Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

Conversations for Expectant Parents - Part 1

There are a million and one things I wish I had known before becoming a parent; how to put a breast pump together, how to decipher between hungry tears or tired tears, how to manage sleep deprivation without screaming at my spouse, how and when to introduce solid foods successfully. The list goes on and on; the fact is, most of this stuff is learned “on the job” - and that can be hard to prepare for (especially because so many things will be unique to your family and your baby.)

However, there are a few topics that I think every soon-to-be parent would benefit from spending time talking with their partner and thinking about, so that when the time comes, less of your precious energy is spending working through these logistics and making hard decisions, and more of it can be focused on taking care of yourself, your partner, and your new baby.

This is Part One of a two-part series in which I’ll introduce my first 3 topics: Birth Plan & Preparation, Feeding (Breast & Bottle), and Support & Family; I’ve included open-ended questions related to each of these areas in the hopes that it helps you to get the conversation started!

Birth Plan & Preparation

There is often great emphasis on this aspect of the pregnancy; in the US, our medical model requires multiple check ups with doctors and birthing professionals, and even, preparatory classes focused specifically on labor and the birthing process. Of course, these are exceptionally helpful, but I fear they can also give women a false sense of control over a process that requires flexibility, and potentially a last minute change.

There can also be a great amount of shame and pressure attached to this process; some women feel judged for their choices - whether it is the choice to birth without the use of medication, or the choice to use medication and/or an epidural. There is even shame attached to cesarean births - when a mother feels like a failure for not being able to have a vaginal birth or feels like her meticulous birthing plan has already gone awry.

One lovely and comforting response to this topic comes from doula Erica Chidi Cohen & author of Nurture, (one of my favorite pregnancy resources). She writes:

Currently, the term ‘natural birth’ creates more division than cohesion between women, which is what I think makes it problematic. ‘Natural’ is not an explanatory term and it doesn’t give women agency to optimize their birthing experience, especially for the predominant number of births taking place in hospitals. You can advocate for yourself better by using the real terms. When I hear a client say they would like to have a ‘natural birth’ or ‘I’m trying to birth as naturally as possible,’ one of the first things I’ll say to them is, ‘However you’re going to move through this process is going to be natural to you.’ No matter what a birth ends up looking like, there’s nothing unnatural about it, because it’s natural for women to be pregnant and have a baby” (emphasis mine)

Discussion questions:

- Do I have either spoken or unspoken expectations of myself or my partner around labor?

- Do I have beliefs or fears around the use of medications or epidurals?

- How can my partner support me during my labor and during our hospital stay? (this is one that can be explored more usefully through resources/birthing classes)

- Who do we want in the room? Who would we like to have at the hospital?

- Where do we want to give birth? (Nurture has an excellent section on making this decision and weighing the trade offs for hospital vs. at home births.) Do we agree on this?

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding

Recently there has been a more open, honest dialogue about the challenges and potential difficulties related to breastfeeding. It can be painful, not intuitive, and sometimes, women require the help of a professional to teach them how to breastfeed their baby. Most of us no longer live in communities where multiple new mothers gather together at once, taken care of by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. We are more isolated now that we have ever been in human history, and this is one area of motherhood where we see the impact.

Over recent decades there have been significant policy shifts on the breastfeeding vs. formula debate, and the impacts connected to each choice. Currently, there is a significant push from pediatricians and medical professionals to breastfeed at least until your child turns one (American Academy of Pediatrics.) However, it is important to note, that this is not the model of all developed nations, and this is often not an option (or a desire) for many women.

(I really love this resource: Fed is Best, which offers resources and support to women who are breastfeeding, bottle feeding or a combination of both!)

Discussion questions:

- Do you have spoken or unspoken expectations of yourself or your partner as it relates to feeding your newborn?

- Do you have deeply held preferences or beliefs around the choice between breast milk and formula?

- What are your beliefs around who makes these decisions? Does mom/birthing parent have veto power/ultimate choice, or is this ultimately a team decision?

- Do you know how you were fed as a child? How long did your mother breastfeed, if ever? Does that impact your decision?

- Do you plan to take a breastfeeding course, or hire a lactation consultant to help in this endeavor?

- What are ways that non-birthing parent/father can support breastfeeding partner/mom in her goals, whatever they may be?

Support & Family

There are countless models for how to incorporate family, in-laws and support systems into the arrival of your baby. Some parents want their own parents in the delivery room, some feel more comfortable with the waiting room of the hospital, and some would prefer for their family and friends to wait until they are home for a visit. There is no right answer… and it can be hard to know what you will want because (likely) you’ve never been in this situation before.

Three ideas from my own experience (that will not fit for everyone, but can give ideas!)

