Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

Conversations for Expectant Parents - Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I discussed the importance of setting some time aside with your partner and/or future co-parent to discuss some of the topics that might be helpful to connect over and learn both how you are feeling and thinking about the topic, as well as your partner/co-parent. It is often surprising what can come out of these conversations, and it is always helpful to learn about your partner’s hopes, assumptions and fears prior to the moment you are faced with a difficult decision or conversation. 

Part 2 is perhaps a little less sexy, but just as important! The topics of discussion in this post are Finances, Maternity & Paternity leave/ Family Leave and the transition to Childcare. Again, the point of these conversations is not to set anything in stone, but to begin to understand your own thoughts and feelings around these topics, and to better understand your partners’ as well. With a deeper, more clear understanding of your wishes and goals in these areas, you can begin to plan and make decisions with greater intention.

 

Finances

This is a tricky topic because of course, every family has different budgets and financial capabilities and constraints. Decisions around building a family and all that entails, require thoughtful financial consideration; many choices are measured by both priority and financial constraints. A few things to think about and discuss:

-       What does our current family budget look like, and how do we expect it to change?

-       For couples that currently keep separate accounts, and put their shared expenses into a joint account or credit card, how do you hope to divvy up these new financial responsibilities?

-       Have we budgeted for our hospital stay? (despite those lucky few with fantastic insurance, you will likely be required to pay a significant hospital bill at the end of your stay.)

-       It may be helpful to a) talk with your healthcare provider to understand what hospital you will be delivering at and b) connect with your insurance provider to understand a potential range (it will vary for every birth due to length of stay/ procedures done, etc.)

-       Have we created a fund to help us buffer the transition between a two person home and three person home?

-       If one parent decides to stay home with baby, what will that look like for our budget and how do we navigate this shift in roles? (this deserves its very own post!)

-       Are there people in our lives who may have recently gone through this transition? Can we talk to them about their financial experience and things to be mindful of?

-       What are our expectations of ourselves and our partners financially as we transition to becoming parents? Perhaps this taps into our family of origin model, or traditional gender roles we witnessed growing up or are actively working not to replicate.

-       Do we have someone that can help us navigate our financial goals?

-       Have we thought about creating a will and getting life & disability insurance?

-       Are we able to begin saving for our child? Perhaps discussing a savings account and/or a 529 education plan with a financial advisor may be a goal within the first few years.

 

Maternity & Paternity Leave

This topic aligns really closely with finances. Many parents in the United States do not get paid leave; in fact, the US is the only developed nation in the world that does not have a national mandate for paid family leave. That being said, many companies do offer paid maternity leave for a certain amount of time, and the topic of paternal leave is becoming more open and accepted.

Discussion questions:

-       Do you know if your employer offers paid maternity and paternity leave?

-       For how long?

-       Is there room to extend, perhaps at a partial pay rate?

-       What is the culture around taking this time in your workplace? (this may be especially relevant to working fathers where parental leave has not been the norm or expectation.)

-       What are the spoken and unspoken expectations for yourself and your partner?

-       Ideally, how much time would you like to take off after the birth?

-       How does the idea of taking time off work feel for you? Is it a relief? Is it anxiety inducing? Maybe both!

-       Does it have longer term ramifications on your role/standing/potential for promotion etc.?

-       If there is no paid leave, how will that impact your choices and your family’s financial position?

-       Is this something you can begin to save for, in order to create a financial buffer?

 

Childcare transition

Depending on where you live, the demand for child care may be very high. In Chicago (and other major cities across the country,) it is recommended to put your name on a waiting list for daycares in the early months of pregnancy in order to get a spot by the time you are ready to go back to work. Or, you may decide you want a babysitter/nanny, you may have family upon whom you can rely for childcare. Or, you may decide to stay home with your child. There is no right or wrong choice - it’s about what is best for your family, your needs, and your budget (and remember, these decisions are not set in stone; you can always alter the plan if one decision is no longer working for you and your family!)

Discussion questions:

-       What are the specific professional constraints of our jobs? (for example: do you work late evenings, weekends, half days, etc.)

-       How do these specific schedules align with childcare decisions?

-       For example: Working late may be challenging with a daycare that closes at a specific hour. Working part time may lend towards a part-time babysitter for flexibility. Working weekends may require a special scenario, unless a co-parent can step in.

-       What is our childcare budget, and how do we decide that?

-       Do we have beliefs or thoughts about what would be best for our family?

-       Do we have spoken or unspoken concerns or fears about this step, or a specific option?

-       Do our families/ support systems/ friends have opinions that they have made known to us? How does that impact our feelings and decisions?

I am sure there are a number of important topics that can be included in this list. Think of this as a place to start, and use this as a resource and a conversation catalyst. See what doors open as you begin to explore and question some of these decisions, individually and as a couple.

You can read Part 1: here

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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Talking with Your Teen: 5 Things to Remember

By Rachel D. Miller, AMFT

By Rachel D. Miller, AMFT

If social media postings, the array of parenting books, and the countless blogs and newspaper articles available are any indication, little is more mystifying, frustrating, or sanity threatening to parents than raising teenagers. Only the terrible twos and dreaded threenagers can rival teens in attitude, unprovoked outbursts, and confounding behaviors. And while at times talking to your teen may feel like you have reverted to speaking with a toddler, as a parent of teens myself, I can relate, there are a few key things that can aid you in having productive, meaningful, and relationship enhancing conversations with your teen.

1)    Leave your ego at the door.

Dr. Fred Hanna, a wise professor and therapist I know, specializes in working with some of the most challenging teenagers around. He and I share this belief that unless you can set your ego aside, there is almost no room for empathy which is key to being in any relationship, but particularly with teenagers (Hanna, 2016). While his work talks about the therapeutic relationship, I believe it is applicable to the parent/child one as well. When ego is involved a power struggle likely follows, and they rarely end positively for anyone involved. In the book, The Awakened Family, Shefali Tsabary, PhD, talks about how parenting challenges tend to stem from our ego, the blindly reactive piece of us that comes from a place of fear and a need to protect ourselves, our identity, and our desires and expectations for our children. When parents can learn to recognize when their ego is involved, the skills needed to be able to set it aside can be learned as well. Setting aside our ego allows us to take things less personally, and step into a place of empathy for the experiences of the teenagers in our lives. Teenagers often just need to be heard, and have their thoughts, experiences and feelings validated so they can reduce their own defensiveness and have space to hear you. I encourage you to watch Brené Brown’s video on empathy for a clearer understanding of the importance of empathy and consider how you might apply it in future conversations with your teen.

2)    Live your values; practice what you preach

It may seem that your teenager never listens to a word you say, but I promise they are watching everything you do. They can smell hypocrisy a mile away, and almost nothing turns them off faster. When teens in my office are the angriest at the adults in their lives, it tends to be around things they see as unjust or hypocritical. Are you setting rules and consequences based on the values you hold, and you are trying to instill in your child, or are they based the rules you grew up with, or what you have seen other set? Are they set up in a family meeting or given from the top down without any explanation other than “because I said so?”

People rarely like to be told what to do; teenagers are no different. But, when rules, or restrictions, or chores are given in context, with an explanation and discussion where there is potential for input, even teenagers can be convinced to go along. Where I have seen teenagers rebel the most is when they believe that certain rules only apply to them, or that their parents do not live by the standards and values they try to place on their children. One of the ways I have found to assist around this is to do a values exercise with parents and their teens. This can open discussions around the differing values of each member of the family, as well as opportunities to talk about how the family rules line up with its values. When you are clear about your own values, it is easier to remain consistent around the rules that you do set, providing the structure that teenagers need to thrive. As a bonus these exercises can enlighten you about both yourself and your teen. If you would give this a try here are a couple links:

https://www.nwabr.org/sites/default/files/ValuesActivities.pdf

https://www.taproot.com/archives/37771

3)    You were a teenager once too.

Do you remember yourself as a teenager? If not, I am sure your own parents would love to enlighten you about your attitude, rule breaking, talking back, and every other thing you did that made them nuts. This goes back to the empathy piece. You have an opportunity here to empathize with both your teen and your parents. Now might be a great time for that apology. You know they’re relishing that you have a teenager just like you. Take a moment to try and remember how you felt as a teenager. Put yourself back in that place where you felt unheard, unimportant, maybe even unloved. Can you remember how it felt to have your body seemingly go haywire on you? Do you recall how it felt to be left out, or have your first heartbreak, and to believe that nobody could really understand?

