Our experts explain how to manage the most common new-baby conflicts. By Lynne Gidish
While having a newborn in the home is a special time for parents, the new uncertain, sleep-deprived world you suddenly find yourselves in can leave you both frazzled and frustrated, and in fighting mode!
Here are some common fights new parents have, PLUS expert advice on how to avoid them.
Getting up in the middle of the night: I changed the last nappy!
It’s normal for new parents to sweat the small stuff at the start of their parenting journey, explains clinical psychologist Candice Cowen. “As a new mom you may go through physiological changes (sleep disturbances, fatigue, dehydration, backache, muscle tension and headaches) as well as emotional and cognitive changes (stress, anxiety, low mood, irritability, inattentiveness, forgetfulness and overall mental fatigue). These changes make the ‘it’s your turn’ negotiation important to have with your partner as a means of survival. Wasting energy on arguing and standing your ground about parental duties could result in unnecessary conflict. That’s why it’s important for the two of you to keep communication open about your expectations as well as your emotional and physical needs. Say, ‘I feel exhausted, would you be able to do this one?’ or pre-empt and ask early in the day, ‘Would you be able to help with the nappy changing tonight?’ It takes a village to raise a child. Bearing this approach in mind will help you keep perspective on working as a team.”
Your mom is telling me what to do – again!
Your mother and mother-in-law have been parents for a long time. Naturally they want to share their advice and experience to prevent you and your partner from making the same mistakes, says clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde. “It’s important to separate the advice from the person. If there have been issues before, for example, you feel you in-law is being controlling, you may be reacting to what you perceive as this happening again.”
Dr Linde adds: “Be open to advice – she really has been there before! But, you don’t have any obligation to blindly follow it. In fact, this is an excellent opportunity for you as a couple to have a conversation and work with facts. For example, ‘This is the advice your mother has given, is this what we want to follow?’ Use this as a chance to confirm your core values around the way you both want to raise your children, and which values are important so that you can then see where the advice will benefit.”
You want baby in the bedroom and he doesn’t – or vice versa!
Newborns tend to be heavily reliant on their moms in the early days of infancy, particularly if they’re being breastfed, says Candice. “As they count on you for soothing and physical closeness, care-giving may be less strenuous if they’re within reaching distance, while sleep-deprived dads may find this less disruptive, too. However, while you may experience the functionality of this in the early days, you’ll soon discover that babies are extremely noisy. They grunt and groan, squeal and squeak constantly in their sleep, which may result in even more interrupted sleep! That’s why the two of you need to discuss a time frame in which your baby can be ‘transitioned’ into his/her own room. For many parents this is once baby is sleeping through the night; others feel it’s at a certain age. The choice is up to you.”
It’s a work thing, I have to go…
This tends to be more from dad to mom in the early months, says Dr Linde. Women tend to take a few months of maternity leave whereas dads generally have just a few days. “Career becomes important to a man as it’s his way of being a provider – with higher stakes once there’s a baby. And when you’ve become an unreasonable, sleep-deprived, weepy, angry person, he may be even keener to focus on work as a means of channelling his own frustrations. The words ‘must’, ‘have to’ and ‘should’ are not conducive to honest conversation. Instead of blaming work, have an honest conversation combining empathy with a plan. For example, say ‘I’m sorry I can’t be there tomorrow night to help you, this work meeting/crisis/conference is the one I discussed with you and it’s something I have little control over. I have thought about it, and I can ask my mom/the nanny to come in earlier to help as I can’t be there.’ This shows that you are aware of the need for assistance, and have thought about what you can do to help. In this way it’s a win-win instead of adversarial.”
Why is the house always a mess?
Your neat and orderly before-baby home inevitably changes once your little one arrives. Suddenly you find yourself faced with a child-centered, messy ‘new normal’, says Candice. “That’s why you need to update your expectations regarding the running of your home. Have a sit-down conversation highlighting areas of difficulty, for example, essential household chores that need to be done and what areas can be over-looked such as, making the bed. By doing this the two of you can come up with solutions together. This could be one of you taking on duties you’ve not previously done before; dedicating a day and time where one or both of you clean house with minimal interruption; or getting external help or support.”
When are you going back to work?
Ideally this topic should be discussed before pregnancy, but sometimes it’s an unplanned baby, or you feel differently after you’ve spent time at home with your newborn, explains Dr Linde. “You may also still be consumed by the brain fog that comes with sleep-deprivation, and feel unsure about whether you can still perform at work. Hence, your reluctance to return to work may be due to anxiety, too.
“Another common fear is around childcare – who will look after the baby? Will they care as much as you do? Will they be responsible enough? Will your baby forget you and bond with the caregiver instead?
“Resistance and force tend to result in more of the same, so this is not the way to approach things. It’s better for both of you to have a conversation and being open to hearing what your partner has to say. ‘I’d like to chat about something’ (request permission, choose your timing). ‘Before we had the baby we agreed you’d go back to work after four months. It’s coming up for six and I’m not sure what you’re thinking about it. Can we chat about it?’ If you’re feeling vulnerable or guilty, this opens a safe space to explore and express your fears and feelings, and this can bring you much closer.
“However, if there’s no way of opening the conversation because your partner explodes or shuts down, rope in the assistance of a trusted third party (ä parent, sibling or professional).”
You’re constantly on your phone/laptop!
With today’s technological advances, working remotely or from home is convenient, says Candice. “However, screen time (whether working on your computer or social media scanning) tends to inevitably infiltrate into everyday family time and can cause much conflict. When the two of you find yourselves bickering about lack of ‘presence’ or ‘attention’, it may be important to look at what’s causing these distractions. Instead of getting into a tug-of-war argument over screen time, try working out together when it should take a back seat. For example, you can agree that there’ll be no screen time during identified ‘bonding time with baby’. This can include bath time, during meals, play time and while preparing your baby for sleep time. This will not only allow quality time with your little one but will also send strong messages to your partner that you are available and present.”//
Lynne is a freelance journalist and content writer who has worked in the
magazine industry for many years. A regular contributor to Living & Loving,
her main passions are people and health. She holds the Pfizer Mental Health
Journalism award for 2012/2013 and specializes in lifestyle and wellness
topics for both the print and digital worlds.