Parenthood and Communication
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that communication is key to a healthy relationship and this is no different when it comes to avoiding and overcoming the challenges of new parenthood. Read on for specific considerations during this unique life event.
Keep the lines of communication open. Talk with each other on a regular basis about your feelings, needs, hopes and dreams. Discuss how you think life will change with a baby and your expectations. See the next section for important topics to help you get started. Have regular couple check-ins where you can discuss how things are going for each of you. As baby grows you will find your situation and what works will be constantly changing as well so use this time to anticipate and plan for changing needs. It is also helpful to have a trusted friend or family member outside of the relationship to talk with weather they can offer you their experiences as a new parent or just a listening ear.
Be a great listener2 3 4
Listening is much more than eye contact, body language, and hearing words. Seek to understand your partner, not defend your position. You don’t have to agree with them to hear them. Being a great listener means taking an active role. Asking the right questions helps you to understand your partner but be careful that your questions don’t imply judgement or change the focus. Reflecting back what you hear in your own words gives them an opportunity to clarify and clear up any misunderstandings and is also a powerful tool that validates them by making them feel heard. When you have a deeper connection, you will be able to read between the lines and hear the words they are not saying. Understanding must precede advice so be cautious any time you feel the urge to offer a suggestion or problem-solving. While it is a natural tendency to want to do this, it may be relieving to know that most of the time, your partner doesn’t really expect you to solve their problems, most importantly they just want to feel heard and validated.
Choose your language to help your partner hear you5 6
It just makes sense that whenever you are trying to convince someone of something, the last thing you want to do is make them feel defensive. Yet, many of our communication patterns do exactly this. Get comfortable using I-statements. This means phrasing a complaint or criticism in a way that it reflects your feelings and experiences, not your partner’s shortfalls. For example, “I feel lonely and a little disconnected from you since the baby has arrived.” vs. “You never want to have sex anymore, my needs don’t matter.” Can you see how the first statement invites the partner to a conversation about the couple’s intimacy and priorities whereas the second one will likely just end in an argument that leads nowhere? Be careful using words like always, never, nothing, and everything, as they also tend to make people feel defensive and detract from the real issue at hand. Learn your partner’s triggers and work to avoid them (more on triggers below).
During a disagreement, take responsibility for your part7
Remember there are two views to every conflict and both are valid. Likewise, both sides contributed to the conflict in some way, even if it were minor. Try to see where you went wrong or how you could have made it better and own up to it. During a conflict it can feel like you are working against each other but try to remember you are on the same team working toward a common goal.
Give your conversations the space they need
Be mindful of where you and your partner are physically and emotionally before bringing up sensitive or important conversations. Paying attention to things like privacy, do you have the required time to finish the conversation or are you on the way out the door? Are there distractions present? Are you about to go out for a couple’s dinner for the first time since baby arrived and could potentially spoil a fun and much needed date with your partner? Use the acronym HALTS to remember times when you should avoid discussing sensitive matters. When either you or your partner are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Sick, under the influence of Substances, or under a lot of Stress. If your partner brings something up and you don’t feel ready to discuss it, be honest, let them know you hear their concern and it’s important to you but it’s just not a good time, then agree on a time to come back to it. Focus on one issue at a time. It is common for one issue to snowball into many, if this happens, try to keep them separate creating a “parking lot” of issues to return to at another time if needed so you can effectively deal with the most pressing issue.
Build a culture of appreciation8 9 10 11
If you don’t already do it, try to get in the habit of reflecting on the things about your partner you are grateful for and TELL THEM about it. Weather it’s something about their personality or something they did, it feels good to be recognized and this builds a sort of emotional resilience in the relationship. When we feel good we are more likely to let the little things slide and big things become little things that are more easily worked through. Weather you think of this as an emotional bank account or filling a bucket, when this culture of appreciation does not exist then resentment sets in and can make it challenging or impossible to navigate even the everyday hiccups that are inevitable.
Use relaxation techniques to calm yourself during a heated disagreement, take a break if needed12 13
As much as it’s the speakers’ role to choose their language to minimize defensiveness, it’s the listeners’ role to maintain an open mind to hear what is being said. This can be a very challenging thing to do that may take a lot of practice and patience, especially if you feel very strongly about the topic or it struck a certain emotional chord for you. If this happens, learn to recognize when you need to hit the pause button on an issue. Agree on a time to come back when you can participate more constructively. Tip: this is a useful skill to have when dealing with toddler power struggles.
