General Parenting Issues — 23 July 2007
A good relationship helps you be better parents

The birth of a child is a life-altering event for couples. Parenting may both enrich the pair and negatively impacts their relationship. How couples manage their new role affects their child and their future relationship.

The Associated Press reported The Pew Research Center recent survey that “having children” was rated as the eighth of nine factors in contributing to a successful marriage. It trailed well below the top three of: “faithfulness”, “happy sexual relationship” and “sharing household chores”. In a 1990 World Value Survey “having children” was third among the same categories.

Philip and Carolyn Cowan, Professors of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, found in their ‘Evolving Family Project’, that though most ‘average’ parents find a reduction in their marital satisfaction after the birth of their child, those who had a healthy relationship prior to becoming parents were better able to be effective parents and positively impact their children, as well as restore their connection.

These findings support the common belief that couples are wise to develop a good friendship prior to embarking on becoming parents.

The same researchers also found that providing couples with 24 pre-birth group sessions dealing with their individual and couple relationship, their own upbringing, and stresses and supports in their lives, made a significant improvement in the couple’s level of marital satisfaction for the five years post birth as compared to parents who did not receive this intervention.

Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan at Ohio State University reported similar findings. She found that couples who had a better pre-birth relationship were better able to deal with fussy or difficult babies than were those pairs whose relationship was not as good. The less connected couples resorted to criticizing each other’s way with the child or competed with each other for the baby’s attention.

The importance of a couple’s good relationship and cooperative style cannot be overemphasized. It helps them become better parents, help their child be healthier and predicts the quality of their relationship in the future.

Children respond to their parent’s emotions even prior to understanding the meaning of fights, arguments or anger. Pre-verbal infants are known to cry when they hear their parents’ loud exchanges. Babies absorb the emotional tenor at home and are calmer and happier with soothing sounds. A baby whose parents are argumentative and combative is more likely to be fearful, insecure and agitated. As children get older, they learn to accept parental rifts, angry exchanges, and dissonance as the marital norm, which later impede their own love connections.

Parents who criticize each other’s parenting confuse their children and cause them grave distress. Dr. Schoppe-Sullivan said: “Parents need to be sure they are consistent in their parenting values, beliefs and attitudes, and expectations about how they will divide their responsibilities.”

To be better parents and secure a more effective relationship and marital happiness:

• Make sure that you are able to communicate well, solve problems and handle your differences before you become parents. If you are unskilled in these areas, get help.

• Allow sufficient time to cement your partnership beyond the infatuation stage, to truly gauge your satisfaction with your relationship.
• Seek pre-natal classes not only for the birthing experience, but also in preparation for developing healthy expectations, discussing your concerns and preparing for cooperative parenting.
• Understand that as ready as you are for the new baby, you are probably unprepared for the fatigue, constant vigilance, the enormous responsibility for a totally dependent new life, and for the singular focus needed for nurturing another being. All these detract from your ability to keep the focus on each other. Be patient and loving.
• Keep your communication active- both of you are new to this and need to abstain from turning against each other in your frustration.
• Realize that there is no one right way to raise your child. Your chosen compromise is best.

• Abstain from feeling neglected – when your partner loves the child – he/she loves you as well.

• Negotiate the principles, values and goals for your child in a connected and intimate way.
• Remember that acting lovingly toward each other assures both your child’s and your own satisfaction – now and in the future.
• Accept that as with any other taxing new undertaking, you will find your way. If you work together as a team, your baby will thrive and your marriage will be strengthened with love and joy.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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