Hanna Beaven Psychologist: Adjustment to Parenthood

You’ve discovered you’re pregnant by wee-ing on a stick, a couple (or a million) times, over a couple of months or several years, via the old-fashioned method or a more assisted process. You’ve cruised through an ‘easy’ pregnancy or ‘white knuckled’ it through the nausea, heart in your throat every scan (given past experiences of hearing devastating news at scan(s)), each personal milestone and movement while carrying your precious baby. You’ve navigated the process of birth in a public or private hospital or at home with a doula, midwife, obstetrician or all of them via a vaginal, caesarean or combined birth. You have held your precious baby in your arms for the first time.

You’d be excused for thinking the hard work was past you, however, like any massive life changing event, becoming a parent will take you to the heights of ecstasy and the lows of questioning your decision to ever have a baby in the first place.

Nothing can fully prepare you for the moment you realise that this baby is yours, and you are forever responsible for keeping this tiny human alive, and for better or worse your life will never be the same. In this article I’m hoping to either validate your experience as a new parent, or provide you with some food for thought if you are about to embark on parenthood. I do not want to scare anyone or make it sound like having a baby is a terrible idea – I obviously don’t endorse that given I have three beautiful children of my own!

I do however, want to present a realistic and possible side to parenthood which is less likely to be discussed because we can feel pressure to only focus on the joys of being lucky enough to have had a baby. The following are just some of the areas which may be challenging after having a baby:

Caring for and being home with a baby:

  • The steep learning curve to care for a baby can feel like starting the most important job of your life without having received any training – which can lead to a lack of confidence.
  • We are bombarded with the ‘rules’ of parenthood. This often unsolicited advice comes from various sources:
    – Well intentioned (fingers crossed) friends and family spanning several generations.
    – The plethora of parenting books which cover polar extremes of parenting styles and everything in between.
    – Random strangers when you’re out and about with your baby.
    – Health professionals – which can somehow provide contradictory information and advice on the exact same topic e.g. establishing breastfeeding.
  • Some of the need to know safety information about caring for our baby can leave us feeling anxious and overwhelmed e.g. SIDS.
  • We’re trying to make sense of all of the above through the fog of disrupted sleep while we’re physically recovering from giving birth and possibly trying to establish breastfeeding.
  • Realising that any opportunity to sleep, have a shower or have your arms free is now a luxury between the repetitious schedule of feeding and settling duties.
  • At times it can be boring caring for your baby at home on your own.

New self – which now includes being a mother:

  • We often tie ourselves in knots trying to be a ‘perfect parent’ which is as attainable as riding bareback on a unicorn. Trying to be a ‘super parent’ who can do it all, sets us up for failure and overwhelm.
  • Negative comparisons to others – both to those in the flesh and to those on social media living their #bestparentinglife. Falsely believing that every other parent has got it all together and loves their lives can make us feel incompetent and alone.
  • Feeling the actual or perceived judgements of strangers, friends and family regarding your abilities and choices as a parent.
  • Pressure for your body to ‘bounce back’ after being pregnant and giving birth.
  • Possibly feeling socially isolated at home on your own with your baby. Old friendships may change (especially if your friend doesn’t have a baby). Finding yourself having to make new ‘mum’ friends as an adult which can be daunting.
  • We can experience motherhood guilt… for everything. For example, when we haven’t felt a close connection to our baby straight away.
  • Pressure to keep the baby’s needs met and also attempting to keep on top of household duties.
  • Grief and loss regarding the pre-baby person we used to be, living the pre-baby life we used to live. Trying to make sense of who we are now as a parent, and what has happened to all of the other facets of ourselves: successful and confident worker, wife, daughter, sister, friend and so on.
  • We can also be surprised by the reflections we find ourselves making about our own mothers or caregivers, childhoods and experience of being parented.

Relationship with partner and co-parent:

(if you are not a single parent – which has its own specific challenges)

  • Navigating the change in your relationship from being a couple (just the 2 of us) to being parents (now 3+ of us).
  • Stressors can arise when each person has a different parenting style based on discrepant values and beliefs.
  • Challenges can emerge if either party’s in-laws are deemed as unsupportive.
  • The primary caregiver can become unknowingly territorial regarding the care of the baby (because of their 24/7 skill development!) and find it difficult to sit back and let the other parent care for their baby in a ‘different way’ versus the ‘wrong way’.
  • The non-primary caregiver can feel excluded by the skill development and relationship developing between their partner and their baby.
  • Pressure to become physically intimate after birth can cause stress between partners.
  • Lack of understanding for the unique pressures on each parent after having a baby. 
For example:
    – One parent may feel the burden more keenly of being the main bread winner for the family, while the stay at home parent may feel vulnerable with their limited capacity to financially contribute to the family.
    – The stay at home parent may have been counting down the minutes for the other parent to return from work so they can have some space from the baby, who they have cared for overnight and all day. Whereas, the partner coming home from a busy day at work may resist having a baby hurled at them as soon as they walk through the door.
    – After a stressful but productive day at work, a parent (through lack of understanding) may wonder what the stay at home parent has ‘achieved’ during the day (looking at a sink full of dishes and piles of washing on the couch). Whereas the stay at home parent is running on empty, barely has their arms free during the day and understandably feels a sense of achievement if they have managed to have a shower.

At the risk of sounding like the grinch of having babies (which I promise I’m not), I hope I have been able to highlight some of the common stressors that such a gigantic life change can create. I hope parents realise they are not alone if they can relate to some, or all, of the above. I also hope expectant parents are not frightened by this information but it can assist them to be aware of some of the potential stressors of having a baby and possibly reduce some of them. If you would like assistance with the ‘how to’ of preparing and reducing these potential stressors I plan to be running both antenatal and postnatal groups throughout the year, so please contact me for further information. My take home message to manage parenting stress is to have realistic expectations of yourself, your partner and your baby. Reduce the self-criticism and pressure on yourself because YOU ARE ENOUGH, JUST AS YOU ARE, AND THAT IS WHAT YOUR BABY NEEDS. And remember, life with a baby is not your new forever, you and your life will change and develop as your child continues to grow and develop.


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