Becoming Parents

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection

FEBRUARY 21, 2018

February being the month of Valentines, it seems fitting to talk about what happens to couples when they become parents, especially for the first time. I have often found it curious, that so much time and energy is focused on the physical process of delivery, very important information to be sure… but zero attention or discussion is centered on preparing couples as to what it’s really like to live with a newborn and what changes they should anticipate making to get them through those early weeks of round the clock feedings and infant care.

A successful partnership/marriage is a constant work in progress, and when couples become parents, that work is magnified and intensified with sleep deprivation, hormone adjustment and the overwhelming realization that you are suddenly responsible for this very fragile looking newborn who only communicates via crying.  Couples are often warned by friends and family members who are already parents about sleepless nights. They are jokingly ribbed about how they have no idea how life is about to change.  But beyond that, couples are given very limited details about what that exactly means and how their lives will specifically change, and therein lies the problem. Couples come into the hospital, and then we send them home with no clue and thus no way to adequately prepare for how dramatically their lives are about to change, both individually and as a couple.

For the past five years, the Parent Connection has sought to address that information gap by offering our patients a workshop titled, “Becoming Parents.” The focus of the workshop, through exercise and discussion, is to provide couples a clear and detailed understanding of what living with a newborn, ages 0-12 weeks (the 4th trimester) is really like, so that armed with that information they can begin to plan/discuss how they will manage that period together.

In addition to providing very specific details, I also remind couples to think of themselves as a team, and that there are a few key characteristics of successful teams. (Those of us in Patriot’s nation know these qualities well). They are communication, the ability to shift and make adjustments as needed, the capacity to put the team first above individual needs/wants, and the ability to remain calm when things get heated. (No issue is ever resolved at 2am.)

Throughout the workshop I frequently advise couples about the importance of paying attention and caring for each other through this most wonderful and yet challenging experience for which they have no prior reference point. Too often couples get into the pattern of competing for who is working harder and whose life has changed the most. That’s a black hole conversation that does nothing but drive couples further apart.

It so simple, and yet it’s not, and the answer isn’t the same for every couple. There’s a line from one of my favorite movies, City Slickers that goes something like, “It all comes down to one thing.” The key for each couple is to figure out what works for them, and that’s an ongoing conversation. Couples need to frequently check in with each other, see how each is feeling, to see what each needs. The research shows that couples who have these conversations do much better in the long run. But, it’s not a one shot, conversation, it’s ongoing, as your child and family grows and as you grow as a couple.

For more information about the Becoming Parents workshop and to register for upcoming sessions call the Parent Connection office at 617.667.2229, or contact me directly at csweeney@bidmc.harvard.edu.