Guest Post: How to Emotionally Prepare for Parenthood

Quinn-Hafner-Headshots-287x300The below guest post is written by Quentin Hafner, an old friend from Grad School who I have a ton of respect for. He is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in practice in Orange County, CA where he specializes in marital therapy for prenatal couples and couples with young children.  He is a new dad himself and lives with his wife, Hillery, and their son, Levi.

For more information about Quentin, please visit:  http://www.QuentinHafner.com

Lots of wisdom here… Enjoy!

Introducing children into the marital relationship will be one of the most difficult transitions new parents will ever make.  Multiple marital satisfaction studies have shown again and again that having children is one of the biggest stressors any relationship will undergo, and the results are depressing when considering how many marriages end shortly after the baby arrives. When working with couples in therapy that are considering having children, the work typically evolves around considering the emotional impact children will have on their lives and their relationship.  It’s so easy to become enamored by the innocence and idyllic beauty of babies, but then be swept off our feet and overwhelmed when we realize how difficult the reality can be. For many, the fantasy of family life is incongruent with the likely reality of family life, and this disparity can catch a lot of new parents off-guard.  So, what can potential first-time parents do to prepare themselves emotionally for this transition?  Here are a few suggestions:

Evaluate Your Marriage:

Although babies are a significant stressor to even the best marriages, babies also get a bad rap for many relationships falling apart.  The truth is, many relationships that struggle after having a baby were not in great shape prior to the baby arriving.  Having the baby was the final straw, but certainly not responsible for an unhealthy relationship.  Preparing emotionally for the introduction of babies is also about having the hard conversations that no one wants to have.  What a downer, right!?  But these conversations are so important for prospective parents to participate in because it sets the stage for what’s most likely to be expected for new parents. Study after study shows that marital satisfaction is at its lowest level when there is a child in the home under the age of 5.  That’s a difficult statistic to digest, but it doesn’t change its validity.  Are we ready for that?  Does your relationship feel strong enough to endure that statistic?  Marital satisfaction is at its all-time high prior to children, and then it shifts drastically to its all-time low very rapidly.  Is this something we’re prepared for?  Find a trusted marital professional to help make your relationship as great as possible before your baby arrives.  Having your relationship on solid footing before the baby comes is the biggest advantage successful parents have transitioning into parenthood.

Prepare to Grieve:

When working with prenatal couples that are getting ready to make the transition into parenthood, I talk with them about the importance of grieving. Grieve, you say?  Yes, grieve.  Becoming a parent is filled with many joys, much beauty, and a multitude of overwhelmingly happy moments.  And we are so grateful for this! But having a baby also brings with it a multitude of losses that parents must feel free to honestly acknowledge.  We may grieve our changing roles, our changing identities, our limits to free time, the financial strain, the loss of friends, the changing relationships with extended family, and the loss of connection from your spouse.  Talking about these losses is difficult in our culture because we’re told things like, “you should grateful”, or “don’t you feel so lucky!?” which carry implicit messages that unintentionally may disallow new parents to freely acknowledge the  hardships of being a parent.  Engage your spouse in conversations that find balance in talking about what you look forward to, and what you imagine is going to be most difficult.  These are conversations that increase intimacy with your spouse.

Know Your Past:

For better or for worse, none of us can escape some semblance of pain from our own family histories.  We all experienced it, and part of our journey of “growing up” into adults is taking an honest appraisal of how early family experiences impacted us.  Some of us were impacted more than others, but no one comes from a perfect family.  To prepare emotionally for having children of our own, we need to become conscious of our own family histories – conscious of the parts that were healthy and conscious of the parts we want to leave behind. From my perspective as a family therapist, I often see new parents unconsciously carry forward with them the “baggage” or unresolved emotional pain from their family of origin that gets in the way of having a meaningful family life that is rich with peace, happiness and contentedness. One of the first questions I like to ask people when I meet them in therapy is to have them tell me what they enjoyed most about their family, and what they enjoyed least.  Many people have a hard time recalling the parts of their family they didn’t like, and this can present it’s own set of problems.  And others, adamantly proclaim they will be “nothing like my parents”, but unfortunately repeat the very same unhealthy patterns they were desperately trying to avoid.  As we prepare emotionally for the journey of parenthood, it’s vital that we become increasingly aware of what was modeled for us as we grew up in our own family of origin, so as to become conscious of what we want to repeat, and what we want to leave behind.  This is all part of the emotional preparation of becoming a family.

