What Do I Do Right?

Do Right

I’m taking part in Elly Taylor’s, Becoming Us Facilitator Training, and it’s fantastic! This training is based on her book, Becoming Us: 8 Steps to Grow a Family That Thrives. I love this book as it aims to prepare couples by presenting them with normal, realistic expectations for the transition to parenthood. Through this training, I’m learning how to “plant seeds” for my expectant couples so their transition to new parenthood goes as smoothly as possible.

This work is not necessarily new to me and the way I teach, but going through this training has allowed me to look in-depth at the incredible transition that women and their partners go through as they become parents to a newborn. This is a life-changing event, after all, and we need to do better in preparing our families for all of the changes that will be happening to them as individuals and as a couple. This is why I’m taking part in this advanced training. I’m weaving Elly’s work into my current curriculum to better prepare my families with realistic expectations that go far beyond the birth itself.

The module that I’ve most enjoyed so far is learning more about the challenges new parents have in grappling with their lowered sense of identity and self-esteem as they move into their new roles. We’ve definitely moved away from the idea of parents receiving a boost to their self-esteem by other members of the larger culture when they start a family. The idea of ushering in the next generation as a role of honor, just isn’t a part of our cultural identity any longer.

In a society that elevates the material world and success is measured in how much money you make, the work parents do to raise their children doesn’t even rate in our collective consciousness. It’s barely recognized, let alone given any extrinsic value. When we look at parenting through this cultural lens, it starts to become obvious why the identities and self-esteem levels of new parents, both men and women, take a hit.

To address this issue, I’ll sometimes talk about parenting in a way that resonates with my student’s experience up to this point: Parenting is a job. But it’s not just any job, it’s the job – the one you’ve been focused on getting for the past year at least, maybe even longer and finally, you land that job.

And it ends up being the hardest freaking job you’ve ever had.

The hours suck. There’s no pay, no vacation time. Your mentors aren’t that helpful because they were trained about 25-30 years ago, and things have changed – a lot. There are so many different manuals with conflicting information about every aspect of this job, that you just stop reading them.

If you’re lucky, you have partner to help you in this new job – but guess what? They were hired the exact same day you were and they don’t seem to know any more than you do about the right way to get this job done. Plus, they’re as sleep-deprived and resentful of the “No-Pay Policy” as you are, so morale in the office is really, really, low.

But maybe the worst part of this job? You don’t get to have regular job reviews with a supervisor that can sit you down, talk with you about what a great job you’re doing, provide helpful feedback with some of the challenges you’re facing, and ultimately encourage you to keep going. No one is there to remind you that this job is important, it matters, it has meaning, and even if the payoff is hard to see right now, it’s completely worth it.

When we come from a world where we get regular pats on the back for a job well done, being thrown into the job of being responsible for your newborn’s life without any of that regular feedback can be really hard. And in some ways, it’s harder on men who become fathers than it is for women who become mothers. Men today, who really want to be much more involved, might not have a strong role model in their own father. They might end up feeling like they’re playing catch-up to their partner who may have been encouraged in her role as mother since she was a young girl through (stereotypical) ideas of nurturance, play, and babysitting.

But studies show that identity and self-esteem of both men and women are lower after they become parents. They’re often floored by how much they don’t know about parenting, how much “on-the-job-training” comes with having a baby, and often feel like they have to defend their parenting choices, or be ready to criticize other parenting choices as a way to lessen their own feelings of vulnerability in this new role.

I think waiting for our culture to provide parents with a pat on the back for a job well done will be an exercise in futility. I’m not sure it’s worth waiting for. Depending on the relationship, we may or may not get any positive feedback even from our own parents. Which is harsh to say, but true. Still, this issue needs to be addressed as it has long-term implications for new parents as individuals, as well as their couple relationship. 

I think the obvious person we need to look to in this situation, is our partner.

Our partner is the only person that understands the level of sacrifice, the long hours, the hard work, and the immense love that we have for our children. They’re the only ones that can provide us with feedback as to how we’re doing in this new job. And studies show that what our partner says about our parenting has the greatest impact on our feelings of identity and self-esteem.

Take the time to let your partner know that you think they’re doing a great job as a parent in this shared “work project.” Try to focus on the positive – remember that this job will become exponentially harder on both of you, if you end up doing it by yourself from two different job sites. Instead of telling your partner what they could do better, focus on what it is they’re already doing really well.

