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

The Freedom to Belch in Public

A couple weekends ago, Ainsley and I were out touring a local gym. As we headed up the stairs with the membership salesperson, listening as he described the cardio room, Ains let out a massive belch. When we got to the top of the stairs, she let out a second burp. Exercisers from across the room glanced over on their treadmills and elliptical machines, smiling at the discovery that such a tiny person had just let out such a booming sound.

When babies burp it’s adorable and hilarious but as adults this kind of behavior is taboo and quite simply, gross. At some point in our lives, we become aware of what is and isn’t acceptable socially and we begin to adapt our behavior accordingly.

While most of us would probably admit that belching in public is not preferable, there are other parts of ourselves that we hide due to embarrassment, insecurity or shame. For example, financial hardship, marital strife, a difficult child… we often don’t let others in on these struggles because we don’t want them to think we aren’t holding our families together. Or what about depression, anxiety or anger issues. At some point we learned that these are family secrets, not to be let out beyond the walls we’ve built around our lives.

If others find out, we fear they may reject us. They may not think we’re perfect (although, did they ever?). They may think we can’t keep it together… that we have issues. We were told that our tears are not worth shedding. That we “are just overreacting.” That “it’s not that bad.” That other people “have real problems.” We learned to hide instead of bring these feelings, circumstances and struggles out into the open. We are afraid that if we do, others may not like us anymore or we may become outcasts, when in reality, letting people in often results in the opposite; closeness with others and freedom for ourselves.

Sharing is a risk. It requires vulnerability. This is not easy and for some, the concept is entirely foreign. Shame and vulnerability researcher, Brene Brown, says in the Huffington Post article, Dare to Live Greatly:

Vulnerability is about uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. We have convinced ourselves that if we armor up every day — if we try to be perfect or know everything — then somehow we can minimize the things we fear feeling the most: disappointment, fear, shame, and unworthiness. But these emotions are part of the human experience. When we minimize them, we end up cutting ourselves off from the meaningful experiences that are born of vulnerability — that require vulnerability — including belonging, joy, creativity, innovation, trust, and empathy.

So how do we become more vulnerable, or at least more comfortable with the idea? According to Brene Brown:

What we need to figure out is how to have the courage to show up, to be imperfect, be human, be seen, ask for help, own our mistakes, learn from failure, lean into joy, and celebrate success.

That’s quite a list. What I’m working on right now is her first point; having the courage to show up.

This season has not been easy for Jake and me. Our little family has had our world turned upside down from a place of comfort and stability to the unfamiliar realities of parenthood, stressful work environments and isolation in a fast-paced new city. Each day we start over. We wake up to a fresh start and even if we accomplish nothing else, we simply try to be positive and present. We simply show up.

How Babies Change Your Marriage and Funday Monday Link-Up

Life changes on every possible level when you have a kid – but especially your marriage. Jake’s and my situation is unique in that we were dealing with several big life changes at the same time. We moved last September to a city where we knew no one, Ainsley was born one month later and then Jake started his new job at a fancy (read: high stress and long hours) DC law firm five days after that. Our situation is (hopefully) not the norm.

However, when you introduce a third person into any pair of people, a new dynamic is naturally going to form. The previously stable duo has been rocked by the third person and now needs to adjust. If it doesn’t find it’s footing, it could collapse.

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It’s like when I was in middle school and my BFF and I hung out everyday at lunch and over the weekends. But one day, I saw another classmate crying at lunch and invited her to hang out with us. My relationship with my best friend was never the same because now there were three. And one weekend when we were all going to have a sleepover but I couldn’t make it, it’s like in an instant, I was out of the group. (Cue middle school drama). They still had the sleepover and suddenly a new pair of BFFs was formed.

In family systems psychology these three-person dynamics are called triangles and more often than not, there ends up being an odd man out. It’s easy when you have a baby to revolve your whole world around the adorable little nugget. But in order to be a unified pair, we need to make sure that the spousal relationship is protected. I love my sweet girl but as Rachel of reality TV fame says, “No one gets between me and my man.”

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Here are some things to keep in mind when you bring a baby into your tight-knit duo:

  • You will have less “couple time”: You now have to balance couple time with alone time and family time, all of which takes place before and after business hours. Here’s a taste of our schedule… Jake leaves the house ever morning at 6:30am and gets home between 6:30-7:00pm. I am usually up with Ainsley at least once each night still so there is no way I’m getting up at 5:30am with Jake to hang out. Which leaves evenings. We are still trying to get Ains into a schedule so she usually goes to bed between 7:00-8:00pm. That means at least the first hour of Jake being home is spent bathing, feeding, changing and putting Ainsley to bed. Occasionally we manage to feed ourselves during this time as well. By 8:00pm we are both spent and are faced with the decision: Hang out together or go our separate ways till bedtime around 10pm. Usually we spend the first hour on our own and the second hour together. That works well but it is a huge change from our previous life when we had more energy and there were more free hours in the day to be together.
  • You lose the ability to be spontaneous (unless you have a lineup of babysitters available for hire on a moment’s notice): This goes hand-in-hand with the above point. We used to be pretty spontaneous people. I mean, how spontaneous is this: The week before Ainsley was born we went out every night between 10:00-11:00pm to get McDonald’s shakes. The doctor actually asked me at my appointment that week what was going on because I had gained 5 lbs. That one week! She thought I might have pre-eclampsia or something.  Anywho, I don’t advise doing this on a regular basis, but if you don’t have kids, you can.
  • Lack of patience and other effects of sleep deprivation: We had to make some decisions right when Ainsley was born in order to alleviate the effects sleep deprivation was having on our marriage. We can be feisty creatures when we are tired – short, snippy, critical. Not to mention, with Jake’s uber-intense job starting, he needed to be at the top of his game. So we decided I would handle all nightly duties. Then on the weekends when he wakes up I go back to bed for however long I choose and he has daddy/daughter time. This works well for us. We didn’t discuss this prior to having a baby but I highly suggest you do. It will save you the learning curve later.

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Sounds kind of negative right? Well, there are some really cool things that happen too.

  • You learn the art of negotiation: Take the above example of how Jake and I arranged our new sleeping habits. We had to do a little discussing and negotiating to figure out a plan we both felt was fair. We knew he needed a strong start to his new job and technically I can nap when Ainsley naps. This doesn’t always happen though so those weekend hours of extra sleep are lifesavers. We discussed, negotiated and came up with a plan that would work for both of us.
  • You learn the art of teamwork: Guys, I wish you could see our bath time routine. We’ve got it down. I change Ainsley and pass her to Jake. He carries her to the tub singing “Bath time with Mrs. A, we’re doing bath time, me and Mrs. A dum, dum, dum, dum.”  (I try to tell him one day she is going to be confused by the “Mrs” part but he doesn’t listen). Anyway, they giggle and have fun tub time and when they’re finished I get the “Mrs. Mommy we’re done” call. Ains gets passed back to me for her nightly lotion/massage and gets dressed for bed. We reconvene together after that for a quick bible story, prayer and then it’s “night night time for Mrs. A.” The routine is absolutely flawless now.
  • You bond as you grieve and celebrate: Life looks different when you have a kid but there is something bonding about being in it together. Some days it’s us versus her as we try to figure out what the heck that girl is thinking. We grieve the loss of our old life but we celebrate the gift we’ve been given. We would trade McDonald’s shakes for our baby girl any day.

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How have you seen your marriage change since having a baby? Comment below and be sure to link-up too!

funday-monday-button-300x288Welcome to Funday Monday! Here are a few of our favorites posts from last week’s link-up:

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/ The Juice / Floral Moto Jacket / Lucky in Love / City Walk /

The Rules for #FundayMonday Link-Ups:
    1. Follow your hosts Molly @ still being [molly], Carly @ Lipgloss & Crayons and our guest host Angela @ A. Charles Coach.
    2. Grab a button and / or post a link back here in your BLOG POST (NOT your blog’s main page) so your readers know what all the #fundaymonday-ness is about. We love you guys linking up and we do go through and read all your posts… so if you do not give credit, we will have to remove your link. That’s no fun, right? Right. So be nice and share a link! Pretty please?
    3. Link your blog post up using the linky tool below! It can be ANYTHING! An outfit post, a giveaway, a story, a recipe, whatever. Why? Cause it’s #fundaymonday!
    4. Visit a blog or four that you’ve never been to before and leave a #fundaymonday comment – you never know, you might “meet” someone new that you will lurve!
    5. Have fun! Cause it’s Monday!

Want to cohost #FundayMonday? We are currently accepting weekly cohosts! Please email us at carlybrydon@gmail.com  for more information!



Lasting Friendship

Friendship is such a gift. I had the pleasure of spending Memorial Day weekend with three treasured friends from college. We were roommates (in a 4-man bedroom in our sorority house sophomore year, then pairs of two or three of us lived together every school year and summer thereafter).

Sometimes things just click, and they definitely did with us! It has always been easy… lots to talk about, lots of laughs… and it was such a treat to find that our relationships continue to be such a breath of fresh air.

After weekends like this, I am reminded of how important it is to invest in long-lasting friendships. Sure, the years go by and it can become difficult fitting in  the “old” relationships in the midst of present community and commitments. But it will add value like none other to your life – a richness and sense of history that will keep you grounded.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
― C.S. Lewis

When distance doesn’t make the heart grow fonder…

I was recently talking to a friend about the frustrating relationship phenomenon of distance. The kind where something just feels off between you and someone you love. Where the fluttering butterflies in your stomach seem to slow down, almost as if they’ve gone to sleep; it’s possible they will wake up again but what if they don’t? What if this is the new reality? What causes it? How do you “fix” it?