If you’re struggling with this, or maybe have some grandiose memories about your teenage years, or a belief that today’s teenagers are so much worse than the teens of our generation, you might want to be suspicious of your memories, as Ken Hardy discusses in Teens who Hurt. Memory becomes softer and more generous with the passage of time. In addition to its selective nature, memory also has a tendency to embellish. Few of us were as good, or respectful, or obedient, as we might like to recall. Find an old yearbook or a journal to see if you can refresh your memory a bit. Try if you can to put yourself back in that place, in those feelings. Consider what you would have liked from the adults in your life back then. See what pieces of that you can provide for you own child. Talk to your teenager, and ask overtly what they need from you, what you can do that would be helpful, and then listen to hear them, rather than listen to respond.

4)    Behaviors usually serve a purpose.

Too often it is teenage attitude and negative behaviors that get a parent’s attention. Too seldom is the question “What is the purpose of this?” asked. One of the quickest ways to determine what the potential purpose of any particular behavior might be it to check in with your own reaction to it. For example, if your child’s behavior leaves you with feelings of being provoked, challenged, or defeated, Jane Nelson, Ed.D. author of the book Positive Discipline, would suggest that the underlying goal of the behavior is around power, and a belief that one belongs only when they are in charge or at least not being bossed around. This scenario seems to resonate with many of my teens and parents. While this book is geared more towards those parenting younger children, I think it still has value for parents of teenagers. It has the potential to offer insight into what is going on for you as well as them, aiding in setting aside ego and increasing curiosity and empathy about what your teenager’s behaviors are trying to tell you. There is a quick reference chart from the book available here to get you started.

5)    Maintaining the relationship matters most.

If you want to continue having a positive influence over your teen and have them turn to you for counsel and support, maintaining your relationship will need to take priority over being right, having control, pride, ego, or your own emotions. This one can be tough. You will often find yourself walking the fence between maintaining structure and consistency, with maintaining the relationship. Flexibility and adaptability will be key to stage in parenting. The plus side is that even when you screw up, teenagers can be some of the most forgiving people I have ever met. When you as a parent can own your mistakes, apologize, and change your behaviors accordingly, teenagers can and do forgive even some of the worst transgressions. They want to be connected to you as much as you want to be connected to them, it just looks different now.  

Raising teenagers is not always easy, but it can be the most rewarding time you ever have as a parent. There is incredible growth potential for you and for them despite its many ups and down. Remember too, you don’t have to do this alone. Family therapy can help with the challenges of transitioning into this new stage of life and parenting. A therapist can assist with a strained relationship, or support for those difficult conversations so many parents dread. We are here to help you navigate this sometimes daunting journey called parenthood.

References

Hanna, F. J., (2016). Ten powerful techniques for helping difficult adolescents to change.

Quality not Quantity

By Karen Focht, MA, LMFT

Creating family balance can be challenging in today’s world and it often leaves us feeling as if we don’t have much time to really invest in the quality things that we love.  Creating experiences within our relationships is a valuable and powerful force.  If you find yourself struggling with pressure of lacking time, try to focus less on quantity and more on quality. 

As summer is quickly approaching an end, there are still many events and activities remaining in Chicago. One of our favorite things to do as a family is to attend the Jay Pritzker Pavilion summer concert series.  There is nothing better than starting your week with a picnic in the park together as a family.  Not only is there amazing music preformed with a stunning background view of the city, but it’s also free!  In the midst of busy schedules, I have always found it to be so worthwhile to invest this time together as a family.  So get out there and have some fun with these last remaining summer nights in Chicago!  Here are a few remaining concerts presented by Millennium Park. 

Millennium Park Summer Music Series

-       August 18th at 6:30pm Elephant Revival + Mandolin Orange

-       August 25th at 6:30pm Tortoise + Homme

Millennium Park Presents

-       August 27th at 7:30pm Chicago Dancing Festival:  Dancing Under the Stars

-       August 28th at 6:30pm Lang Lang International Music Foundation

-       September 9th at 7:30pm Stars of Lyric Opera presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago

For additional information go to: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/millennium_park_-upcomingevents.html