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Unexpected Ways Your First Baby Will Change Your Marriage

Most first-time expectant parents know that their first-borns will impact the quality and quantity of their sleep, their budget and disposable income, the division of labor in their households, and the depth of the love in their lives, among other obvious changes.  What many first-time expectant parents don’t know is that their marriages will likely be forever altered in a complex web of ways, potentially either good or bad, depending on the adaptability, patience, understanding, and good communication skills of the new parents.

Becoming a parent often affects self-definition.  New parents may have defined themselves pre-parenthood as sexy, alluring spouses; driven, accomplished professionals; free-spirited artists; adrenalin-junkie adventurers; world travelers; or a host of other descriptives.  Once their first-borns enter their world, however, new parents often place the role of parent as primary in their self-definition.

This evolving self-definition reshapes how the new parents relate to each other and make decisions.  New mothers’ self-definition may no longer accommodate the role of sex partner for their husbands.  New fathers may sense their wives’ lack of sexual interest, assume their marriage is struggling, and resent their infant for robbing them of the lifestyles they had pre-parenthood; or they may imbue their wives with a near-spiritual perception of motherhood, which may cause them to think that having sex may defile their wives; or they may even see their wives as biological machines made for giving birth and breastfeeding (which may impact either positively or negatively their desire for sexual activity with the perceived biological machines); or they may have the patience, understanding, and good communication skills to help their wives align motherhood with concurrent sexual attractiveness.  Both parents may see parenthood as the ultimate consummation of their gender roles, thus making mothers perceive themselves as more feminine and fathers perceive themselves as more masculine; this may increase their self-esteem, amplify manifestations of perceived femininity and masculinity, and provide a powerful sense of fulfillment and purpose in life.  New fathers may take on a more protective role in their families, undertake handyman tasks around their households, or engage in other traditionally masculine endeavors.  New mothers may learn a traditionally feminine craft (i.e., crocheting, cake decorating, scrap booking, etc.), choose to become stay-at-home mothers, or engage in other traditionally feminine endeavors.  Accomplished professionals may fear that the quality of their work, and/or their dedication to it, is compromised by their new role as parents; this can lead to an adjustment in their expectations for their dedication to their jobs, professional/parental role realignment, or a variety of other responses to finding work/life balance as professionals and parents.  Free-spirited artists, adrenalin-junkie adventurers, and world travelers may believe that they need to be “more responsible” or more permanently rooted in one community, which may result in their feeling confined and pressured to behave contrary to their nature, or it may give them a sense of grounding and roots that they may ultimately treasure.  As new parents’ roles and lifestyles change, both parents need to be flexible and understanding of each other so as not to end up on divergent paths.  For example, if one parent wishes to be a stay-at-home parent, the other parent needs to discuss willingly that option, weighing the pros and cons before jointly making the decision that is right for the family.  Often, this flexibility and understanding is aided by the acknowledgement that life, or, rather, the passage of time (with or without parenthood) creates an evolution in each person’s sense of self; the individual spouses would not have remained perpetually unchanged even if they had not become parents, although becoming parents usually creates a spate of such changes.   By such an acknowledgement, new parents can perhaps find it easier to release their prior habits and expectations and embrace new habits and expectations for themselves and their spouses.

In sum, becoming parents often creates seismic shifts in the ways that the spouses relate to each other.  The myriad ways that these shifts manifest render a complex web of changes in the marriages and the spouses within them.  With adaptability, patience, understanding, and good communication skills, new parents can embrace the changes as opportunities for growth, depth, enrichment, and a greater love than they have ever known.

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