Ahhh to fix it… that’s what we all want when things aren’t going right in our lives. Fix. ASAP. That’s certainly how I live my life. It pains me to think of the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach that comes when I am uncertain.

My husband and I go through phases like this. Interestingly enough, our intangible feelings of distance often follow periods of literal distance. When life gets in the way of us dating one another, we can usually predict an impending off-ness to occur. We just went through this recently in fact. And despite knowing somewhat when these feelings will crop up, there is no formula to fix it. We just have to be aware and intentional about getting back on track.

Relationships are so complicated.

And what about the question of the day, “why?” Why do we go through ups and downs? Wouldn’t it be easier if things were steady? Perhaps monotonous, but at least they wouldn’t be uncomfortable. And we wouldn’t get that out of control feeling we all get when we don’t know what someone else is thinking and we are forced to just believe what they say and make our peace with it.

As scary as it is and as much as I hate to admit it, no matter how well you think you know someone there will always be a piece you just never fully know. How could you? How could you see every fleeting thought or every topic mulled over when not in your presence? It’s not possible.

There are no answers really. Just the reality that we all have to accept it somehow. Accept that which is unknown. And trust that the truth really is the truth.

I Take Thee…

Three years ago I made the best decision of my life – I married my best friend. Last weekend we celebrated the fact that we made it! Three years may not be long in the grand scheme of things but when you’re living day-to-day, it’s not short.

I am not a risk-taking kind of person and thankfully at the time, I had no idea how big a risk getting married would be. It didn’t even occur to me, until I was sitting out on the balcony of my honeymoon suite in Cancun, that my life was not completely my own anymore. And boy did this hit me like a ton of bricks. My new husband was utterly confused and I’m sure more than a bit nervous at what he had just gotten himself into. He calmly explained that the day we got engaged he understood that he was stepping into a lifelong commitment. And that my life would impact his and vice versa. Somehow that fact had escaped me.

Three years later, after a number of other breakdowns, crises and major life events, we’ve survived. Not only that, we’ve become stronger and more joyful people somehow.

Marriage is kind of mysterious that way. The more you go through together, especially the hard stuff, the more beautiful it becomes. Like a potter who spends hours molding ugly, dirty, smelly clay. As it begins to take shape, a unique and precious piece of art is formed.

Want to know the best news of all? It’s not finished yet. We are not finished. Our marriage is still a work in progress. And if the past three years have been this good, I can only imagine what the next 30 have in store.

Friendship is to the soul, what good food is to the body

In case you haven’t noticed after yesterday’s post (Thank you God That Life is Sweet and Not Just Bitter), I have been in a reflective mood lately. I just bought tickets to visit a dear friend in Florida and I can’t wait to see her. She had a baby boy in January and aside from a brief encounter over Skype, I haven’t even met the little guy yet which breaks my heart! Life gets so busy and money is tight and time seems to run away from me sometimes. 20 years down the road am I really going to remember the random busyness that consumes my days? Probably not. What about the fact that I have tried desperately to hold on to an extra few hundred dollars just so I know I have it in the bank? Likely not. But it’s the investment in relationships that have lasted forever and will continue for life… that’s what’s important. That’s why I’ll be heading to Florida next month.

College roommies

I remember clearly meeting this friend in college. I didn’t think she liked me at first. I remember running on the track at USC one night and we both listened to our walkmen rather than talking (this was before the convenience of IPODS). I can’t recall how the running date came about – but let’s just say, based on that night, a lifelong friendship was not sparked. It wasn’t until the following year that we shared a room in our sorority house with two other soon-to-be BFFs. We started running together more and actually talking on these long runs through the streets of downtown LA. We ran together for years, completing the LA Marathon and another half-marathon down in San Diego. After years and years of running and talking, we began to listen to music again on our runs but this time it didn’t feel so weird. It was comfortable. We each made mix tapes (I’m dating myself more and more) and traded off listening to them on our walkmen during long runs and races. We stuck together while we ran no matter what. Just like we have outside of the race course. I was her maid of honor. She was my matron of honor a few years later. We’ve talked and talked and talked about everything under the sun… especially spiritual issues. I look back on all of our memories with such fondness and a grateful heart.

Maid of Honor

Matron of Honor

As I am meeting new people every day and getting to know them as I get to know the streets and towns of North Carolina, I am reminded of the gift of history. I am praying that some lifelong relationships develop out of this east coast season in our lives but at the same time, I breathe  a sigh of relief knowing that the oldies but goodies of years past are still around too. Is there someone in your life that you used to be close to but because of time or space you have drifted apart? Or what about someone you talk to on the phone but haven’t seen in ages? Can you find a way to make a face-to-face visit possible? Trust me, the sacrifice will be worth it. Friendship is to the soul, what good food is to the body. Nourishment. Strength. Sustenance.

