Everyone knows that a baby changes everything. Once the pregnancy test pops up with a plus sign, you are blindsided with the reality that your world will never be the same. While many couples prepare for marriage by going to premarital counseling, few couples plan ahead for the emotional and relational changes that come with parenthood.
With nearly half of all pregnancies unplanned,* several couples are thrown into the next stage of life without a warning. Even Mary only had 9 months to prepare for the birth of Jesus, and certainly, his delivery would be considered less than ideal compared to most birth plans today! Our culture idealizes this season of life as something to be wholly enjoyed and celebrated, but the reality of trying to navigate this uncharted territory can often lead to misunderstandings and frustrations.
In fact, 67% of couples experience a decrease in relational satisfaction after bringing the baby home.** Why is this? Do those sweet coos and chubby cheeks distract us from the demise of our otherwise perfect marriage? Of course not! As couples are confronted with new decisions, demands, and difficulties, it’s only natural to have conflict surface within the relationship. How a couple handles these challenges has a greater impact on their marriage than the actual milestone itself.
If you work together to empower your relationship, then welcoming a child can deepen the love and respect you already have for your spouse, revealing beautiful new facets of the life you share. Successfully transitioning into parenthood isn’t about avoiding challenges, but rather choosing to equip yourselves with the tools to handle them effectively.
Here are some ways in which you can prepare your marriage for parenthood:
1. Grieving Couplehood
It seems counterintuitive to talk about loss when you anticipate so much gain. But, the milestone of parenthood brings an end to an era of your life together as a child-free couple. Take time to reminisce about your journey together. Remember romantic times, spontaneous moments, and indulge yourselves in the luxury of a date night that doesn’t yet require a babysitter or a diaper bag. It’s normal and okay to be sad about giving up these freedoms, and it’s important to acknowledge that you will miss these moments in the future so you don’t feel resentment later. God gave humans the capacity to hold both gratitude and grief at the same time, so feel secure in embracing and expressing these feelings with your spouse.
2. Emotional Expectations
Adjusting to the transition from couple to family comes with many emotions, not all of which are accurately depicted in those dreamy Pampers commercials. It’s common for couples to worry about big topics like finances and sex when it comes to having a baby. But, what couples rarely anticipate are the tiny nuances between their attitudes, beliefs, and communications (verbally and nonverbally) that build up or tear down their spouse with each and every exchange. If you struggle with issues of trust or communication now, adding a baby to the mix will only intensify the existing strain. Work towards building a foundation of trust and commitment before the baby arrives so you can discover and enjoy new aspects of your identity as parents.
3. Share Roles and Decisions
Amidst the chaos of this tender season, a little teamwork can go a long way. Discussing your role and responsibilities as a mom or dad can help you create a good pattern for maintaining respect and compassion as you make decisions that affect your growing family. From baby merchandise to medical processes, you’re learning a lot in a short amount of time. It’s good to ask questions and seek counsel. It’s also good to remember that reading every mommy blog or baby book will still not tell you about your unique baby. God entrusted this new life to your care fully knowing your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Chaos doesn’t end once the baby arrives, so use this time to hone your decision-making skills as a couple.
4. Find Support
You are in a season of receiving. Whether you are bombarded with unsolicited advice or showered up to your eyeballs in cute onesies, having a baby brings well-intentioned people out of the woodwork. As the casseroles come and go, continue to ask others for what you truly need. Sometimes this means creating boundaries and asking for space and distance. Other times you may need overnight assistance or prayers for healing. People will naturally want to come hold your baby, but it may go unnoticed if you and your spouse are struggling. Don’t wait for a crisis to decide for you when to get help. You are loved and valued, and this season won’t last forever. Soon enough you’ll be the one offering new wisdom as a parent who has experienced true humility.
Change is inevitable. Fortunately, our immutable Creator gives us the opportunity to turn to Him for clear direction to take each step forward. As you prepare your relationship for anticipated changes, you can also strengthen your faith in His plan as you encounter surprises along the way.
*Guttmacher Institute. (2016). Retrieved from: http://www.guttmacherinstitute.org/sites/default/files/factsheet/fb-unintended-pregnancy-us_0.pdf
**Gottman, John M. and Julie Schwartz Gottman. 2006. 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press
Emily Pardy (’00) is a counselor and founder of Ready Nest Counseling in Nashville, TN. Ready Nest Counseling helps couples prepare for parenthood by caring for their relational wellness as they transition through conception, pregnancy, post-partum, and infertility. Emily has written for multiple parenting publications including Thriving Family magazine and ParentLife magazine. She has her Masters in Marriage & Family Therapy and is the author of For All Maternity, a humorous memoir of her own journey into motherhood. Emily resides in Nashville, TN with her husband and three rambunctious daughters.