Top tips for making sure that your relationship survives the journey to parenthood

A guest blog post from Dr Fin Williams, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist who has worked with children and families in the NHS for over 10 years

Congratulations! You are on your way to parenthood. Whether you are already pregnant with your baby, or pregnant with hope for one, you have together decided that you want to be more than just the two of you.

That’s great! And to reassure you, I have never met any parent who regrets having a child – no matter how difficult the journey.

So how do you pack for a journey of mixed weather? Well here are some tools that you might want to keep in your suitcase.

1)     A paper bag – to breathe into

When you are parents, your roles will change from how things are now. Firstly, there is another person to care for and more often than not, mothers – even if they continue a professional career – still do the majority of the caring. Know how you feel about this before your baby arrives. Is it ok? Try and talk about how your roles will change and how you both feel about this. If you haven’t talked about it, you may find that as your partner hasn’t had 9 months of having to adjust physically and emotionally, that he kind of thinks he can carry on with his mountain biking and Friday nights out just the same way as before. This is like relationship touch paper: woomph and there are flames.

Secondly, bear in mind that this journey can be exhausting. Sleep deprivation damages your ability to reason, and express yourself in a way that others can hear and respond to. Don’t underestimate it. Take the paper bag –breathe, and communicate your needs.

2)     Plasters – because someone is going to get hurt

So here’s the thing: No one gets it right all of the time – not as a wife, husband, girlfriend, mother, father, partner etc. You are human. That’s ok. Take it from a Psychologist – a very wise person once said, it is not the rupture that matters, but the repair. You will hurt one another – there will be things that you say and do that upset the other person. Shock – you will even get it wrong as parents. If you can practice walking away, taking some time to really try and look at the situation from as many perspectives as you can think of (try our Parent Forum to get lots of other perspectives!) and really empathise with the other person’s feelings, then you can repair. Come back and acknowledge the upset between you (because communication exists between people, not within one person) and move forward. Remember that lots of small cuts that aren’t healed, add up to a lot of blood loss over time, and something that needs way more than just a plaster. Don’t ignore them.

3)     High heels / formal shoes: because no journey should just be about plodding along

Ok so, when you are parents, you will find that whilst you adjust to your new roles – and try to adjust to sleep deprivation – your favourite activity may involve Netflix, the sofa, and chocolate. This is great, but not all of the time.  As clichéd as it sounds, there is real value in making sure that as soon as you can, you leave your baby for a couple of hours in the evening with someone you trust, and go down the road for a meal, or do something that you used to do as a couple before your baby arrived. Just as you are spending time with your baby and building that relationship as a family, you also need to allow yourselves some time together as a couple.

4)     A Fortune Cookie – because sometimes you are going to need a little faith.

Life is about uncertainty, and never are things more uncertain than when you become parents. Why? Well, despite the rows of books, there is no manual for parenting. Whilst every baby will share the same basic needs, your relationship with your baby will be unique to you. How you respond to your baby’s cues and cries is based on your own early experiences of relationships and how you were responded to – these early experiences shape our brains and determine how we understand and behave in all of our other relationships – including our children. More often than not, trying to digest and learn a set of ‘techniques’ is more likely to trip you up and tie you in knots than actually resolve any challenges. Around 60% of us had parents who were able to figure out what our cues and cries meant in order to respond in a good enough way. Good research evidence suggests that therefore around 60% of us will muddle through the same way. 40% of us will therefore find it more challenging. You will need a good dose of faith. Find out how you are likely to respond to your baby in our discover section: Find your perspective

Learn how to draw from your strengths, and get support for the challenges.

5)     Pack a journal: No journey is complete without the opportunity to record it. Whether this is purely through photographs, or with written record, the opportunity to write down what is happening and how you feel about it, gives you the chance to take your thoughts that feel jumbled and often upsetting, and organise them in front of you. Journaling has really good evidence as a tool to help you make sense of your experiences, and help you to put them somewhere other than swirling around in your head, where they get in the way of you really being able to be present for the experience

Oh and one last thing!

Don’t forget to pack a coat! There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing! Think about it. For more tips on suitcases and journeys – download the Toolkit

Safe journey

Dr Fin x