Becoming a first-time parent can bring unexpected changes to your lifestyle and your relationship. We asked couples counselor, story-keeper and author Elly Taylor about her perspective on the effect a new baby can have on a couple's social life.
eHow: In your experience, what is the biggest challenge new parents face in adapting their social life to having a baby?
Taylor: In our culture, we don’t do such a great job of preparing expectant parents for life after baby, so the biggest challenge for many new parents is getting over the shock of just how different life can be. Many couples expect to just take the baby with them. They don’t anticipate how hard this would be in terms of planning outings between feedings, packing a well-stocked diaper bag or the consequences of baby’s broken sleep.
eHow: Do you think it’s more challenging for the primary caretaker or the secondary caretaker to adapt, and why?
Taylor: I think it’s challenging for both, but in different ways. For the primary caretaker, days are largely made up of tasks revolving around the baby’s needs, so it can be harder to get their own needs met. The primary caretaker can miss out, not just on planned social engagements, but on the incidental socializing that’s part of everyday experience. The secondary caretaker is not only adjusting to the life changes that come with the baby, but to the changes in their partner as well. I hear a lot of new parents say they miss just hanging out with their spouse or partner after the baby comes; this can bring on a real sense of loss.
eHow: How important do you think it is for both the parents as individuals and as a couple to maintain a social life?
Taylor: I find a couple’s motivation for socializing often depends on what stage of parenthood they’re in. Early on, it’s actually good for couples to pull back a bit, building a little cocoon while they’re learning the ropes and adjusting their lifestyle. This can help them focus on recovering from the birth, getting used to the newness of each other as parents, bonding as a family and minimizing outside stressors.
When life starts to settle down, it sinks in that this is the new normal and there is often a restlessness and desire to catch up. This is healthy. We all need to feel connected, and the social isolation associated with earlier phases of parenthood can actually contribute to postpartum depression, which affects one in seven new mothers.
eHow: Do you see value in social gatherings that include the children in terms of having a positive influence not only on the family, but also the couple’s relationship?
Taylor: Absolutely! The more connections the better. There are many long-term benefits in this. From a personal perspective, we made friends with many of our kid’s friends’ parents when the kids were in preschool. Our kids are teenagers now, and over the years, we’ve swapped baby-sitting favors, shared family holidays, established regular girls’ nights out and the men enjoy the occasional sporting weekend away. There are multiple benefits for all involved.
eHow: In your experience, does the potential change in the financial landscape impact what a social life look like for new parents?
Taylor: This can definitely be another adjustment. Previously, social activities might have included certain extravagances. Post baby, the landscape might look very different. Parents often say the quality of their social time means more after they have children. It becomes less about how much you spend and more about how you spend your time.
eHow: What are your general suggestions for parents -- particularly first-time parents—for finding appropriate child care, so they can maintain social connections outside the home?
Taylor: Ideally, the person or people who care for your child are ones with whom you already have a connection: close family and friends. Another option may be starting a baby-sitting club with other parent friends in your neighborhood. Trusty local teenagers are also a great investment, or get those nieces and nephews you used to baby-sit to return the favor.
eHow: What is your one best piece of advice for parents struggling to balance family life with social life?
Taylor: As a couple, brainstorm doable, affordable things that meet your social needs for fun, stress relief, belonging and relaxation. Each month, schedule them into every week on your calendar. That way you make them a priority you can plan around. Your baby benefits from you looking after yourselves and each other.
About Elly Taylor
Elly Taylor, an emotionally focused couples counselor (http://ellytaylor.com), is the author of “Becoming Us; 8 Steps to Grow a Family That Thrives” and columnist for Practical Parenting magazine.
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