How relationships change during parenthood
Becoming a parent means that relationships change in many ways; and that's relationships with everyone. Therapist and Friendship Researcher, Miriam Kirmayer, looks at how relationships change.
Parenthood brings with it so many changes, not the least of which is this new, tiny person who is suddenly the focus of our attention and adoration. But becoming a parent can also affect the other important relationships in our lives in some fairly significant and even unexpected ways. Some of these changes bring us closer together, whereas others can be more difficult to manage or even accept.
One of the things I notice in my practice as a therapist and friendship researcher, is how so many of us feel caught off guard when our connections with our partners, friends, and family members change. Of course, it’s difficult to predict how our relationships will change. The only guarantee is that they will. Relationships are dyadic and dynamic; they are constantly evolving depending on our situations and priorities.Recognising the ways that our relationships can and do fluctuate can help us to feel less alone, to strengthen our connections with the people we’re closest to, and, ultimately, to feel more prepared for a new life stage.
1. our partnerships are tested
It’s no surprise that the relationship we have with our partners will be tested in ways we previously did not think were possible. This can happen when nerves are running high and sleep is running out. We also each bring with us certain ideas (or ideals) about what it means to be a “good” parent. And regardless of how similar we are to our partners, expectations don’t always perfectly align.
There will be disagreements or arguments. There will be tears. There will likely be conversations you won’t even remember due to sheer exhaustion! But there will also be moments of intense closeness and vulnerability. A chance to see your partner in a new light and role. And the opportunity to better understand what it is you really need from each other to feel valued and supported. Although managing the challenges that come with being a new parent can take a toll on the emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of your relationship, it can also be deeply moving and bring with it a newfound sense of intimacy.
As much as possible, it helps to recognize this balance; parenthood can, at times, bring us closer together and, at others, drive us further apart. Not only will seeing things in a more nuanced (and less black and white) way help us negotiate conflicts, it allows us to be less affected by the ups and downs that inevitably occur. And it’s by learning to navigate these changes and challenges (as opposed to simply avoiding them altogether) that we strengthen our communication and partnership.
2. our friendships fluctuate
Good friends are so important for our overall mental and physical health. This is especially true when going through a major life change like parenthood, which can have such significant consequences for our well-being.The ways in which big life events can impact our relationships with friends is something I’m asked about fairly often. As with any relationship, becoming a parent means that we have less time to invest in maintaining our friendships. It can also put us in a position where we feel the need to branch out and meet new people. It’s likely been a long time since you’ve had to make new friends and this experience can bring with it all kinds of questions and insecurities— Where do I actually find new friends as an adult? What should I say to someone I want to be friends with? How can I hold on to my old friendships when we’re in such different places?
A good starting point is to recognize that you are not alone. Making and keeping friends can be challenging for so many people, and we just don’t talk about our friendships as much as we do our romantic relationships. Skip the labels you might use to describe yourself when going through a friendship challenge (feeling like you’re awkward or are a bad friend are some of the more common ones). Instead, focus on normalizing the experience and being self-compassionate.
It can also help to see parenthood as a useful transition point in your friendships. One that forces you to focus on the relationships that really matter and to think about the ways in which you too can be a better friend to the people around you.
3. we see the relationships with our parents in a new light
Having a baby can make us reevaluate our relationships with our own parents. In many cases, it leaves us with an appreciation for the lengths they went to to bring us into this world, the patience they had during the more difficult and sleepless nights, and the unconditional love they gave us that made us who we are today. But it can also bring up more complicated feelings like sadness, anger, resentment, grief, or envy, especially if we didn’t have the kind of relationship with our parents that we all want and deserve.
On the other side, our own parents might have a hard time seeing us become a mother or father or accepting their new title of grandparent. These kinds of personal struggles have a way of creating problems in our relationships when they aren’t handled appropriately.
Regardless of your personal family dynamics, this is a chance to reflect on the kind of parent you want to be and the experiences and traditions you want to embrace (or avoid) from your own childhood.
4. the relationship we have with ourselves becomes more important than ever
Perhaps the most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. And yet it’s also the one we tend to overlook most easily. Becoming a parent challenges us in so many ways. It can test our patience, self-esteem, and mental health, not to mention our ability to be “in the moment”. However, it also provides an opportunity for us to focus on self-growth and self-compassion. In doing so, parenthood can be an immense source of strength and confidence.It might feel like putting yourself first and focusing on your own well-being is odds with your ability to be a present and involved parent when, really, it’s a key part of it. Investing in yourself as well as the other relationships in your life is an important part of being able to manage the stresses of parenthood. It also sends a powerful message to children about the value of self-care, resilience, and connection.
Miriam Kirmayer is a therapist and friendship researcher who works with the media to make information about friendships, relationships, and well-being available and relatable. Learn more about Miriam’s work at www.miriamkirmayer.com and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @casualtoclose.