While most couples don’t hesitate to sign a prenuptial contract before walking down the aisle, there’s no talk of a written agreement or baby prenup before becoming parents.
But why? In addition to getting married, moving to a new house or starting a new job (which all require written contracts), having a baby is one of the biggest life-changing experiences anyone can ever go through. Yet, new parents often go in blind, and don’t discuss expectations beforehand, says Judy.
This can cause a host of problems as one or both parents expect the other to behave a certain way or do certain things such as get up for night feeds, help with the cooking or get the groceries. If these expectations aren’t met, it can lead to resentment and hostility between parents, which can have a snowball effect and result in anxiety and postnatal depression.
The risk of postnatal depression
“I’ve worked with many male clients who also suffer from depression during, and after their partner’s pregnancy,” says Judy. According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, depression in dads can increase from around 13% to 50% when the mother also has perinatal and postnatal depression.
Studies have shown that postnatal depression is linked to several factors such as:
- Sleep deprivation in the first two years
- Financial stress related to having a new baby
- New roles and responsibilities as parents, which often involves multitasking and juggling
- Fluctuating hormones
- Genetic factors.
However, the good news is, a baby prenup can help to reduce the risk of postnatal depression in both moms and dads after baby is born.
What is a baby prenup?
While it might sound intimidating, a baby prenup is simply a written agreement between an expecting couple that lays out childcare expectations for both parents before baby is born.
According to the US-based Pew Research Center, which analyses social and demographic trends, “The way mothers and fathers spend their time has changed dramatically in the past half century. Dads are doing more housework and childcare and moms more paid work outside the home. Neither has overtaken the other in their ‘traditional’ realms, but their roles are converging.”
Interestingly, researchers also reported that “56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it very, or somewhat difficult to balance these responsibilities.”
This means that in the age of modern parenting, which includes many demands, it’s more important than ever for new parents to have a written baby prenup to help them navigate their way through this tricky transition.
Your baby prenup should be:
- A general agreement that’s flexible and not cast in stone. This is because the many theories about what type of parents you should be could fly out the window the minute you have your own baby!
- Fair and provide a framework for you and your partner to have open, honest discussions about your role as parents.
- A living document that allows for changes and progressions as you grow as people and parents. The key is to revisit your baby prenup often and let it open channels of communication.
It should also outline:
- Expectations of both parents. For example, if you expect your partner to make dinner, or bath the baby every night, it should be stipulated, discussed and agreed on.
- Expectations of your relationship and a look at how it might change. Will you still make time for date nights, and if so, how many per week/month?
- What external help might entail. For example, will your child’s grandparents be involved or is paid-help (a nanny or au-pair) more realistic?
- How your social life might change. Will you stick to a sleep/feeding routine or go with the flow and let your little one nap in the pram while you visit friends?
- Your joint financial plans and goals for your family and as individuals. You should also discuss what’s important to save for, such as baby classes, medical bills, school fees and extra murals later. If nail and hair appointments are important to you during maternity leave, it’s important to discuss upfront how you’ll pay for these.
- If you have more than one child, how will you juggle both and who will step in to help more with your older child?
TOP TIP: Baby prenups will look completely different for each couple, so avoid comparing yours to anyone else’s.
In her latest book, Recover From Burnout, Judy highlights the 5 Cs, which is a tool she created to help people think about how they want to respond to various demands placed on them. “This is a great tool for couples to use and include in their baby prenup too,” says Judy.
The 5 C’s include:
Be clear on what’s going on, who wants what and what the bigger picture is. This helps to clear up any unrealistic expectations.
Both couples need to think about how they would like to respond to the demands being placed on them as new parents. Choice also means deciding when and how to take breaks as well as choosing to go back to work, perhaps. For example, choice could mean you say, “I will stay home with my baby in the mornings, but I’d like to work from home from 1pm to 5pm every day.”
This means committing to the plans you have in place as a result of the choices you’ve made as a team. To stay committed to your plans, it’s important to have a support system in place and to communicate your needs. Commitment could also mean committing to regular self-care such as a soothing bath every evening or an early morning meditation session before the day starts.
In your baby prenup, outline some possible outcomes or consequences should you choose a certain path. For instance, if you go back to work and your baby is in a creche, what will you do if she gets sick often? What is your plan B? Or, if you work from home and you end up working nights, how will you and your partner work out the night-time feeds so that you can get enough sleep?
This is the most essential tool for new parents because little ones grow and develop at a rapid rate and no two days are the same. It’s important to communicate consistently and change plans if necessary.
To make your baby prenup work, Judy has the following tips:
- Commit to being open and honest with each other – using your baby prenup as a framework.
- Check in with each other daily – no day is the same with a new baby.
- Create a space to connect with each other – even if it’s 5 minutes after you put your baby down for the night.
- Ask for and accept help! I always say, “Letting people help you is letting people love you, it’s not a weakness,” she adds.
- Be specific about what help you need. For example, say to your partner, “Please can you fold and pack away the laundry while I go for a walk with our baby” Or, “please can you bath our baby so that I can prepare dinner?” this is more effective than simply saying, “ I need help”. Don’t assume your partner will know what you need help with.
- Allow for give and take. Work together to create harmony in your home.
More about the expert:
Judy Klipin is a Master Life Coach and has a busy private practice in Johannesburg, from where she also offers coaching sessions over the phone and Skype. She is the author of Life Lessons for the Adult Child as well as Recover From Your Childhood and Recover From Burnout.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike.