And baby makes ‘three’!


“We were out for dinner with friends, when she leaned across to him and said, “what would Daddy like to drink?”  Jenna, now a mum of a toddler recalls, “this was before we had children of our own and I clearly remember my partner and I were mortified that our friends’ relationship had been reduced to them being ‘mummy ‘and ‘daddy’ to each other, especially when their child wasn’t around.  Jenna then chuckles as she confesses, “only the other day I caught myself saying, “Daddy, could you please take the rubbish out.”  Our child was there playing with my partner, but it was bit of a surprise to think we could be sliding down this slippery slope too.”

The reality is, that no matter how prepared you are for the practical aspects of becoming parents, a whole freezer full of frozen casseroles can’t prepare you for the effects a baby will have on your relationship. Relationship counsellor and childbirth educator Rhea Dempsey  ( specialises in supporting couples as they become a family. According to Rhea, a lot of the difficulties that arise when partners become parents can be attributed to gender issues. She says,   “many contemporary couples plan to have equal roles as parents and this can be reflected in language such as ‘we are pregnant,’ or ‘we are going to breastfeed.’  In reality, the mother is the one who is pregnant, gives birth and breastfeeds and because of this, at least in the early weeks and months, parenting roles naturally peak strongly into gender roles. And, as the romantic notions of being a family conflict with the constant demands of caring for a baby, it is natural to have ambivalent feelings about your parenting role and your relationship. It can help to talk about the role models of your own parents and what expectations might be triggered under stress.”

Rhea explains that gender differences can also affect intimacy between partners. Using an acronym “CISS”, which stands for Communication, Intimacy, Sensuality and Sex, Rhea says, “the pathway to bonding and connection is biologically in opposite directions for men and women: for women, communication leads to intimacy, which leads to sensuality and then to sex.  Women want and need to feel connected through sharing the effort and joy of caring for their child and then they are more open to sensuality and sex. For men, feelings that they are on the outside of the close mother-baby unit which, of course is necessary for the baby to thrive, can see them also wanting to restore the connection with their partner. Men are programmed to do this through sex which, instead of being seen as a pathway to intimacy and communication by the mother, is often seen as a demand that can be overwhelming on top of the unrelenting needs of the baby.”

Rhea says, “when couples understand these differences, they can connect without judgement and resentment. It is important to check in regularly with each other about how you are feeling and after those intense early weeks, to .keep the connection alive by prioritising time and attention to your couple relationship.”

From the coalface of intense parenting, Donna a mum of two small children says,   “it’s great to have a strong physical relationship, but even greater to be able to give each other unconditional emotional support as we journey into the period of sleepless nights, altered emotions and hormonal changes that make many days seem endless. We need to recognise that we may do things for each other we haven’t in the past, for the simple reason that we can see the other needs support, and can give them a boost by recognising that without even being asked. It is possible for a couple’s love to grow stronger while raising their children.  Parenting gives us amazing skills to master our emotions, and harness the love we came into the relationship for and this can be reflected back to us in our daily lives through our children.”

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