Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Transition to Parenthood

I wrote this blog post on my former blog when Talmage was about 6 weeks old. It was interesting to look back and read my thoughts at the time--and 2 more babies later I still agree with most of what I wrote then, although I could add many more lessons I've learned over the years!

I do still maintain that having children has brought us increased stress (especially as they have grown old enough to really misbehave), but that having children has brought us closer to one another than almost anything else could.


First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes...the baby in the baby carriage! And with that little bundle of joy comes a new level of responsibility and an abundance of new stressors. Studies have shown that the vast majority of couples experience a decline in marital satisfaction with the birth of a new baby. After hearing this repeated over and over again, I wanted to figure out how to prevent that from happening, since we were expecting our first child. So when I was given the task of writing a lengthy research paper on a stressor families experience, I jumped at the opportunity to study the transition to parenthood. 

I was dismayed, at first, to notice that every study I read, every paper I perused, indicated that couples decreased in their marital satisfaction. After researching for quite some time, my professor indicated that he knew of a study where couples whose marital satisfaction increased with the birth of a new baby were analyzed (Shapiro, A., Gottman, J., & Carrere, S. (2000). The baby and the marriage: Identifying factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(1), 59-70.)

This study found that there were 6 common factors among couples whose relationships improved with the birth of their first child:
-husbands expressing fondness and affection toward wives
-husbands' high awareness of spouse and relationship
-good quality of marital friendship (surpassing romantic infatuation)
-high level of marital adjustment prior to the birth of a baby
-high pre-natal marital satisfaction
-positive perception of parenthood

I was so happy to see the keys to avoiding that decline in marital satisfaction. Of course Sam and I don't have a perfect marriage, but I think being aware of these factors has helped the transition to parenthood go more smoothly. 

Additionally, there are two things my parents were examples of that I have learned are essential for a strong family relationship:
-a weekly date
-not allowing anything--even your children--to come between you

When my dad was in graduate school and was not able to be home much at all, those weekly dates helped keep my mom sane with five small children and countless other responsibilities in Church, school, etc. Now, as Sam is in graduate school and is gone from approximately 5:30 am to 7:00 pm every day and often comes home only for 30 minutes or so before he has to dash out the door again to fulfill one of his Church callings or other responsibilities, I have learned the importance of that weekly date. When we were married, our sealer told us to continue our courtship through our marriage. Striving to do that, especially after the birth of our baby, has really helped us.

I remember that whenever we were sitting together as a family, whether it was at Church or another activity, none of the kids were allowed to sit in between my parents. They always sat next to each other. This was just one way they taught us that nothing would come between them. Additional studies have shown that there is an increase in divorce after about 25-30 years of marriage, because the children leave home and the couple is left alone and realizes they no longer know each other--they had lived through their children. Nurturing the marriage relationship first, before the relationship with the children, is crucial.

Of course I realize that I am still a newlywed, and don't really have experience with how to make a marriage last. But I just wanted to share some of my thoughts and some things I have learned about making the transition to parenthood a pleasant one. So for all of you newlywed couples out there, although the world will tell you to expect your marital satisfaction to decrease with the birth of a child, don't let that scare you off! Being a parent has truly increased our joy and our love for one another.

6 comments:

  1. I love this!!! Too many couples drift apart when they have kids because they let their kids, the responsibility and the stress come between them instead of bringing them together :) This is one of the things that I'm super passionate about in my studies and thinking about my future career! Thanks for sharing! I loved the info on what habits satisfied couples had post children.

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    1. Yes! It's kind of interesting...when Sam and I were reviewing the list last night he said something like, "Oh...they just love each other!" Those habits seem like a key part of any happy marriage, I think. You guys will be great! It was so fun talking with you more the other day!

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  2. I love this. I will never say that my marriage comes first as it doesn't feel like the truth to me. Sometimes illnesses interrupt date night or a non sleeping baby interrupts our time together, and her needs do come first. But I'll always say our marriage is a priority. I like that you say nurturing the marriage relationship first instead of the relationship with the children. Because that does make sense to me. And I've always admired couples that sit close at church with children. I had heard about this study but didn't know of the six factors. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for your comments! I've thought a lot about what it means for something to "come first," and I feel strongly that it doesn't always have to do with time. When my husband was in a really demanding Church calling and working long hours in graduate school, I wondered what it meant for family to come first, because I didn't really see anything he should cut out. It finally dawned on me that if the family's NEEDS (physical and emotional) were being met, then he was putting us first--even if he spent more time elsewhere. So even though sometimes kids get in the way of our time together, I think when we ensure the needs of our marriage are being met we're still putting that relationship first. And sometimes meeting the needs of our kids actually strengthens our marriage as well as we learn to sacrifice for one another and for our children! I really enjoyed thinking about your comments. Thanks again!

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  3. What a fun and interesting post. I appreciated the information. And, after being married almost 20 years and having five children, I agree with all of the factors you mentioned. A weekly date night is a must, for sure. I look forward to it every time. I rarely sit next to Jeff at church though. It seems like we always have all of the kiddos spaced out between us. I better change that!

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    1. Haha, I don't think you HAVE to sit next to each other at Church to have a strong relationship! At the moment Sam and I seldom sit next to each other because one of us is usually in the hall with Lincoln or I'm playing the organ. :) But it did teach me, as a child, that we would never come between our parents, and that lesson meant a lot.

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