Babies are delightful! They are fun, entertaining and let’s face it – great time wasters. Babies can be mesmerising. We can find ourselves watching their every move to see what new thing they have discovered about themselves, others, or their environment.
They are constantly learning and that learning mainly comes from their primary care giver – us, their parents. Baby’s respond to a parent’s touch, expression, voice, closeness, play, and everything about us. Gottman and Schwartz (2007, p. 32) write “Our babies want to interact with us from the moment they’re born. And our face is a Picasso to them. In fact, for Baby there’s no more exciting toy than our face. Nor is there any music more entertaining than our voice – Mozart included.” However, this is only the beginning because it is from us that they learn to be and feel safe in the world. This leaves us with a lot of responsibility to take care of and to nurture our baby, and a lot of opportunity to have fun and play.
According to Gottman and Schwartz, (2007, p. 48) as parents the two most powerful things we can do is: “Stay warm and emotionally available” and “Stay responsive to baby’s cues” (2007, p. 48).
Making Conflict Constructive. Not Destructive
Every couple experiences conflict at some stage. The secret is to “make conflict constructive and not destructive” (Gottman et al, 2007, p. 26).
What does destructive conflict look like?
- The silent treatment
- An inability to compromise
- A lack of warmth
- No humour
- Reduced closeness
- The sense of walking on eggshells
- Talking louder to make oneself heard
- Withdrawing from our partner
Conflict however does not have to be done this way. If managed well it can lead to deeper compassion for one another and can be a learning opportunity to get to know our partner better. According to Gottman and Schwartz (2007, p. 24), the key is to be
“open to accepting our partner’s influence and not insisting on getting our own way.”
We therefore learn to work “more as a team, we cope better with stress, and navigate the transition to parenthood with greater ease.” (2007, p. 25).
By the way, if you are headed for an argument, ensure that baby doesn’t witness you fighting.
How to do constructive Conflict…
When next you are heading for conflict try using listener/speaker skills rather than just yelling at one another (Gottman and Schwartz, 2007):
- Be respectful, not disrespectful, Gentle, not critical
Use ‘I” statement and soften your tone. The tone and words we use can be hurtful and offensive. Be careful not to fall into the type of language that causes harm. It doesn’t help your cause and certainly doesn’t help the relationship.
- Take responsibility for your part and don’t be defensive.
When we put up a wall of defensiveness between us and our partner, we prevent relationship connection. Be aware of what you are experiencing and take responsibility for your part in the discussion. If you are tired then own it and take responsibility to rest when you can. If you are overworked and feeling stressed, look for what you can put to one side, even if temporarily to give yourself space and time to de-stress.
- Listen to your partner, don’t just broadcast your side of the discussion.
Stop thinking and listen while your partner is speaking to you. In other words, listen and don’t process your thoughts. When you are talking to your partner keep your sentences short and give your partner time to respond.
- Acknowledge your partner’s point of view, don’t just repeat your own.
Let your partner know that you have heard them and respond to what you have heard them say. When they know that you have heard then you can state your point of view.
When two people are following these four steps you will both feel heard and understood and start to make progress toward finding a solution to the problem.
Develop your Relationship and Intimacy
Because babies take so much of a couple’s time and energy it is important not to forget the couple relationship. This means nurturing your friendship and intimacy. It may be a bit tricky to find the time and energy so you may need to be creative together to factor this in.
Gottman and Schwartz suggest (2007, p.p. 146 – 181) the following that is expanded upon in their book:
- Build a love map
- Express appreciation, affection, and admiration
- Turn toward one another, not away
This article is intended to be a taster of what is possible for you as a growing family. Being a parent is fun and exhausting. My own experience is that having baby changed my life, and that change meant that not only did baby grow, I grew too. As I write, my husband is looking over my shoulder and adds that ‘we grew too’. And we did! Being a parent has been the most fulfilling part of my life.
I trust your experience is just as wonderful. Enjoy Baby and be prepared to grow too. The transition is hard, but the rewards are enriching.
Gottman, J. & Schwartz, J. (2007), And Baby Makes Three: The six step plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives. New York: Random House.