When things don’t go perfectly, fix it!14 15 16 17 18
This can be as simple as a quick acknowledgement for a small slight to your partner “Yeah sorry, that was my bad” and then moving on (this is often enough when our emotional bank account is full but doesn’t always work well when we have a zero or negative balance). But sometimes fights do happen, and this does not have to be a bad thing. In fact, these are the opportunities to deepen and grow your relationship when you both approach them as a learning experience. When an issue is particularly distressing for one or both of you it is important to go back and examine it after the fact when emotions have settled to determine what went wrong and how it can be made better next time. Hint, this is where each of you accept a certain amount of responsibility for the fight. Through these investigations we sometimes learn new things about our partners, like triggers we didn’t know existed and through this reconciliation relationships may deepen, and you may feel more connected as you fine-tune your relationship. However, when these difficult moments are ignored, trust is eroded, and you are bound to keep repeating the same mistakes. Who was it that said relationships are a constant work in progress? They were right.
There are some important conversations to have with your partner to help you prepare for when the baby arrives. It is also important to revisit these conversations over time to see how things are working and if any changes are needed.
- Transition issues
- Who does what
- Time management
- Parenting style
- Where can we get support?
What are the top 5 concerns you have about becoming a parent? Do you know what your partner’s top 5 are? Chances are they are different than yours and these differences can fuel conflict if you are not aware and sensitive to your partner’s needs. Once you identify what your top concerns are you can work together to plan for them. Use this activity to help you get started.
Who does what
It is normal to have conflict in this area even if you did not before kids. Start by discussing how you view each other’s role. Decide who will do certain things and support each other. Remember this is not about keeping score but working together to meet the family’s goals. Be flexible.
This conversation goes well with the topic above. Start by thinking about everything you do now (before baby) in a day. Then try to imagine what life will be like with the baby. What new responsibilities will there be and how will you fit it all in? Are there things you can drop even if just temporarily? Can you scale back in certain areas? Remember you still need to take care of your own needs so what solutions or ideas can you come up with to help cope with the big changes ahead? See our page on Parenthood and finding a Balance to help with this.
Differences in parenting style are often the root of conflict. Many factors affect your parenting style including the way you personally were parented so it’s likely that you and your partner will have different perspectives. Begin by discussing how you would handle different parenting situations and then explore what values, beliefs, and experiences have shaped that. The goal is to get on the same page with each other and be able to support each other in your parenting decisions.
Changes to your financial situation with the addition of a family member is a top concern for many new parents. Implementing a family budget can help alleviate some of these stresses. Many big decisions need to be made in this area so it’s important to carefully consider your options. If both of you work, who will take parental leave of absence and for how long, will you share it, do either of your employers offer a top-up? Will you need childcare and how much does that cost? You may also want to consider starting a Registered Education Savings Plan. If you haven’t done so already, the birth of a child usually marks a good time to set up a will. Below are some useful links.
- Birth Registration (including Birth Certificate, Social Insurance Number, and Canada Child Benefits)
- Centralized Waitlist for Licensed Childcare
- Child care fee subsidy for the City of London and Middlesex County
It really does take a village. Will you have close family members or friends that can help you after baby is born? Discuss with your partner how you think they can be helpful for you and share these expectations with them. It is also a good idea to become familiar with what community resources you have that you might be able to draw on if needed. Doing this work now gets you one step closer to help if/when you need it. Below are some helpful links for supports in London-Middlesex to help you get started.
- Health Connection (Speak to a Public Health Nurse at MLHU)
- Tele-Health (After hours telephone support including breastfeeding support)
- Prenatal Education
- Nurse-Family Partnership
- Breastfeeding home visits
- Healthy Start Infant Drop-Ins
- Information on programs, services and resources in the London and Middlesex area
Last modified on: January 30, 2020
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- The Gottman Institute - The Four Horsemen
- The Gottman Institute - Conflict Management
- The Gottman Institute - Parenting and Emotion Coaching
- The Gottman Institute - Bringing Baby Home
- The Gottman Institute - State of the Union
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- Ontario Maternity Benefits Program
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- Starting a family
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