The Transition to Parenthood

“Being a parent has been the most joyful and the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my whole life,” says Richard, a 37- year-old financial planner and father of Hannah, a 14-month-old beautiful baby girl. For Sharon, Richard’s wife, the transition to parenthood is more dramatic: “It was like somebody took my whole world and gave it a real good shake…and when the dust settled…nothing was the way it had been before… you kinda had to start from scratch…you were lost and there was no map to follow.”

Chapter 3 – The Myth of Motherhood from Jenny Mendoza on Vimeo.
The transition to parenthood is one of the most common experiences in adult life. In fact, over 90% of married couples end up having children at some point in their lives. Maybe this is the reason why the experience of parents has been, at best, trivialized if not completely ignored. While there is an abundance of books and magazines full of advice on parenting, there is little that focuses on the experience of parents themselves and the processes that they go through.

Even expecting parents are not well prepared for the way their lives may change following the birth of their baby. Prenatal classes, for example, focus on labour and delivery, a process that takes approximately 24 hours of the couple’s lives. These classes, or any other education that expecting parents receive, fail to prepare couples for what is coming after the birth. Therefore, it is not surprising that many couples, like Richard and Sharon, are shocked and overwhelmed by the experience of the transition to parenthood.

A baby can bring a lot of joy and happiness to their parents. However, caring for a baby may put a significant strain on the parents, especially on the main caretaker. Lack of sleep, difficulties with breastfeeding, lack of time for self-care, little time to connect with their partner, frustrations with the baby’s routine or lack thereof can all contribute to exhaustion, irritability and a feeling of lack of control and of being overwhelmed.

When the main caretaker has no help or support, the situation may be worse; the parent’s mood may be adversely affected and they can develop depression. In fact, around 15% of new mothers become depressed during the first year postpartum. A baby may enrich and challenge the couple relationship in ways they may not have anticipated. Many couples that have a good relationship believe that a baby will deepen and strengthen their relationship as well as make it more complete.

Some couples, whose relationship is distressed, believe that a baby will fix their relationship and make the problems go away. Indeed, some couple experience these positive changes in their relationship when they first have a baby, but many others feel that, more than anything else, the baby, who they absolutely love and adore, has put a strain on their relationship. In fact, research indicates that marital satisfaction drops significantly following the birth of a baby. Why is that? Most importantly, when a new baby arrives, a dramatic shift in the focus of attention and energy occurs. As a childless couple, the partners could direct a lot of their attention and energy toward one another.

However, when they become parents they naturally invest themselves in taking care of the baby. This is especially true for the main caretaker, which, in most cases, is the mother. As a result, one or both partners may feel neglected, unimportant or even, unloved. Fathers often complain that their partners completely immerse themselves in taking care of the baby, to the point that they feel almost completely ignored. Similarly, some mothers feel that a lot of the love, pampering and attention that they used to get from their partner is now directed exclusively toward the baby.

These feelings may result in mutual resentment and emotional alienation. To make things worse, many postpartum women experience a marked decreased in sexual desire and interest that may last for a few months. It may be that fatigue and exhaustion are at least partially responsible for this phenomenon. Regardless of the reasons for the drop in desire, the reality is, that when a woman rejects her partner’s sexual advances, there is a good chance that her partner will feel rejected, unloved and frustrated and may become less cooperative and more irritable and impatient. These processes may start a vicious cycle that may take its toll on the relationship.

For more information, contact Dr Regev at Tel: 604-671-7356 Email: