And Baby Makes Three, Part 1

by LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW

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Ah, the thrill of parenting . . . such an exciting time, filled with hopes and dreams for new couples. Couples who, until now, have been totally focused on one another, who have learned to ebb and flow as one, who have shared everything together. Suddenly, the new baby enters their family, their home, their lives . . . the couple is now a threesome, or worse, one parent and the baby become a unit, with the other partner feeling left out and alone.

Soon, fatigue and sleep deprivation begin to catch up with the adult half of the new parent/child unit. Despite the need for relief, this sleep deprived, exhausted member of the new dyad feels compelled to live up to her/his commitment to be the best parent ever. He or she unintentionally pushing the partner farther and farther away. And the saga continues . . . sound familiar? For many new parents this scenario is played out upon the arrival of the first child. Some couples do not even recognize what has come between them, but feel somehow neglected by their formerly attentive partner. Others realize the source of the problem, but feel too guilty to speak those words. Many of the latter are forced to face the feelings later when a second child is born, only underscoring their feelings of shame and/or guilt. After all, who would be so selfish and needy as to put his or her feelings above the needs of a newborn child?

On the other hand, in families where one parent is assuming most of the responsibilities of caring for a child (possibly asking for assistance at times, yet receiving little or none) their feelings of resentment and hostility can have devastating long term consequences. Some suffer in silence, particularly women who believe child rearing to be the role of the female in a family. Others make their displeasure known in subtle, passive ways . . . seldom mentioning it until a confrontation occurs, yet unconsciously freezing out the partner and child much of the time. Still others become openly hostile toward their partner and/or child.

In either scenario the damage to a relationship between two partners can have long lasting and devastating effects. In the first situation mentioned, the results may not surface until another transition or crisis happens in the family. This can be the birth of another child, or when the last child leaves home to enter the world of adulthood. At that time the adult partners are often forced to recognize that their relationship as a couple is in trouble. Others make it through the "empty nest stage" mentioned here, only to have retirement trigger this awareness. Many marriages survive, and the relationship is renewed . . . but more than 50% of all marriages don't make it.

What is one to do?

Continued in Part 2

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LuAnn Pierce is a licensed social worker and therapist, as well as an author and publisher. She has worked with hundreds of youths and families in the last 15 years. Ms. Pierce writes columns for several other publications and is the publisher/editor-in-chief of Person to Person.

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