Becoming a parent is, in many ways, a radical change to your identity. You and your partner go from being a couple to a family. You go from being primarily responsible for yourself to responsible for another human being. This can be an invigorating and life affirming experience – but it can come with a range of challenges too, both for you as individuals and for your relationship.
It’s important to be prepared. Navigating through the more challenging parts of parenting will be much easier if you have made preparations for the coming event.
Talking through how things might change in your relationship and renegotiating these changes will be pivotal to how you deal with these issues when the time comes.
For example, how do you share out the household responsibilities like food shopping, laundry and cleaning? Perhaps one of you did all that before, but with the baby bringing a whole new ‘to do’ list, how can you redistribute those tasks between you more evenly?
And little things can make a huge difference, like how might you manage your schedules so you can take turns to have a sleep in on the weekend while your partner gets up with the baby.
It’s never too early or too late to have these conversations.
Allowing for each other’s parenting style
Many of our ideas and attitudes on parenting are influenced heavily by what we experienced growing up. We may want to either reproduce our own childhood for our children – or do quite the opposite, and give them the things we never had.
As we all have different upbringings, this often means that different people will have very different parenting styles. Seeing that your partner is far stricter with your children than you ever would have expected – or hearing surprising opinions on schooling or nutrition – can be odd or even disconcerting.
Up until this point, of becoming parents you will have been seeing each other as partners and suddenly you see each other in this new role, it may be the first time that you discover things about each other’s childhood and this can bring surprises.
But instead of butting heads over parenting styles, it’s much better to try to first understand each other. You may find that when you talk to your partner about why they believe certain things or act in certain ways when it comes to children, you’re more willing to work with them or negotiate around differences.
They may be acting for what they believe are the right reasons – instilling values that they found helpful when they were growing up, or trying to avoid negative circumstances that they saw play out in their own families. Once you have you a better understanding of where each other is coming from, it can be much easier to take a sympathetic view of each other’s parenting style, and adapt so you can work together as a team.
As children get older
As children get older, so can the dynamics playing out in your family and between you and your partner change and develop. Again, your and your partner’s parenting styles may continue to differ – and may continue to be influenced by your own experiences at the child’s corresponding age.
For instance, while you may feel willing to forgive certain behaviours in your teenage son or daughter, having gone through something similar your own age, your partner may find them worrying or upsetting. Again, openness and communication will remain key – making sure that you and your partner are able to talk through any disagreements and appreciate each other’s perspective so you can adapt, negotiate and cooperate.
Older children are also likely to begin to assert their own independence. It’s no secret that this can create conflict. It’s common for teenagers to feel smothered or patronised by parents who still speak to them as if they’re four or five years younger. And for those parents, who feel they’re simply acting as they always have, to feel disrespected or rebuffed by their teenager’s angry reactions.
At times, this might call for a re-negotiation of boundaries. While your children getting older can make things harder in some ways, it can also open up new opportunities – such as being able to talk more directly and openly with them. If you feel you and your teenager could do with a chance to talk over what each of you is finding difficult or frustrating, then it’s often a good idea to do just that – and sit down and have a chat.
Dealing with unresolved issues from our own lives
In some cases, we may find that, as our children get older, it brings up unresolved emotions or issues that relate to that age in our own lives.
It’s not uncommon for some parents to feel a little jealous of their children – especially if they feel that they have advantages or access to experiences that they themselves never did. Conversely, many parents may try to live vicariously through their children – encouraging them to take the opportunities they never did, even if these aren’t necessarily the opportunities the child themselves wants to take. And sometimes, seeing how you interact with your own children can bring up memories of similar interactions with your own parents – memories that you may find confusing or upsetting.
It can be difficult to deal with these kinds of ideas, as they often take us by surprise, or speak to feelings that we didn’t even realise we had. It can be useful to talk these things through with someone you trust – your partner, a family member or a close friend. In many cases, just speaking out loud about what we’re feeling can allow us to understand it better and think about ways to address it.
In other cases, we might benefit from professional help – speaking to a counsellor can help us work out some of the difficult thoughts and feelings we may be having.
Check in with friends- Maintaining good relationships with friends and family is one of the most important factors in maintaining good mental health. New ‘parent friends’ can be great for both you and your children but sometimes old friends are the only ones who you can really confide in, have a laugh with, and make you feel better about yourself. Of course, meeting face-to-face may not always be possible but scheduling a regular call once your children are in bed or doing their homework can make all the difference.
It’s okay to say ‘no’
Often when we’re struggling, it may feel hard to balance how we’re feeling with the expectations that may be placed on us by ourselves or our family. There is lots of advice about setting healthy boundaries and interpersonal effectiveness worksheets online which can help you communicate your needs without seeming aggressive or feeling guilty about neglecting the needs of others. Remember you have the right to say yes or no without having to explain your reasons.