Tag Archives: Motherhood

My Non-Birth Story Is A Story Of Birth: A Tale Of How (Some) Women & Men Become Parents

I was honored when Thrive Center for Birth & Family Wellness invited me to join their storytelling event–Stories from the Birth Room–in 2015 and, again, in 2016. As if that weren’t fabulous enough, Thrive is publishing a magazine, in which my story will appear. I recorded an audio version to celebrate the occasion. Click the arrow to listen. Enjoy! Keep scrolling for free resources for expecting couples, parents, and birth professionals.

Expecting a baby? Devoted to nurturing your child and your relationship? Type “FREE tips on Surviving the 4th Trimester and Beyond!” in the Comment box.

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Parent Peer Pressure: What Is It and How Do We Deal With It?

Over the last year, I’ve collected clippings that detail research on diverse topics, like weight gain and physical fitness, with a common theme: the effect of our social networks–actual friends, not just Facebook ones–on our experiences.

For many of us, the influence of peers is most intense (or most obviously so) when we’re in school, especially as teens. But the truth is that during adulthood, our friends’ behaviors and attitudes can remain powerful.

Take weight gain, for example. In 2007, researchers from Harvard and UC-San Diego reported that obesity isn’t just spreading in the United States; it might actually be contagious. Specifically, being friends with someone who becomes obese—even if they live elsewhere—can increase our own chances of obesity by up to 171%, especially if they’re close pals. By the way, if our spouses or siblings become obese, our risk increases by far less, a “mere” 37-40%.

In case you think this phenomenon applies solely to weight (or fitness, as cited in a recent study by the US Air Force), it turns out that divorce is also infectious. According to research at Brown University, regardless of how far away they live, a close friend’s divorce increases our own risk by as much as 75%, while a sibling’s marital split bumps the risk of our getting divorced by 22%.

Why the higher impact of friends? According to Dr. James Fowler, one of the authors of the study on obesity:

We look to friends more than spouses or family to gauge acceptable social behavior.

So if our friends (and to a lesser degree family) can have a powerful effect on our weight, physical fitness, and likelihood of staying (or not staying) married, what impact might they have on our co-parenting? Specifically, how might friendships affect how we divide household and childcare responsibilities with our spouses?

I mention this topic because my coaching clients often cite housework and parenting duties as stressors on their relationships. In fact, division of labor is one of the Top 3 topics about which straight parents* argue most (the other 2 are kids and money).

The frequency of conflict over housework and childcare isn’t surprising, given that even in dual-income heterosexual households in the United States (and I suspect Canada, too),  moms tackle about twice as much of the household labor, and anywhere from 3 to 4 times the childcare as dads do on average.

These data are especially striking because it’s not unusual for expecting couples, in which both spouses plan to continue working outside the home after their babies arrive, to declare best intentions about sharing parenting duties equally or close to it. Yet, many end up lapsing into a mom-does-more-than-dad mode.

There are, no doubt, many factors that influence housework and childcare once we’re parents. They include employer attitudes that privilege the importance of men’s over women’s jobs, the fact that men still earn more on average than women (combined with the belief that earnings should determine who does or doesn’t do what at home), and enduring cultural ideals of motherhood that dictate mom-knows-best and dad-knows-least.

Plus, according to Mount Holyoke psychology professor, Francine M. Deutsch, who researches what she calls “equally shared parenting; the effort by some couples to equitably divide paid work, housework and parenting responsibilities:

The most predictive factor of how equal a couple will be is how equal their friends are. 

While I’m certain that peer-influence doesn’t operate in a vacuum, in the absence of quickly resolving the broader cultural factors noted earlier, how can our friendships better support our co-parenting efforts? Meaning, if we want a more equitable division of labor with spouses, how do we limit the impact on us of our friends’ inequities?

One option, of course, is to ditch our current friends. Not gonna happen, so here are some other options:

(1) Actively cultivate friendships with those who believe (and act on beliefs) that it’s not just important but doable for spouses to share more housework/childcare.

(2) Shift conversations with friends from complaining about spouses—e.g., wives sometimes kvetch about how little their husbands do; husbands sometimes bemoan their wives’ criticisms of what they do—to developing strategies to empower spouses to contribute more equitably, to feel good about what we both do, and to inspire a team attitude to housework &/or childcare.

(3) Chat with spouses about the possible influence of peers, and try to shift the lens from friends’ approaches to our own so that, together, we design a division of labor that’s true to our joint/compromised vision for our family and relationship.

Adopting any of these approaches requires a few ground-rules (feel free to come up with more, as you and your spouse see fit):

Both parents already know how, or are capable of learning on their own, to perform childcare and housework duties.