Having a baby is one of the most wonderful experiences that life can offer any of us.  It’s filled with such awe, mysteriousness, and joy beyond measure.  But just as the cliché suggests, anything worth having doesn’t come easy.  And this is the story of having a baby.  We love our babies, and that goes without saying, but we need to do ourselves justice by fairly acknowledging the challenges of having a baby as much as we celebrate the joys.  The more we can be comfortable with acknowledging the “negative” parts, the more we move toward becoming increasingly prepared for the journey.

Quentin Hafner, LMFT

A quote for today…

I found myself on Brene Brown’s website today. Various people had mentioned her name throughout the weekend, for a bunch of different reasons and it reminded me that I hadn’t been over to her blog recently to see what she has going on.

Brene Brown is the one who studies shame, courage, vulnerability… you know, the simple things in life. I posted her video The Power of Vulnerability a while back and I heard from many of you saying how much you loved it. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Today though, a quote. This actually came from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross but I found it on Ordinary Courage, Brene Brown’s blog. I love this.

Thoughts on tardiness…

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Recently I got confronted about my constant tardiness. It was humbling to say the least. I hate getting called out on stuff (even when I know I deserve it – especially when I know I deserve it). I have been well-aware for years that time management is not my strong suit and for the first time in my life I am actually trying to do something about it. I heard from a friend that at his job, employee’s get docked in pay for being late. That would definitely get my attention. My friends and family have shown me grace throughout the years, but it’s the tough love that has finally kicked my butt into gear.

Here’s what I’ve learned about being late and being on time:

Being late disrespects the person you are meeting. I had never thought about it that way until a perpetually early friend told me that’s how he feels. I certainly don’t mean to be disrespectful. I just assume everyone is okay with my timetable but why would they be? If we say we’re meeting at 6:00pm what would ever give me the impression they are okay with 6:15pm?

Being late is the same as not keeping your word. If you say you’re going to be somewhere at a certain time, you’ve made a commitment. Keep it.

Being late is stressful. I am constantly rushing around which often leads to absentmindedness and added anxiety I don’t need in my life.

Being on time means you’ve allowed a few extra minutes to get places which decreases your chances of getting a speeding ticket which decreases your chance of being humiliated on the side of the road which decreases your chance of having to pay hundreds of dollars paying it off which decreases your chance of having to hire a lawyer… must I go on? (See Prayer for Judgment to understand this rant).

Being on time is peaceful. Recently as I’ve made more of an effort to be on time, I have been able to slow down and smell the roses. They smell good.

My record hasn’t been perfect the past few weeks but I am improving… and as a result I have been less stressed, less rushed, less guilty and generally a happier person. Try it.

My mantra for this afternoon…

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Audrey Hepburn’s Beauty Tips

When asked to share her Beauty Tips, Audrey Hepburn wrote the following poem. It was read at her funeral years later.

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.  For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.  As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.

 

“The run”

I am preparing for a talk I’ll be giving to the LifeGroup Leaders at my church in a few weeks on stress and caring for ourselves. Doesn’t it seem like leaders, who are supposed to be insightful and wise when it comes to managing their lives (seeing as they’re helping others to do the same) are some of the worst offenders of not taking care of themselves? It’s like doctors and nurses who step outside the hospital to smoke on their lunch break. Really?!

I’ll admit, I was pretty bad at caring for myself for many years. I spent most of my 20’s running… running from loneliness, running from my own thoughts, running from a job I didn’t like, running to friends, running to a future spouse I hadn’t yet met, running to this nebulous vision of what could be. Have you ever gone running? It’s tiring.

Eventually I hit a wall. Hard. And I fell flat on my face. And to my knees for the first time in a long time. Since I was unable – unwilling – to stop on my own, I was forced to stop. My body gave out. My mind stopped thinking as clearly. I started having panic attacks and wanting nothing more than to hide under the covers of my warm, cozy bed and stay there. Alone. Which is odd because that directly contradicts the deep need I was trying to fill with all the running.

I heard a story recently of a woman who was burning the candle at both ends until finally she received that dreaded diagnosis. Cancer. If that doesn’t cause you to slow down and do some self-evaluating, what will?

What causes us to take this approach in life? Run, run run. Don’t stop. Don’t feel.

I think it boils down to fear. Fear of slowing down enough to allow yourself to be known. Fear of not being good enough, helpful enough, productive enough. Fear of being alone. Fear of feeling guilty or having to ask yourself the tough questions in life.

I have no answers. I rarely have answers. Just more questions and more of that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that comes when I am at a loss.

I think the answers are worth searching for but painfully difficult to find. It can be frustrating and confusing but the thing that brings me comfort time and time again is knowing I am not the only one to be wrestling with them. If I was, other people all around me would not be experiencing the same kind of burnout and the same persistent searching every day. The run.

We rest in knowing we are not alone.