We need to know that the person who is intimately connected with the work that we’re doing day in and day out, respects us and the tireless work we do to parent our newborn, toddler, tween, teenager and young adult. Because it never ends, this parenting gig. And to have a committed partner in parenting makes this job so much more enjoyable and rewarding.

Tell your partner one thing that you love about how they parent – today. It will give their parenting identity and self-esteem a very much needed boost!

This whole blog post was prompted today by this song  by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack I heard on the way to school drop-off this morning. And because everything somehow connects to the worlds of pregnancy, birth and parenting, I give you this as a reminder of how it can start to feel if we forget to tell each other what we do right as parents.

Were you surprised by a lowered sense of identity and self-esteem after you became a parent? How do you and your partner acknowledge one another in your role as parents? Isn’t every day as a parent Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?

Sex Life? What Sex Life? Part II

SexLifePartII

As mentioned in an earlier post, Sex Life? What Sex LIfe? Part I, there are many factors that can conspire to make postpartum sex a little bit tricky to initiate. But the good news is there’s only one thing necessary to have a lasting and healthy sexual relationship: direct, open and honest communication.

When you see your provider for that standard six-week postpartum visit, be prepared to talk with them about your sexuality. Nothing should be off-limits. This can feel awkward at first, but remember, your provider has studied for years about pregnancy, birth and postpartum. They’re considered experts in the care of women during this transition. Anything you feel might be of concern to you, bring it up. Don’t be shy. They’ve heard it all before, I promise.

Whatever your concerns, they’re most likely to be temporary and will resolve over time. But the anxiety of not knowing this can become a bigger deal than it needs to be. I’m a huge fan of paying to hear these experts say the three little words that can make you feel so much better: “That’s completely normal.”

If, at the end of this six-week appointment with your provider, you’ve stopped bleeding and your physical healing is complete, you’re probably going to get the green light for having sex. You’ve been examined and it’s been determined that you are physically ready for sex. But now you need to weigh that information with whether or not you’re feeling emotionally ready for sex.

Have you ever heard this joke? “Sex is like pizza. Even bad pizza is still pretty good pizza.”

I don’t think it’s very funny, either.

Sex, good sex, rarely just involves the physical. I mean, there is something to be said about just going at it! But if you think about it, the best sex of your life might have involved, but was not dependent upon: a gorgeous and romantic location, a crazy position, or the addition of some kinky sex toys.

Good sex usually occurs when there’s a trusting, loving relationship established between you and your partner. Better sex happens when you feel safe and accepted for who you are. Great sex happens when you’re able to see and be seen by your beloved.

Good sex involves a level of intimacy and vulnerability that allows the two of you to become one, physically and emotionally. It can’t happen if one of you isn’t feeling emotionally ready. It can’t happen when you’re feeling guilted into it. It can’t happen when you’re just trying to soothe someone else’s sexual frustration. It can’t happen when one of you feels resentment – sex being one more thing on your to-do list of how you serve others and not yourself.

Sex postpartum has the potential to be so much better than it ever was before your baby arrived! The reason is because you’re about to reveal to one another a level of tenderness and vulnerability that you don’t even know about yourself. It’s through that window of openness that you can begin to cultivate a new, more intimate and connected relationship with your partner inside – and outside – of the bedroom.

But communication is the key.

If you’re not feeling ready (either one of you!), you need to express this to your partner while reassuring that it has nothing to do with your desire for them as a person. Too many partners take the new Momma’s lack of desire for sex as a lack of desire for them – as if the baby has somehow taken their place.

Now Mommas, initially you might respond, “That’s ridiculous!” Before you start telling your partner to “Grow up! The baby needs me!” think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes.

If your partner was the sole source of food and most often the source of comfort for your newborn, you might feel more than just a little bit left out. So it’s possible (and I would add normal) that your partner might be feeling a bit on the outside of this new little Momma-baby dyad. It can get lonely out there sometimes.

As the partner, it’s important to remember that Momma might be “all touched out” by the end of the day. She might want her body to be hers and hers alone. She’s likely to feel overwhelmed by trying to meet her newborn’s needs and get showered before four pm. The thought of adding some sexy time into the day may not even be on her radar.

