Photo Credit: Gettty Images
Did you know that raising young children, under the age of five and raising adolescents are considered the two most stressful stages on the family life cycle? For now, let's save the topic of adolescents for a bit later, since what really makes teenagers lovable is the fact that you already know and love them.
But seriously, the birth of a baby is the beginning of a new definition of family and with it comes predictable stress. The normal stress of becoming parents can become distress when parents are unaware of the key adjustments inherent in this phenomenal transition. The addition of a new member who is entirely dependent on its parents to orchestrate its needs presents us with profound change and adjustments in family roles, expectations and resources.
The first year of life is a significant one in family adjustment and deserves special attention. Maturation is necessary as parents learn and develop a new balance in their relationship. Like riding a bicycle, some of what needs to be learned will involve falling down, however if communication predominates over "acting out" behaviors, a new sense of self will be restored. How the couple or single parent adjusts to the stresses of new parenthood can determine the family's foundation for the years ahead. A new balance in meeting one's own and our partner's needs has to be achieved.
Identity as a Mother
With the birth of a new baby comes the birth of a new identity of motherhood. It is the psychological task of pregnancy to begin formulating a sense of what it means to be a mother. It is necessary for the new mother to sort through her childhood experience of her own mother, incorporating the things she finds to be positive and changing in herself the ways she disagrees with her mother's parenting. It does not mean you do not love and cherish your mother. But it is your job to discriminate your own parenting values and raise your child accordingly.
Identity as a Father
Recently, fathers are incorporating the need for developing and sustaining a nurturing relationship with their children, rather than taking an emotionally peripheral or merely disciplinarian role. Men and women contribute economically in over 80 percent of American families, shaping us towards more interchangeable roles. Men have to move into the role of nurturance or women will continue to experience an overload of responsibility in the family for both economic and emotional caretaking.
However, sorting through the fathering relationship can be particularly painful for many contemporary fathers, as they often feel the lack of a nurturing bond with their own father. Having little emotional closeness with his own a father (part of the cultural legacy of the 1950s), a new father embracing the role of nurturer must develop his identity as a father from scratch. It may feel odd or "weak" to him in the beginning, but an awareness of the rewards of intimacy in the family generally helps. Forging an identity based on participation and everyday care earns him closeness in place of the emotional distance he may have witnessed his father experiencing.