A thought for today…

How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young…

 

compassionate with the aged…

 

sympathetic with the striving…

 

and tolerant of the weak and the strong.

 

Because some-day in life you will have been all of these.

– George Washington Carver

** Pictures via Pinterest

The woes of a cheap clothes shopper

I got a gift card for Christmas that has been burning a hole in my pocket for the past three weeks. Dying to find an adorable new outfit, my husband and I went shopping last weekend and I searched for something worthy of this precious gift card.

I tend to be a picky shopper. It frustrates my hubby because I’ll try stuff on and stand in front of the mirror for hours debating whether or not to buy (a symptom of my indecisiveness more than being picky actually). He’ll tell me the clothes I try on look great but it takes a lot to convince me. Finally after examining myself in the mirror from every possible angle I’ll usually hang the article of clothing back up and decide to think about it some more (which is code for “I’m not going to buy this”).

Well, like I said, this gift card was really burning a hole in my pocket, and I hadn’t been shopping in forever, so I was especially ready to find something cute on Saturday. After a few hours of shopping, one of the last things I tried on was it! A cute white shirt from Forever 21. Cheap, trendy and perfect!

I am wearing it today for the first time and what waddya know?! There’s a gaping hole on the upper right shoulder. I should have known. I love Forever 21 just as much as the next gal but let’s call a spade a spade: the clothes aren’t made to withstand the test of time (I did however expect it to last one wear).

So, here I am… In my darling new shirt… with an embarrassingly large hole… and fearing that more of the thread could unravel at any point leading to an even bigger hole…

I should probably let go of the whole shopping-at-Forever 21-thing. Afterall, I am far from 21 years old and as a young professional shouldn’t I be past “cheap clothes shopping” by now?

Apparantly not.

Lesson learned.

“Rest is the ultimate humiliation”

“Rest is a decision we make. Rest is choosing to do nothing when we have too much to do, slowing down when we feel pressure to go faster, stopping instead of starting. Rest is listening to our weariness and responding to our tiredness, not to what is making us tired. Rest is what happens when we say one simple word: “No!” Rest is the ultimate humiliation because in order to rest, we must admit we are not necessary, that the world can get along without us, that God’s work does not depend on us. Once we understand how unnecessary we are, only then might we find the right reasons to say yes. Only then might we find the right reasons to decide to be with Jesus instead of working for him…” – Mike Yaconelli

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I read this today and as a recovering Yes-Woman it really resonated with me. This time of year we get so wrapped up in serving, buying gifts, attending parties and generally overbooking our calendars with incredibly important and equally unimportant activities… it’s hard to actually take in every spectatular, shining and sacred moment that this time of year has to offer.

Believe it or not, our attendance at every event, while appreciated is not absolutely of the essence. Our ability to give the most expensive, most unique or creative Christmas present, while also valued by receivers, is not the most important either.

Research shows that the third week in January is the most depressing time of the year for people. It’s at that time that all of the decisions we have made in December come crashing to a halt – the credit card bills have arrived, the high of Christmas is all but gone and winter is well underway.

My theory – If we can take the holiday season a little slower, allow ourselves to rest and relish in good food, good friends and loved ones without the stress and hassle, remembering the true reason for all the celebrating to begin with, we’ll come out of the holiday high without debilitating withdrawals.

My hope for all of us this season of spending way too much money and saying “yes” to a few too many activities, that we would slow down long enough to take in the goodness and appreciate what really matters.

 

Punjammies anyone?

Want another great Christmas idea?

If you ask me, some of the best gifts are the ones where you can support a great cause in the process. Whether that is a friend’s growing business (Delightfully Chic) or an organization seeking to create positive changes around the world (31Bits and today’s featured organization).

International Princess Project (IPP) is an awesome non-profit, whose mission is to empower Indian women who were formerly enslaved to prostitution. As explained on the IPP website, they partner with indigenous organizations to build sustainable programs that will teach, train and re-focus the lives of these women. In doing so, the women receive medical care, housing and education, along with vocational and financial training so that they can learn how to function independently and provide for themselves.

So… What do you the women learn? And how do they make ends meet?

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The skill they use is sewing and they create beautiful pajamas made from Indian fabrics which are sold here in the United States.

All proceeds from these sales go back to paying wages, provide living expenses, create savings accounts and provide holistic support and restoration for the ladies in the PUNJAMMIE™ program. – IPP Website

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Pick up some Punjammies for yourself or someone you love this Christmas  and enjoy not only the adorable loungewear, but also knowing that you supported an awesome cause this holiday season!

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For more information about IPP check out their website:

International Princess Project

To shop go to:

Punjammies by the International Princess Project

 

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