It’s helpful to take stock of one another’s perspective to understand where the other is coming from when it comes to sex – or anything else, for that matter. Perspective taking is challenging, but it makes you a much more thoughtful person. And this alone is a very big turn-on! Thoughtfulness can go a long way toward creating a much more mutually satisfying relationship.

But here’s the real-deal. For most women postpartum, it takes awhile longer than it did before the baby was born for their body to feel desire. This can be a big mismatch from where partners are.

Your partner might catch a glimpse of you before you jump into the shower and think, “Let’s do this!” But your mind is already on the hamster wheel calculating all the things that need to get done today – and sex is the last thing you’d ever think about.

Partners hear this: if you’re willing to wait until the timing is right (and it might end up being early morning now instead of nighttime – Mommas are battling end-of-the-day exhaustion levels, remember?) and if you’re willing to engage the biggest sex organ in a woman’s body you just might get somewhere. This mismatch in your sex drive can be minimized.

(Here’s the part that applies to all couples, not just those who are new to parenting!)

The biggest sex organ for a woman, in my opinion, is her brain. It’s that whole brain-body connection that I can’t stop writing about! In order for a woman to be able to truly let go, she needs to feel safe, she needs to be able to trust and allow herself to be vulnerable. It’s best if she’s not feeling too anxious or stressed out.

And even if you’re the love of her life, that doesn’t happen just because you’re lying next to one another in bed. It’s a rare woman whose feelings of desire can be turned on like the switch on a lightbulb. She might require a little more prep-work. Instead, try thinking about lighting a fire and the care that’s needed to get that spark to a full flame.

Engage her in conversation. It doesn’t have to be about profound or romantic things. Discussing with each other how the day has gone and really listening to one another (no electronic devices nearby to distract you from each other!) goes a lot farther than you’d think in terms of creating connection.

If you notice that she’s had a particularly rough day, offer to take charge of the bedtime routine, or do the dishes so she can sit down with a glass of wine and relax a little bit. If she can ease out of Momma-mode, and let some of the day’s stressors go, she’ll be much more responsive to you.

Even after all of these positive steps toward setting the mood for some loving, she might not want to go there – but she just might. How do you know?

Ask her!

I think when it comes to sex, partners are too often silent: groping and hoping that if you touch her in just the right way under the sheets she might be ready to go. Instead of this blind attempt with the potential of rejection without explanation, ask her if she’s up for messing around. Most women can gauge whether or not they can be persuaded.

If it’s defintely, “No.” Then, it’s not going to happen. Mommas it will help your partner, and your relationship, if you can articulate why you’re not into it at this time: “I don’t think it’s happening tonight. I’m _________________ (too tired, too worked up about my day tomorrow, still upset about the conversation I had with my Mom, angry about the comment you made to me last night.) This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but direct, open and honest communication has to happen for real connection to occur.

If she is in the mood, she’ll let you know – with or without words (hubba! hubba!) And she’ll appreciate that you asked!

But here’s the clincher that might lead to better (and more!) sex for you both: Mommas if you’re on the fence about whether or not you feel up for having some sexy time, let your partner know that too by saying, “I might be able to be persuaded.” And then partners, do your best to persuade her!

Extra time spent catching her body and brain up to one another can make all the difference in terms of having good sex, more often. She might really want, she might really need, to have an orgasm. But unless her desire is able to fully manifest, the sex you do have might end up being one-sided, not mutually beneficial and therefore, won’t happen nearly as often as you’d like.

If you take these considerations into account however, you might find that your sex life post baby can be even stronger and more satisfying than it ever was before the baby arrived.

Last comment to all new or experienced Mommas out there: Make orgasms your new best friend! Every time you have one, it’s like going to the spa for a mini-massage. It’s one of the best ways to release tension throughout your entire body plus your brain gets flooded with that love and bonding hormone, oxytocin. Ultimately, with a healthy and satisfying sex life, you’ll experience less stress and more connection with your partner.

Your sex life postpartum may not be the most important aspect of your relationship, but it does deserve a lot of attention! You need to take care of it, and nurture it – with at least as much attention as you shower on your baby. When that happens, both your baby and your relationship will thrive.

How have you nurtured and cared for your relationship postpartum? Are there areas which deserve more of your attention? Do you need to focus more on using direct and honest communication with one another?

