There are a few other important things you and your partner need to think about before baby is born.
So you and your partner are having a baby – congratulations! In the flurry of all the decisions you need to make, ranging from baby’s names through to car seat restraints, there are a few other important things you and your partner need to think about before baby is born that would be helpful to both your baby and your relationship.
The term co-parenting has been around a while and it refers to the extent to which you as parents support each other and work together to share joint responsibility in raising your child. This includes issues such as the sharing of caring for your baby (who is getting up at 5 am?), the extent to which each of you will be engaged in the day-to-day organisation of your baby (organising the babysitter) and the division of household chores (who is cooking dinner and when?). When parents are able to co-parent in an adaptable and flexible way, children blossom.
Since both of you are unique, you will each have your own style of relating to your baby, and that is ok. However it’s the differences around parenting decisions that may cause problems. Everybody brings attitudes, values and behaviours into relationships from previous experiences and your family of origin (the environment in which you were raised).
Some of these influences are conscious, but many are unconscious. Below are some questions and issues to discuss with each other to encourage the sharing of attitudes and behaviours, possibly changing and replacing them with attitudes and behaviours that work for your new family.
What are your memories of how you were parented as a child?
Having this discussion will help you both develop an understanding of each other’s perspectives on child rearing, especially if they are very different from your own, and jointly decide beforehand how you are going to raise your child. For example, if your partner was raised by very strict parents and your were not; or you slept in your own room from a young age but your partner slept in the same room as their parents, this may influence how you respond to your baby (e.g. how quickly will we respond to our baby’s cries?); where your baby will sleep (e.g. in their own room or in your room); and how you will guide your baby’s behaviour when they are a toddler (e.g. when your toddler does not want to stay in their bed). Family of origin also influences how we learnt to communicate, express anger, show affection and manage conflict. This also relates to how you are going to create a shared meaning for your new family – for example, how you are going to celebrate birthdays.
What are your expectations of how life will be when baby arrives?
Many parents seem to underestimate the sheer hard work a baby can be! Hormonal changes, the physical demands of childbirth and nursing, lack of sleep, an abrupt shift from the working world to being at home with an infant; lack of time to have a meaningful conversation with your partner; and changing roles and priorities – not to mention the fact that new parents often find it hard to fit in intimate time with each other. All this needs to be acknowledged as normal challenges facing many new parents. By discussing realistic expectations with each other, you can jointly identify the support networks you have and who you can ask to help once baby is born; and how active (or not) your social life will be after baby is born.
How are we going to resolve disagreements?
Parents who successfully resolve disagreements have a number of strategies in common. They are respectful of each other and have a gentle approach; they focus on their own feelings rather than attacking their partner; and if they feel overwhelmed with feelings, they do not continue with the conversation until they have calmed themselves down.
Preparing your relationship for the arrival of your baby.
There are a number of strategies that will help strengthen your relationship prior to and after baby has arrived:
- Both of you need to invest energy and time to strengthening the friendship aspect of your relationship by building a strong foundation of affection and fondness for your partner. Spend some time each day talking with each other using open-ended questions. Even after your baby has arrived, try and make some time for this each day.
- Be aware of what is going on in each other’s lives and respond sensitively.
- Problem-solve together and view problems as something you and your partner have control of.
- Develop connection rituals such as sit-down dinner time or family fun time. This helps create a shared mutual daily purpose and family identity.
- Communication is key. Make a commitment to share information about your baby – whether it is something you have read, or been told, or something you have observed once baby has arrived.