like, ‘okay, after two or three weeks, things will be back to normal.' And that's not really how it works.”
In Seth's experience working with couples, fathers work hard to understand the mothers' struggles as much as they can.
How to Build a Healthy and Enjoyable New Normal when Preparing for Fatherhood
The usual advice for married couples with kids is to “go on date nights.” But Jessica offers a more robust perspective: start with small and manageable ways to connect. Examples of how you can do this to keep your relationship strong after having a baby are the following:
- Physical connecting such as hugging
- Conversing around topics that are not about the baby
- Watching a TV show together while nursing
Seth says that those smaller bits of connection are often not present before the child. That's why he works with couples on building those even before the baby is born. His advice for couples is to do premarital counseling before having a baby to ensure that they're in an excellent place to take that step in their relationship.
Being okay with not being okay and prioritizing emotional safety is also key to a good relationship. Jessica emphasizes the importance of holding safe spaces for each other to talk about the whole experience of parenthood transparently.
Jessica recounts a typical conversation between couples: “One person says, like, ‘I miss getting to go do this.' The other person tries to fix it and ends up invalidating their partner.” It's normal to have moments of sadness, grief, and loss. None of it means that you don't want your baby.
Marriage Problems After Having a Baby
A listener asks how she can restore the once fabulous marriage she had with her partner before having their baby. Here are Jessica's answers to her question:
- Identify the things that used to work for your marriage and start to apply that to your current situation. If you and your partner used to cook dinner together every night and suddenly stopped, you could agree to cook dinner again two or three times a week. Or, if you used to walk in the park and suddenly stopped, you can try walking again with your baby in a stroller.
- Attend to attachment wounds and move forward. Partners can hurt each other unintentionally, and that can build much resentment and distance. It's essential to improve communication and have a safe and empathetic space to talk about how the partners have hurt each other openly.
- Build a vision for what you want your family life to look like. Imagine your family life as something that you truly desire and create a path towards achieving that.
- Learn more about John Gottman and his ideas on marital crises.
- Jessica Small's profile on Growing Self
- Seth Bender's profile on Growing Self
Jessica and Seth shared many insights about what it takes to be the best partner and father. Which of their ideas resonated with you? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.
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