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps…

Perhaps3

Perhaps, you thought that you and your partner would be on the same page in terms of “growing up” and taking care of your new little baby? Perhaps, you thought you’d both suddenly be so much more mature? Perhaps, the reality of where each of you are in your development as new parents is causing you distress?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

I’m in the beginning stages of learning from the magnificent, Elly Taylor and her Becoming Us Program. And one of our recent lessons mentioned the word, “generativity.” This is a fancy term coined by psychologist, Erik Erikson and basically it means becoming less selfish and more selfless. Moving into this stage of generativity usually happens somewhere in adulthood and it often coincides nicely with people who are becoming parents for the first time.

This makes sense to me – a baby is born, a family is created and suddenly you find out what real responsibility means. You now have to take care of this completely helpless person. You are “nudged” into growing up and maturing into the role of parent so you can put your needs on the back burner while you attend to all of your baby’s needs.

It would be so lovely if both you and your partner grew up and into your role as parents at the same time and at the same pace. But oftentimes, this isn’t the case.

Maybe it’s the sheer physical demands that a Momma goes through during pregnancy, or through the birth itself, but she’ll often reach this state of generativity at a quicker rate than her partner. This can be cause for great conflict in the early weeks and months of life with your new baby. Because of her physical ties to the baby, especially if she’s breastfeeding, the Momma might feel resentful toward her partner who’s still finding time to carve out a quick run, a long game of golf on the weekends, or a regular evening out with his buddies. “Doesn’t he see that all I do is give, give, give to our baby day and night?”

Partner might see her in this role and doubt whether or not he is ready or able to fill such impressive shoes – his learning curve is oftentimes much steeper than it is for her as she’s usually had some experience with babies via babysitting. “If I can’t do it the way she does it, I’m a failure.” And society still sends the message loudly and clearly, that by virtue of being female, she’s automatically the “better” parent (which is utter crap!) If Momma asks him to be more focused on the home front, he might actually end up feeling stifled and controlled.

This does not make for a happy couple on the other side of giving birth to a bundle of joy that was supposed to bring you closer together!

How to resolve this? There’s a lot that I’ll be learning as I complete this course, and I promise to pass that along to you here. But I have a few of my own thoughts that I’d like to share.

For partners, especially men, pregnancy and birth might be the first time in their lives where they feel completely out of their element. And from a societal standpoint, we do very little to welcome them into this world of women. They might go to every clinic appointment and ultrasound, they might want to be really involved – but end up feeling like a third wheel most of the time. Or maybe, deep down, they’re completely freaked out and long for the days when they could’ve been smoking cigars in the waiting room and not required to step foot into the labor and delivery room – but if they tell anyone that, they’ll be labeled an insensitive, uninvolved jerk. What if we tried to meet them wherever they are during the pregnancy (without judgement) and then support them better in their role as expectant father? I think this might be a good first step.

Communication between the couple has to happen early and often so that you both know where the other is in terms of adopting this new role of parent. This can feel like an emotional land mine if you don’t respect the “no judgement” policy. Your partner needs to be able to reveal his true feelings about becoming a father. And he needs the time and space to move into that role.

There’s also something to be learned from our partners as we move into the world of motherhood. We need to remember the importance of self-care, of figuring out what individual needs we have that we don’t want to lose in our new role of Momma. Instead of feeling resentment toward our partner, maybe we can learn from them how to carve out the time and space we need to feel whole and separate from our role as parent.

Of course, I’m speaking in general terms. Sometimes our partners are beyond ready for their role of fatherhood and it blows us away, and it’s us new Mommas who are slow to catch up. The reality is that very few couples reach this stage of generativity at the same time. But instead of putting a wedge into your relationship, perhaps this can become a new and better way of understanding each other as individuals. Perhaps we can learn from each other as opposed to being intimidated by or resentful of one another. Perhaps this can be a period of growing together, rather than growing apart.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

You might think you know the song of this same name, but I’m not sure if you’ve heard the band Cake sing it. If you like Cake, like I do in all it’s many forms, than this version is worth a listen. (I love it when I can find a tune that goes with my blogpost – it feeds the rocker in my soul!)

Can you see how you and your partner might be approaching parenting at a different pace from one another? Is this helpful to realize how very common and normal this stage of development is and that it’s possible to “catch up?”