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When sentiment and reality clash, the result is stress. The birth of a baby is often such an occasion. Having a baby is a life-changing event. It’s not unusual for a couple to romanticize the idea of a newborn. The larger the gap between sentiment and reality, the greater the stress.
All parents aspire to be a “good” mom or dad. Parents want to provide food, clothing, a nurturing home and unconditional love. They also hope to guide a child along the path to becoming a responsible adult. Sounds nice.
But take all the above aspirations and mix in the “being human” factor. That includes parental shortcomings, insecurities and flaws. What parent hasn’t struggled with the questions of “Am I doing what’s best for my child?” and “Will my child turn out to be a happy, productive adult?” Let’s not forget “I can’t believe I just did that!”
A baby is work. More work means more time and energy, not to mention more money. Couples often disagree about exactly whose time, energy and money is going toward raising their child and how to put these changes into practice. All of this contributes to stress. Stress is a shortcut to anger. Having strategies to deal with frustration and anger will help bridge the sentiment vs. reality gap.
A few things to keep in mind:
1. There are wonderful rewards that come from being a parent, but it will help you cope if you are realistic about what you are likely to encounter. When a baby enters the family, parents feel moments of overwhelming love and devotion as well as frustration and anger.
2. Frustration can come from not knowing how to handle a situation. Feelings of frustration signal a need to expand your knowledge base. Talk to other parents, read parenting books and review information on the Internet. Arm yourself with some new ideas and strategies.
3. Ask for and accept help. Trying to do it all on your own can make a stressful situation worse. Be honest with yourself and each other about needing assistance from relatives, friends or babysitters.
4. If you feel your frustration or anger building to the point of losing it, it’s time to take a break. It’s OK to leave a newborn crying in her crib long enough to take some deep breaths and collect yourself.
5. Remember to build in quality time together as a couple. Talk about how to rekindle intimacy and spend time together just the two of you. The couple relationship is the foundation of the family unit. Neglecting that relationship isn’t good for anyone, including the baby.
6. Parenting is a joint venture. Communicate with each other about your feelings and work toward compromise. Work on the division of labor and support your spouse if he or she expresses a need for help. Brainstorm together about how to get things done. (Maybe a neighborhood teen can mow the lawn or walk the dog.)
The addition of a baby to a family is a joyous event. Realistic expectations, a willingness to seek help and a vow to nurture your relationship as a couple will help you manage the transition.
Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being.