Day 18 – What’s a body to say?

Okay let’s get into some of the logistics of reading people!

But before we do… quick reminder related to yesterday’s post: reading people is not an exact science! There is no perfect formula that is going to be right-on each and every time. Depending on circumstances, culture and other key factors, people may act in a way that contradicts what you would expect.

Here are a few circumstances that will likely effect the presentation of even the most, honest, confident, secure person:

  1. Drug and/or alcohol use
  2. Illness
  3. Being in a totally unfamiliar environment
  4. Extreme stress
  5. Exhaustion
  6. Being the minority in a situation

With those in mind… let’s dive in!

Eyes

Looking right – The right side of the brain is associated with creativity and imagination. Looking to the right, generally indicates a lack of honesty or storytelling.

Looking left – The left side of the brain stores our memory and facts. When we are trying to recall things, we generall glance to our left.

Rubbing eyes – Can indicate tiredness, disbelief (i.e. “I can’t believe what I am seeing” and rubbing the eyes to be sure), crying.

Excessive blinking – There are different numbers out there regarding the amount of times we blink per minute. Experts average 10-20 times. So if you see someone blinking much more than that, it could indicate they are excited or under pressure (or have dry eyes).

Mouth

Smiling – One of the keys to knowing if a smile is genuine has to do with the rest of the face. Can you see a “twinkle” in the person’s eyes? Or creases along the edges of the eyes? If the smile is entirely in the mouth but does not involve any other aspects of the face, it is likely being forced.

Smiling without showing teeth – This could indicate a hesitancy on the part of the smiler. Perhaps they are hiding something or feeling embarrassed.

Nail biting/thumb sucking – Children often suck their thumbs as a way of self-soothing. When we grow up, we may continue these “nervous habits” as outward expressions of stress or discomfort. They “remind” us (internally/subconsciously) of the comfort we felt as kids and provide a similar ease of nerves.

Arms

Crossed armsCould indicate discomfort or a lack of self-confidence. Arms across othe body serve as a sort of barrier keeping people from getting too close.

Holding bags, papers etc. across or in front of the body – Similar to crossed arms, holding objects in front of the body serves as a barrier.

Hands

Finger PointingIndicates agression or blame. Used to dominate others.

Scratching nose while speaking – This is said to indicate lying or exaggeration. Touching the nose at all while speaking could indicate lying.

 

Have you observed any of these when engaging in conversation with people? Do you find the above descriptions to be accurate in reflecting what’s actually going on with people (or yourself)? Try and observe body language this week and see what you see!

To be continued tomorrow…

“Leave the Past in the Past and Move Forward Toward the Future”

Consider this part 3 of my posts on nostalgia…

Leave the Past in the Past and Move Forward Toward the Future!

Enjoy!!

Day 15 – Communication Concepts a la Reality TV

Summer reality TV is here which means… Big Brother and So You Think You Can Dance are on in my house (well, it’s really more like my room since my husband is not a huge fan of either and I typically watch them alone. Either way, I am happy)! Big Brother is a recent addition to my DVR list.. one I have resisted for years. In fact this summer I had to be convinced on more than one occasion by a friend to check out the show. So I made the decision to commit to watching for one week… and now I am hooked.

Since I have decided now that I’m a regular viewer, I might as well try to glean some positive personal growth concepts from it.

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Here goes…

Big Brother is fascinating. In case you haven’t seen the show, here’s what takes place: a group of strangers are selected to live in a house together. The players couldn’t be more different. They participate in competitions and strategize to kick people out until one person is left and named the winner of the game.

The key word in all of this is strategy. Players form alliances with one another and stab each other in the back constantly. The relationships are superficial for the most part and the players just use each other in whatever ways they can in order to remain in the game.

Personally, I don’t think I could ever be on a show like this. I have a hard time being fake nice and using other people (call me crazy)!

I think the takeaway for me, as I observe the relationships on this show, is that honesty and sincerity are two of the most important ingrediants in strong relationships. This, of course, goes along with what Nailah shared yesterday in her guest post “Building Relationships through Honest Communication.”

We all yearn for something real. We search for truth. And yet so often, to conform to societal expectations, to be popular, to be loved, to be (insert whatever else) we act fake. We participate in relationships that only serve to help us achieve, but aren’t genuine. We lose sight of who we really are and become clouded by what we want to attain. Sadly, real life often resembles a game where our main objective is to win, no matter who we step on along the way.

So my encouragement via Big Brother is: Foster genuine relationships where backstabbing and dishonesty do not exist. Communicate openly with people and although you may not always “win the game” you can sleep peacefully at night knowing that when someone tells you they’ll be there for you no matter what, they actually mean it! And they can be confident knowing you will do the same for them!

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