Our styles of parenting or doing housework might differ. 

There’s no one right way to parent or do housework. 

Unless our children’s safety or wellbeing is at stake, or our home is in ruins, support co-parents’ childcare and housework styles, without unsolicited advice, judgment or intervention.

While our friends’ behaviors and attitudes don’t always determine our own, it’s likely they are influential. Evaluating how our friends’ behaviors are in sync and out of sync with what we want for our marriages and families, not only increases our awareness of the external factors impacting us, it also empowers us to improve our relationships and co-parenting.

* Research suggests that, overall, the division of housework is more equitable among gay and lesbian couples, and that when lesbian moms argue about childcare, their focus is on wanting more time with their kids versus dissatisfaction with how little time their spouse devotes to childcare.

Helping New Dads Transition to Parenthood

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I was telling a friend who has three kids—and works with pregnant women during delivery & postpartum—that I’ve heard a few new dads share the following:

It was hard for me to deal with my wife’s total focus on our newborn. It seemed like our relationship no longer existed for her, and I felt useless with our baby.

How did my friend respond? She said those dads are immature; they need to grow up and embrace parenthood, and accept changes in their relationship.

I couldn’t disagree more; not about adapting to the role of parent or tackling relationship changes, but about her belief that these guys’ reactions signal immaturity, and her assumption that their shifts are (or should be) seamless.

There are lots of good reasons—physiological, psychological, historical*—that most women who give birth turn their attention fully to their babies, not least of which is the fact that they’ve likely spent a lot of the preceding 9+ months tending to, connecting with, or at least curious about the child/ren they’ve been carrying.

Plus, hormones heighten most moms’ emotional bonding with newborns and literally trigger physical responses, like lactation, that enhance that connection and, in the case of breastfeeding, often decrease sexual desire.

While bonding with infants is assumed to be a natural phenomenon for mothers who give birth (indeed, for all women), we’ve staked a claim to the desirability of fathers bonding with their kids only in recent decades.

Despite that claim, baby- & birth-prep classes remain so focused on moms and babies that some men wonder why they’re there, or wish they were integrated more, or that their exclusion were acknowledged and understood as potentially challenging.

Don’t get me wrong. Lots of new dads make these shifts smoothly, but those who don’t—and I might add, women who don’t (not those with postpartum depression, but those who, for example, prefer older kids to newborns, or don’t like being pregnant)—often find themselves in hostile territory if they admit what they really feel.

What to do? In the absence of revamping the way baby- and birth-prep classes are taught—which I’d love to do, by the way, to be more inclusive of dads/spouses and to address relationship changes post-kids—here are some preliminary ideas:

1)   There’s a Relationship Coaching concept called Deep Democracy: all voices—even and especially unpopular ones—need to be heard on a topic. So my first suggestion is that we encourage expecting and new dads, and expecting and new moms, too, to voice a full gamut of opinions and feelings about their experiences, even if those opinions make us uncomfortable or aren’t socially acceptable.

Just because we express an opinion does not mean we won’t be attentive parents or spouses; what it means is we need to express ourselves and deserve to have our feelings understood (even if you don’t agree with us).

2)  If you’re expecting a first, or second, or third child, consider writing a short letter to yourself (yes, you read that correctly), to your relationship and your spouse (I suggest both of you do this), in which you fill in the blanks (see below).

Why a letter? So if either or both of you feel alienated from your experience as a new parent, or from each other, you’ll have a quick way to try to reconnect:

What I want for myself as a new parent is [fill in the blank].

If I don’t feel what I want to feel, as a new parent right away I want to support myself by [fill in the blank].

If you don’t feel what you want to feel, as a new parent right away, I want to support you by [fill in the blank].

What I appreciate most about our relationship is [fill in the blank].

Some of the things I appreciate most about you are [fill in the blank].

What I want for us, as a couple, after our baby arrives is [fill in the blank].

What I want you to remember about how I feel about you, even if I don’t have the time or energy to tell you after the baby’s here, is [fill in the blank].

3) Heck, even if your baby or toddler or older kid/s’ already here, try to find a few minutes to write that letter anyway!

When you’ve finished your letters, give each other a copy. Put your letter and the one your spouse wrote in a place where you’ll be able to access them again easily, in case you need to be reminded of your connection with each other and yourself, and need some support in navigating the challenges of parenthood.

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* I can’t resist noting that our ideas about motherhood and fatherhood are impacted as much by history, as other factors. Here’s an interesting piece about that history in the United States: http://bit.ly/eG78ty.