Family and Parenting
Family is an interesting word in that in can invoke different feelings and meanings depending on a person's experience. A warm, loving family has a very different impact on a person in comparison to an abusive, dysfunctional experience of family in the formative years.
The original experience of family then, naturally has a significant influence on how the mature adult forms intimate relationships.
Many different concepts of Family
The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines family as "a group of two or more people that are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who usually live together in the same household. This includes newlyweds without children, gay partners, couples with dependants, single mums or dads with children, siblings living together, and many other variations. At least one person in the family has to be over 15."
Source and further information:
Families come in a variety of computations other than Mum, Dad, 2.5 children and a dog. These days the concept of family is a lot broader than even a decade ago:
- Some individuals prefer to stay single. Their concept of family could be meeting their mates at the local pub and feeling at home in that environment.
- Or the preference of staying single may include sharing a home with others to help pay the bills.
- Same sex couples are now more open to finding ways of having children together to form their own family.
- A married couple may choose to forego having children to further their career and enjoy traveling together.
- A traditional European family is still an option with grandparents being part of a family with children to help with child raising and finances.
These are only a few concepts of family that may present a variety of challenges and specific stress factors. Family counselling can help find solutions to these challenges before they become too damaging.
Some challenges you may be facing include:
- Difficultly conceiving a child
- Handling difficult behaviours in your adolescent children
- How to care for aging parents
- Crowded living arrangements
- Achieving work/life balance
- Being retrenched or facing unemployment
- Mortgage stress
Parenting and Pregnancy
The article below is written in the context of traditional male and female roles in parenting. However, given the broader concept of family today, I would like to emphasise that the term "father-to-be" or "Dad" and all other references to a biological father, can be easily replaced with "partner". The concepts described are just as relevant to whatever family constuct is yours.
Dad is important too!
Once conception has occurred and the happy event announced – there is potential for the father-to-be to feel left out as mother and baby-in-the-making take centre stage.
It is really important that this is avoided by including dad as much as possible in the pre-natal visits to doctors and to the pre-natal classes in birthing and parenting that are offered.
Attending visits when an ultra-sound takes place allows the father-to-be to see physical evidence of the new life that will soon be his child. Sometimes pregnancy can seem like a surreal process to the father-to-be. Particularly in the early stages of pregnancy, it is often something that is talked about and yet separate from his experience.
Tracking baby's growth together
Reading parenting books together and discussing the stage by stage development of baby’s growth is another way that the dad-to-be can feel included and part of the excitement of new life in-the-making.
Sometimes men feel their job is done at conception while the mother-in-waiting can feel very alone if left to her own devices during and following pregnancy. The solution lies in sharing the whole experience together and including one another in all aspects of creating and nurturing the wonder and miracle of a new life.
Dad being present at the birth is also important to enable early bonding to take place while participating to whatever extent is comfortable for all concerned. Supporting his partner during labour may be confronting and scary for the new dad. However the rewards are enormous.
Being the first to hold the newborn infant can be a powerful bonding experience for the father, who can then place the baby on mother for skin to skin contact and initiation time at the breast. I have heard many times about the awe and wonder that a new father feels when first holding his newly delivered baby in his arms.
These ideas may all sound simplistic and straight forward to some. However, it is when the father is left out of these early experiences, that he is more likely to feel superfluous and overlooked.
Being able to bring baby to the mother for feeding and then engaging in the burping, changing, bathing, dressing, cuddling times can all be ways the new dad can be encouraged to take part in early parenting. This not only gives the new mum a break, it also enables a sense of sharing between the couple. It becomes the couple’s experience of parenting rather than the mother’s only.
It can be tempting sometimes for a new mother to be overly protective and possessive when it comes to caring for her newborn. This often includes her husband if she doesn’t trust him to know what to do.
I have heard from several mothers that they have felt abandoned by their partner when left at home with a newborn when he returns to work soon after homecoming. This may leave the new mum holding fear that she won't know what to do. Fortunately, since 1st January 2013 Dad and Partner Pay is available where a new birth or adoptive father may have two weeks paid leave to bond with baby.
Feelings of uncertainty may be around how often to feed, how long to feed, what to do if baby cries, what each cry means, are the bowel motions normal and so on. Even concerns around what food to include in her own diet, may be of concern to the new mother.