1. I once read the advice that after the baby comes there are no guests, just helpers (I wish I remembered who deserves credit for this line!) Meaning, if people would like to come and meet the baby, give them a job, ask them for some help, even in a small way. Perhaps, can you bring over some lunch? Would you mind walking the dog? Can you sit with the baby while I shower? Can you clean the dishes in the sink? This may feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially for those of us who struggle with asking for help - but, I can assure you, that is what your friends and family are there for, and they are happy to do it. [Extra helpful, if non birthing partner/Dad can take this on, that way, birthing partner doesn’t have to use her energy or bandwidth to think about it, especially in the early days and/or if she is breastfeeding around the clock.]

● Another point to mention; in the early days and weeks, mostly if you decide to breastfeed, the majority of the baby work will fall to the birthing parent/mom; much of the help in the early days is helping to take care of YOU (nutrition, shower, sleep, a few minutes to yourself), and your home/pets/other children/etc. Keep this in mind when you think about who can come to help you and how!

2. Create a meal train! Perhaps you’ve heard of this service - you can create a signup sheet for family and friends to bring you meals at your preferred times/dates. They can either drop off the meals or, they can stay and enjoy the food with you! We did this for our closest friends, creating opportunities for them to come over and meet the baby, and cook dinner for all of us to share together. It was a stress-free and lovely way to reconnect with our people and community and it felt a bit like hosting a dinner (without the cooking part!)

3. Be clear about your boundaries and needs. Every family has a different culture around this time; discuss with your partner what you think you will need and how much you can handle. For us, this meant, staggering visits from friends and family so that we wouldn’t be without help for the first 4-6 weeks, but we would never have more than 2-3 people visiting at one time. This will look different for everyone, but it may be helpful to create a calendar for visitors, and this is another task that non birthing partner/Dad can manage and coordinate, in order to take it off of birthing partner/Mom’s plate in the early days and weeks. It is also helpful to be clear with visitors and guests, especially if they are visiting from out of town, that you are a) either happy to host them, or b) prefer that they stay in a hotel/airbnb/with a friend etc.

Discussion questions:

- Do you have hopes or expectations for who will be around during or closely following the birth?

- Are there religious or cultural rituals/practices and expectations that need to be planned and accounted for in the early days and weeks? Who can help you organize them?

- How do you feel about visitors - staying with you, and for how long? How many people at one time would feel comfortable?

- Do you have members of your family who can be helpful at specific tasks? (ie. a great cook in the family can make dinner for everyone during their visit! Dog lovers can be in charge of walking the dog!)

- How do you want to navigate this and communicate it to friends and family? Does non birthing partner/Dad feel comfortable managing these communications, even with non family members or in-laws?

I hope this was helpful and can be a catalyst for further conversation between you and your partner / co-parent. The next conversation topics will focus on Finances, Maternity & Paternity Leave, and the Childcare transition. Keep an eye out for Part 2 in the coming weeks!

You can read more Transition to Parenthood posts, here:

- Postpartum Depression

- Becoming a Mother

- Couple & Co-Parent Conflict

- Sex after Baby

- The First Year of Parenthood

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Keep Calm and Fight Fair

BY CAITLIN NELSON, AMFT

 

Every couple will experience conflict in their relationship, no matter how happy they are together. Research done by John Gottman and Robert Levenson found that 69% of conflict in relationships is about unresolvable, perpetual problems based on differences between partners (Gottman). They also found that stable couples experience 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction, while that ratio for unstable couples is 0.8:1. So what does this information tell us about conflict in relationships? Simply put, conflict is inevitable and manageable. So let’s learn how to manage it!

Step one to learning how to manage conflict is identifying that you are angry. Often before we can even recognize that we are angry, our bodies already know. Our heart is beating faster, our thoughts are racing, our muscles are tense, our faces are red - we are physiologically activated. Pay attention to these sensations, as they are your body letting you know you’ve reached your emotional threshold. Aka your point of no return.

Once you are able to identify that you are angry, it’s time to learn how to calm yourself back down. Why? Because reaching your emotional threshold puts you on auto-pilot, meaning you lose your ability to choose your reaction to your partner. This means that any chance of having a productive conversation is lost. If you want to hear and be heard, you need to come back to a calm state. You can do this by taking a few good deep breaths or by taking a walk (if leaving is agreed to be non-threatening by both partners).

Once you have gotten yourself feeling a little calmer, it’s time for some self-reflection. Try and identify what caused your anger. Were you feeling misunderstood, judged, blamed, hurt? These are the feelings to share with your partner. It’s easier to connect when we share softer emotions, rather than our harsh anger. In order to share those softer emotions with your partner, you need to agree upon a time and place to try again. Check in about a good time to revisit the conversation. Lastly, remind yourself that you and your partner are on a team, that there are positives to your partner and your relationship with them. This will help you soften more towards your partner, rather than revamping your side of the argument.

