At my 6 week appointment I asked my doctor if I was allowed to have…
It isn’t a new concept that relationships change after someone has a baby. We have all been on the other side of it – where we watch a friend, a co-worker, or a sibling become a new mama and we see them less, talk to them less, or the conversations are just different. There is nothing mind-blowing about that. But understanding why and how they change can make the adjustment easier, or smoother, or less stressful…hopefully. Fingers crossed.
As a psychologist, relationships are in the forefront of my work. I spent a decade of training learning about relationships and what influences them, how they change, why they don’t change when they need to, and so much more.
So when it came time for my husband and I to add another relationship to our lives, I knew I wanted to consider how this pregnancy would impact my existing relationships — my village if you will. I wanted to protect the relationships that already meant so much to me while also creating space to love this brand new little person.
Luckily, I already had wonderful, grounded parenting tips from years in the field! I knew I needed to…
- Schedule regular time to be alone with my partner. Be mindful of the normal jealousy that he may feel when the baby arrives.
- Maintain my other identities separate from being a mom.
- Not use the baby’s needs as the reason that I can’t do things with my older step-kids (even though that is, in fact, the reason).
- Let grandparents be grandparents, and not babysitters.
- Give older kids time and responsibilities with the baby to connect with their new sibling.
- Be mindful to not only talk about baby stuff when with friends.
I now find this list hilarious.
I became a mom and found myself eating humble pie every morning for breakfast. That list of healthy relationships tips? I couldn’t do it. I was lucky if I was doing even one of them.
Why was it so difficult? These are genuinely good relationship goals. They aren’t entirely idealistic. What was the problem? I know I’m not the only person whose expectations of motherhood didn’t pan out.
I had to stop and look at myself in the mirror. Figuratively and then literally. I had to really see myself. And this is what I had to tell myself.
Mama, you have changed. You are not the same person as you were when you were at 10 weeks, 20 weeks, 30 weeks pregnant. This journey has already transformed you into an inherently different person – physically, emotionally, neurologically, and relationally. And that is good! Even though it may not sound like it! It shows that you are responding to the new environment. The goal is not to stay the same. The goal is to grow and adapt to the ever-changing circumstances of life.
I knew my circumstances had changed, but I didn’t fully appreciate what was involved in that change and what that change meant. And while I had seen this in my work, I hadn’t seen it in myself. And it was a lot to take in.
I didn’t have the time I used to have. My days used to be entirely self-determined, and now they’re largely run by this little person’s unpredictable needs. My abilities (physically, emotionally, and mentally) became limited. I could no longer “just” stay awake later, drink more coffee, and push through to get the next thing done.
My priorities had changed. Going to a 90-minute hot yoga session sounded wonderful, but if I had an extra 2 hours in my day, I knew damn well that I wasn’t spending that precious chunk of time on hot yoga, mountain biking, or rearranging my living room furniture. I loved all of these things, but they had fallen on my priority list.
I changed. And now my relationships had to change too.
Your partner, your mother, your brother, your friends, they are no longer in a relationship with the same person. You are a newborn too. There are similarities to the previous version of you, there are probably lots of similarities, but the main operating system has been updated for a new set of demands. And some of the hardware has changed as well.
Although this update was necessary, it does not necessarily mean that it will be met with open arms by those around you. People historically do not like change. People like predictability. And now you are about to throw it all off. And you’re supposed to.
So, what will your relationships look like? How will they change?
That partially depends on how the other people in your life respond to change. How well they make adjustments. How tolerant they are of others’ growth and of new priorities. How they feel about new ways of doing things. How they adapt.
The question becomes, “How will these two people (you and the other person) respond to this life-changing experience that you are going through together?”
Here’s a way you can consider both people involved:
Get to know the new you
Pay attention to how your time, capacity, resources, and priorities have changed. If you do not recognize or accept this first piece, you will be working under the deception of a false self. The perception of yourself will not match your reality. So, the first task is self-reflection to gain self-awareness.
Take a closer look at the people with whom you are in relationships
Ask yourself: How has my _________ (spouse, parent, sibling, boss) responded in the past when I_______(did something differently or new)?
Were they supportive? Cheerleaders? Excited for you? Interested in your new adventure? Were they cynical? Critical? The nay-sayer that inserted doubt and uncertainty? Did they disappear? Did they abandon the relationship because you weren’t going to play by their old rules? Try to see this in a very honest light.
You could stop here. But it’s worth taking one more step, bringing this back around to you again.
Learn your triggers
Once you see yourself for who you are now, and how others may respond to these changes, take a look at how you are triggered emotionally due to these changes in your relationships. Try to do so without judging your feelings.
Do you feel resentful for others not meeting your expectations? Do you feel like a child or incompetent if others are offering parenting suggestions? Do you fear these changes in yourself and your relationship will lead to losing love?
Reflecting without judgment allows you to feel the natural reaction to these changes. Then you can use this information to guide your responses, rather than responding from a defensive or anxiety-ridden state.
When I was a new mom, my relationship with my own mother became strained. I found myself
wanting to please her, feeling like a failure if I didn’t parent how she thought I should, and mad that she wasn’t fully supportive of my way of parenting. It was a mess. Both of our expectations were not met and our relationship had to change. And it did. In time. And with work.
Our relationship isn’t the same as it was, but it’s working. And it will change again. The next time it needs to. Communication is key, as it usually is, and always easier said than done. It takes a lot of strength, courage, self-awareness, and self-regulation to share your needs. And to also hear the other person’s needs, and shift the relationship dynamic so it better aligns with what works for the new you. Again, it will take time.
When you look at your relationships and they’ve changed, you may be saddened by them. You may feel lonely at times. You may feel disappointed. You may have new insights into what your own parents went through when they were new parents themselves. You may find the weaknesses in your relationships and you may find the strengths. Throughout it all, there are a few tokens of wisdom I want to share with you:
- Certain relationships are just for a season. Let them shine in their season and hibernate for other seasons. Just because certain relationships aren’t on the top of your priority list right now doesn’t make them any less meaningful.
- The goal is to continue to change and grow. Try not to cling to old ways that no longer fit the new circumstance.
- Only invite those who feel safe to you into your space.
- The changes that happen postpartum happen fast, and they happen while you’re distracted.
You have a new role that requires your health and your care to be prioritized so that you can fulfill a vitally important role as a mother. This may be new for you. If you find that a friend or a family member is no longer a positive support person, redefine the relationship. The relationship doesn’t have to end, but it may need a new limit or a new boundary.
You may not have even realized it yet, but you are different. The process of matresence even changes your brain. It will take some time for you to learn about your new self, and it may take others even longer. There’s no rush. Just as it will take time to get to know your new mombod and it will take time to sleep through the night, it will take time for your relationships to adjust.
Things will look different after the dust settles. Our challenge is to learn to ride the wave, not to stop the storm.