Contraception after 6 weeks
It is important, particularly following a caesarian section, that a suitable method of contraception is practiced. Usually this is discussed during the visit to doctor, 6 weeks after delivery. Doctors are concerned that adequate healing takes place before the strain of another pregnancy is placed on the uterus.
Agreement about size of family
It is important that new parents discuss their expectations and goals around the number of children they wish to bring into their family. I often hear that couples omit to discuss this important topic. Then, if pregnancy occurs when it hasn’t been planned or agreed upon, it can lead to resentment and upset the couple’s relationship. Feelings of being manipulated or tricked into having children do not serve the wellbeing of a relationship.
Sex and intimacy
The demands that a newborn and a growing family place on a relationship sometimes get in the way of the couple’s enjoyment of sex and intimacy. It is easy to become so caught up in daily routine and fatigue that remembering to spend quality time together can be difficult.
Unless quality time is planned then, it doesn’t seem to happen. As the couple forms the foundation of the family, if this foundation is not attended to regularly, it may crumble under the strain of everyday stress and put the family unit at risk.
Couples somehow, still need to find time to “date” one another. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and it requires planning. Grandparents or other family members are usually only too happy to be given the opportunity to baby-sit. Alternatively, friends may take it in turns to baby-sit each other’s children. If finances allow, then a professional baby-sitter can be regularly engaged to give the couple time out with one another.
The undivided attention possible on a date is important to keep the love alive in a relationship. I like using the analogy of a beautiful plant. When a plant is forgotten and deprived of regular water and light - it dies. The same happens to a neglected relationship. A relationship is an organic process and requires the interaction of care between each person for any quality relating to take place.
What about me?
Somehow dads seem to still make it to their game of golf or favourite pastime “after children”. The person most likely to suffer from self neglect is mum. This can and often does bring about resentment and is a factor in undermining the health of the relationship. Just as important as spending time together as a couple, is spending time on the self. Self care is imperative. Even airlines recognize this when they instruct passengers to place the oxygen mask on themselves first before attending to small children.
Mothers are continually putting out energy. Giving to their children and their partner and often holding down a responsible career as well. Something has to give if the batteries are not replenished with some super quality self care. Adequate rest, time for coffee with girlfriends, time for exercise, time to attend to personal grooming, time alone to just “be” and so on is often seen as an impossible ask. This is where dad needs to offer a hand and do some extra baby-sitting while mum takes a break. Grandparents can often help out too along with whoever can be engaged to take over for a while, so mum can have much needed respite.
Feeling like a desirable woman instead of a baby-making machine can sometimes be a problem for a new mother. Her waistline seems to have vanished forever and a baby’s demands on her body and time can be overwhelming. This can be compounded if her partner stops showing affection or being reassuring in his love for her.
This is a crucial time for a partner to understand what it might be like for his lady and be consciously supportive and understanding.
Feeling guilty or inadequate?
Sometimes a new mum is her own worst enemy in thinking that somehow she is supposed to be superhuman and do the lot without help. Maybe her own mother appeared this way. Feelings of fatigue, insecurity or guilt for wanting time out, may get in the way of her organizing the very thing she needs most.
Sometimes reassurance is all that is needed and sometimes professional help may be beneficial if depression becomes a problem.
What happened to my brain?
As if the physical changes aren’t enough, a new mother sometimes suffers from lack of intellectual stimulation. If she chooses to stay at home for some time, baby talk may take over her conversational repertoire.
After some time, this could lead to problems engaging in adult conversation, particularly if she doesn’t stay abreast of current affairs and social concerns in
This becomes another valid reason for social interaction and time out alone with partner as well as friends. Keeping up to date with news, current affairs and reading in areas of interest are all important aspects to staying healthy.
Tough Love for Parents
As a role model to your children, it is important to avoid the following behaviours:
- lie for them
- make excuses for their poor behaviour
- fix their mistakes
- fight all their battles for them
- tolerate rude and abusive bahaviour just to avoid conflict
- do their chores and take on their responsibilities
- show a lack of follow-through and responsibility yourself
- allow privileges, even though they haven't followed through on what was required of them
- fail to hold them fully accountable for their behaviour and actions
- let them get away with things if they have a good enough excuse
How can counselling help with your pregnancy and parenting concerns?
Christine Bennett and Emily Dylan offer help through counselling and psychotherapy. Medicare rebates are available with your GP's referral.