Ok, so now you’re calm and you’ve established a time to try again. Here are a few things to try when sharing your perspective with your partner.

 DO use “I-Statements.” These are statements that share your feelings in a non-accusatory way and propose a solution. They are the opposite of “you-statements,” which place our partner on the defense and assign blame.

You-statement : “You are always so inconsiderate! Why can’t you just come home when you say you will?!”

I-Statement : I feel anxious when I haven’t heard from you when you’re out. Could we set up a check-in system?

DON’T assassinate your partner’s character. This escalates the conflict and gets you farther away from sharing your perspective and working towards resolution.

DON’T call your partner names. This escalates the conflict and puts your partner on the defensive.

DON’T use the words always or never. This derails the conversation and allows more opportunity for further debate.

DO continue taking deep breaths throughout the conversation. This keeps you in control of your reactions and further away from your emotional threshold.

If you can begin implementing some of these tactics, your ability to manage conflict within your relationship will continue to become more and more effective, and easier to do consistently.

 

 

The Right Way to Say You're Wrong

By Caitlin Nelson, AMFT

By Caitlin Nelson, AMFT

Saying “I’m sorry” seems so simple and yet, it doesn’t always feel that way. More often than not, it is connected to immense difficulty and feelings of dread. It is much easier for us to justify why we don’t need to apologize, why the other person is at fault, and why we should actually be the one receiving the apology. The problem with this mindset is that it leaves no room for personal accountability, which is a necessity for engaging in a meaningful relationship. Genuine apologies offer reconciliation and reconnection after a hurt has impacted the relationship. Our ability to take ownership of how we have hurt someone and offer an apology addressing that hurt, without needing to justify our behavior, allows us to truly repair our relationships. Now, how can we make sure we are doing that?

In Harriet Lerner’s new book, “Why Won’t You Apologize,” she goes into great detail about the do’s and don’ts of a genuine apology. There are many ways we can mess up an apology, even when we are truly trying. Lerner explains them as follows:

1.     Using the word “but”

This is a very common add-on and while it attempts to explain our behavior and why it makes sense given the situation, it also completely negates our apology.

Example: I’m sorry I was rude, but you weren’t listening to me.

Try Instead: I’m sorry I was rude. That was uncalled for and I will be more respectful next time.

2.     Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way”

This pseudo-apology shifts the focus from your actions to the other person’s response. It is not taking accountability for your part in the interaction, and places the blame on the other person.

Example: I’m sorry you felt embarrassed when I pointed out your mistake at the party.

Try Instead: I’m sorry I pointed out your mistake at the party. That was not thoughtful of me and I won’t do it again.

3.     Saying, “I’m sorry if…”

The word “if” implies the other person needs to rethink their response and can often seem condescending. It again skirts away from taking responsibility for our actions.

Example: I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said.

Try Instead: What I said was offensive. I’m sorry I was insensitive and I will be more mindful moving forward.

4.     Confusing what needs to be apologized for

This is a common occurrence in relationships where people are held responsible for the other person’s feelings and behaviors, rather than their own.

Example: I’m sorry for giving you a headache.

Try Instead: I’m sorry for not turning down the TV when I knew you had a headache.

5.     Asking for forgiveness too soon

Often when we work up the nerve to apologize, we feel the need to know that we are forgiven. This is a normal feeling. We want to know that the relationship has been restored. But when we ask for forgiveness too soon after an apology, we take away the space for the other person to fully process our apology, as well as the emotional hurt they are experiencing. This can make the other person feel rushed and sometimes even hurt again.

Example: I’m sorry I made a decision about our finances without including you. I know we’ve talked about that before. Forgive me?

Try Instead: I’m sorry I made a decision about our finances without including you. I know when I do that I hurt you and we’ve talked about that before. I understand if it takes some time for you to not be upset with me anymore. Let me know if there is anything I can do.

6.     Being intrusive with our need to apologize

This is when we continue trying to apologize before the other person is ready to hear from us. It often occurs with bigger betrayals and involves the hurt person drawing clear boundaries around no further communication. When we become intrusive with apologizing, we place our need to soothe our own anxiety about hurting someone above actually soothing the person we hurt.

Example: I know you said you didn’t want to talk to me anymore, but I need to know we’re ok; I’m sorry.

Try Instead: Not apologizing after the other person has made it clear they are not ready to communicate.

Lerner reminds us that an apology is us taking responsibility for our actions and soothing the other person’s hurt. It is not the time to discuss our grievances or make it about our pain. There will always be another time to bring those topics up. She challenges us to truly listen to someone when they bring us their pain, even when faced with things that are hard to hear. To do this, she recommends recognizing our defensiveness, soothing ourselves with deep breathing, asking questions when we don’t understand, refraining from debating facts and letting the hurt party know we hear them.

