What Parent Stress Looks Like & Why We Need To Teach Expectant Parents About It

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Most of us know what it can be like to be a stressed parent... and yet nobody is out there giving expectant parents the heads up about it, much less showing them what they can do about it.

This needs to change!

Parent stress is common. And when one partner starts counting the nappy/diaper changes and keeping score or pointing out whose turn it is to take the rubbish out, we need both parents to realise that this is just a not very effective way of saying “I need your help”. We need for couples to know that there are ways to work together to get everybody’s needs met.

Stressed parents often focus on one particular thing to try and manage, like when one parent spends all their time with the baby, solely focused on the baby’s needs to the exclusion of all other activities, and the other parent buries themselves in their work. While this may be necessary in the first weeks or months after the baby is born, as time progresses, both parents will need to regain some balance in their life if they want to cope with any future stresses in a healthy way. Because healthy stress management and relief involves maintaining their relationship with their partner, their friendships and lots and lots of self-care.

Why is this important to know?

Because not knowing how to navigate a temporarily stressful situation can become a permanent relationship problem.

Instead of picking on up the stress in their partner, or seeing the challenges their partner is facing, parents can start to think that their partner has something wrong with them, or that they have ‘changed’. Then they start to treat their partner differently. So the negativity goes back and forth, and parents can start to find themselves becoming more and more frustrated and resentful with each other. More disconnected as a couple.

As you know, a loving connection between parents is the key to a lasting relationship and a resilient family. So planning now on how to deal with the stresses we know new parents can expect, is a vital part of postpartum planning.

Here’s some tips to help you explain all of this to your expectant clients:

  1. Let them know some relationship struggles are a normal part of new parenthood - in fact, 92% of couples say this! New disagreements don’t mean that there’s something wrong with either parent or their relationship.

  2. Tell them that stress can look different from person to person; for some it may be being competitive (“I've worked harder than you today”), having tunnel vision (only seeing what's going on with the baby), resenting any interference or help, or looking for someone else to blame (“I can't deal with this, it's all your fault, you sort it out!”). These are all stress responses.

  3. Men and women in our society are traditionally conditioned to deal with stress differently - which can cause even more stress! For example, one partner’s efforts to get the other to talk can cause the other partner to shut down. The more one partner pushes, the more further away the other becomes. This is stressful for both of them.

  4. The key here is to know how to explore issues in a safe way, and be able to work through them together. This might not have been the couples usual way of dealing with issues before baby and so they may need some professional help to do this. This is where you can come in - or know when to refer to someone who can.

What is one thing that you can share with your expectant clients after reading this?

If you want to learn more about how you can help parents prepare for their 'new normal' and find new ways of dealing with parental stress, check out our Becoming Us Professional Training.

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