Loss of how things used to be

27 March 2012

Feeling you have lost the way things used to be can cause problems in a relationship. This is particularly so for new parents – but for a relationship to work couples have accept that ‘all’ relationships change and adapt over time.

A new baby is such an exciting event and brings so many positives it’s easy to see why couples expect to feel happier together. It can come as a real shock to find that you are not getting on. But research shows this is normal – parenthood is often the most difficult transition anyone will have to make.

Struggling with new roles

Many new mothers struggle to maintain a clear sense of who they are when they first become a parent. They have to get used to new identity, and sometimes the other roles in life become secondary, at least at first.

They may also find it difficult to adjust to changes in their body: weight, stretch marks, sagging and scarring; or find the demands of breastfeeding difficult – leaving them feeling unattractive and alienated from their body.

However, while some mothers and fathers may regret the loss of their old selves, others are happy with their new identity.

Loss of freedom

The demands of having a new baby to look after can put a stop any sense of still having any individual freedom. Many parents struggle with not being able to come and go as they please, to go out, and to enjoy their own interests.

The regularity of life with children – mealtimes, nap times and bedtimes – with no letup can feel very suffocating for some parents and takes a lot of adjusting to.

Changes to other relationships

Having a baby also changes relationships with other people, both family, friends, parents and in-laws

Many couples find they develop a stronger bond with their own parents and the in-laws as they rely on their support with childcare but also the enjoyment of a shared interest in the baby. But it isn’t all plain sailing. There are often difficulties with partners’ families – mothers who won’t ‘let go’ of their son or daughter, or interfere with the couple’s way of doing things. Some couples struggle with interference or criticism from their parents, and already difficult relationships may become worse.

Some partners want to go back to traditions and ways of doing things that they were brought up with, leading to a ‘your family’ and ‘my family’ competition.

New parenthood can stir up past childhood experiences and feelings and it may also stir up past memories of parenting in the new grandparents.

If you have difficulties with parents, it’s often best to discuss them first with your partner and work out what you’re going to say to them as a united front. Always trying to not to let in-laws or parents create more difficulties in your relationship with your partner.

Relationships with friends

It can be difficult to keep up with ‘pre-baby’ friends. They have different schedules and may not understand the demands on time especially in the early days. But having a baby gives many opportunities to make new friends with other new parents which can be a great source of advice and support.

What else helps

Looking after yourself this means eating well, resting when you can, exercising if possible, but most importantly recognising that things should get easier.

Take time to enjoy your baby

Meeting others – being with a baby can be lonely and isolating. Meeting other new parents can provide support or just someone to talk to from time to time. Health visitors will often know of local groups, or local Children’s Centre, library, NCT group, church, mosque, temple or synagogue.

Not expecting too much of yourself – you, your partner and your family are the most important thing to care about, especially when the baby is small. Not worrying about the housework or cooking fancy meals. Most other things can wait.

Taking time to enjoy your baby – as parents of older children say, the time when your baby is small will fly by (although it may not seem like it!). It won’t be long before they’re off to school or leaving home.