Lerner emphasizes the importance of truly listening to someone, as an apology will not be as effective if we haven’t understood the pain we have caused. Lerner also challenges us to accept the olive branch that is an apology when we have been the ones hurt. A genuine apology is a bid for connection, and when executed well and received well, it begins the healing process necessary to strengthen relationships.

Try to become more aware of how you apologize and where you need to tweak. My guess is, the better you become at apologizing, the more likely you will begin receiving genuine apologies in return, further cultivating positive change in your relationship.

Languages of Love

By Caitlin Nelson, AMFT

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I find myself reflecting on the desire to let our partner know we care, to show them love, and the frustrating difficulty we can have doing so. We can put out our best effort and still be heartbreakingly disappointed when our partner does not respond the way we expected. What we often don’t realize is that our partner may not receive love or affection in the same way we prefer to express it. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, explains this difference in what he has coined “love languages,” and highlights the importance in being able to speak your partner’s love language. He lays them out as follows:

1.     Words of Affirmation : Verbal compliments and appreciations

2.     Quality Time : Spending undivided and undistracted time together

3.     Receiving Gifts : Tangible, visible symbols of thoughtfulness

4.     Acts of Service : Utilizing action to demonstrate love

5.     Physical Touch : Needing touch to feel loved and valued

Chapman goes on to discuss that we all have a primary love language and a secondary love language, and that similar to spoken language, love languages all have multiple dialectics through which to express affection. This is where we get to be creative with how we show our partner love! There is no “right way” to love our partner within their love language. What’s important is holding a curiosity for how your partner receives love. If their primary love language is physical touch, do they prefer cuddling before bed, or quick hugs throughout the day? Get to know the way your partner receives love and strive to implement their language as a new practice in your relationship!

The more we can love our partners in the way they receive love, rather than they way we receive love, the less likely it is that we will be disappointed when we express our love.

Take this short quiz to identify your primary and secondary love languages and share your results with your partner! : http://www.5lovelanguages.com

*These love languages are applicable in all relationships in our lives, not simply romantic ones. 

The Meaning We Make

By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

I recently read an article written by a New York City based Marriage and Family Therapist, Esther Perel, who touched on so much of what I see both personally and professionally when it comes to relationship conflict.   The article, titled, “How to Stop Having the Same Fight With Your Boyfriend All the Time”, addressed different dynamics that play into frequent arguments for couples. I couldn’t help but ask myself “what is the meaning we make in conflict with our partners”?

While providing relationship therapy to couples of all different walks of life, I find that I am often addressing the common issue of repetitive arguments. Are we really talking about who is taking out the trash?   It is so easy to get caught up in content.  Content refers to language, circumstances and events within a relational argument. 

It is hard work to take that step back and look at the meaning underneath it all.  I often refer to this meaning as as Process.  Going back to our original question of “are we really talking about who is taking out the trash?”, the initial response might be “yes, yes it is important!”.  The reality is that the messages underneath it all are so much more powerful when it comes to implementing lasting change.   When I hear “the things we argue around are small and don’t hold much meaning” I will quickly point out this idea of Process VS Content to explore the meaning we make through our conflict. 

Here are some things to pay attention to as you switch gears from “content” to “process”. 

1.     “I STATEMENTS”

“I statements” work towards removing blame while creating an opportunity to identify and express thoughts and feelings. When you do “X”, it makes me think “Y” and feel “Z”.  X represents the content while Y and Z represent the process and meaning that is taken away.

Let’s go back to that same couple that often argues about the trash and switch gears to express the meaning made from this issue.  “When I see you haven’t taken out the trash “X” it makes me think “Y” our family home is not a priority to you, and makes me feel “Z” unloved and unappreciated.  Not only does this statement express meaning to the listener, it also helps the speaker identify what meaning they are taking in during conflict. 

2.      VALIDATION

Validation is not necessarily saying that you AGREE or UNDERSTAND your partner, but it is showing a level of respect, care and curiosity of what they might be expressing to you.  For example, responding to the above I statement with “I see where you are coming from” or “I appreciate you sharing your feelings with me” is much different than jumping directly into explanation or defense.  A healthy process includes validation and the willingness to accept one another’s experiences regardless of intent. 

3.     PRACTICE

I will often implement weekly check-ins with couples in order to intentionally practice looking deeper into the process within their relationship.  Making changes in our lives doesn’t come easy or naturally most of the time and we need to be patient with one another and ourselves in order to implement lasting change!  Try scheduling a weekly 15-minute “check in” where you are expressing process, using “I Statements” and paying attention to validation. 

So the next time you find yourself arguing about something in your relationship, I encourage you to take a moment, a breath and ask yourself…. “what is the meaning I make in conflict with my partner”? 

To check out the article mentioned above go to http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a60435/fix-the-fights-youre-sick-of-having/