Paul Bloom, a contributing writer for the Atlantic, asks the question in his article “What Becoming a Parent Really Does to Your Happiness”. He states that most research has found that having children is terrible for quality of life but adds that the truth about what parenthood means for happiness is a lot more complicated.
Social Scientists and Psychologists argue that couples are happier without children; others have pushed back, claiming this isn’t the case. But Bloom says a bigger question is also at play: ‘what if the rewards of having children are different from and deeper than happiness.’
Whether this is true or not, young couples don’t seem to have gotten the memo, there appears to be an abundance of pregnant women and babies in prams on the streets of London. My practice is filled with new parents finding it hard to cope. It’s always been difficult having babies, and the good news is that parents are now feeling able to reach out and ask for the support they so very much need.
I am also writing this blog on this subject because I am a mother of two daughters and about to become a grandmother for the first time. My eldest daughter is having a baby, and despite feeling ridiculously excited, I also feel nervous about the impending birth and new arrival. This has naturally made me reflect on the broader questions of what it means to be a parent, the impact on new parents, and how they can best support one another to make this life-changing experience more manageable.
The couples I see with new babies bring with them the joy of a new addition and the exhaustion that comes with not sleeping. I see all my new parents on Zoom and therefore can enter into their lives in a straightforward way. Tired parents and crying babies unexpectedly awoken join in the sessions is just one example of how new parents have to readjust and constantly change their expectations.
Little actual therapy goes on in the first few months with new parents, and my job becomes more about helping couples cultivate different muscles to look after themselves in order to care for their baby. Reassurance, normalising and reframing difficult feelings are what I believe is most helpful to new parents.
As Donald Winnicot, paediatrician and psychoanalyst who coined the phrase “good enough parent” (borrowed from his wife Clare!) believed, the father’s job is to support the mother for her to best care for their baby. In a wider context, teaching parents to support each other and learn to reach out to family and friends for help is what fortifies couples and allows them to find their foundation as parents.
How best to survive having a new baby:
Follow your gut and don’t compare yourselves to others; there are no right or wrongs. Trust yourselves.
Be kind to yourselves: Make sure you have some alone time to relax, exercise and eat, look after your basic needs and don’t assume your partner will notice if you haven’t (you’re both exhausted), give yourself permission and ask.
Adjust your expectations: Slow down, lower expectations of what you are able to accomplish during the day. Don’t worry about getting everything done.
Find your tribe: Having a baby can be lonely, don’t isolate; reach out to friends and other new mothers and fathers who can support you, share your struggles and you can laugh with.
Enlist help: Reach out to family and friends. If you can, employ someone to help with the cooking, cleaning, errands, childcare etc. This is a short term investment for your mental health and wellbeing.
Know that things will get easier, they will.