You may have read the relevant books, done your necessary research and think you know what to expect when baby comes. But in reality, the struggles and victories of every parent are unique, that is when you realise that you were never actually ready for a baby. So what can you do to ensure that you are adequately prepared to successfully navigate the physical and emotional maze of having a baby?
Here to help is Ms Shelwyn Tay, a clinical psychologist who has been in the field of mental health for more than 15 years and works frequently with couples and families on children and parenting issues, including how to prepare psychologically and emotionally for baby. She shared at I Love Children’s “Know Your FERTILITY WELLNESS” at a lunch time talk, “Getting Ready For Baby – What You Didn’t Know” held at the HarbourFront Centre on 17 June 2016.
Ms Shewlyn Tay (right) shared what couples need to know when preparing for a baby.
There is no proven way to know for certain if you are ready to be a parent. However, there are some indicators that might suggest that you are not ready. Some of these indicators are:
- The relationship that you are in is not going well. Some couples might think that having a child will save the relationship; however, nothing can be further from the truth. Bringing a child into a shaky relationship simply adds more pressure.
- Singaporeans are pragmatic by nature and some might think that they are ready for a child because they are financially secure and have the necessary resources like schooling options for the child. While these are important factors to consider, Ms Shelwyn emphasises that it is the readiness to accept responsibility and put the needs of a child before your own that is key.
Many couples think that the process of having a child is something that comes naturally after marriage. However, a child brings a lot of changes to a couple’s life and lifestyle. For instance, you can no longer stay out late or have impromptu dinners with friends without proper planning. A child also changes your relationship with your spouse because you are no longer just partners, but caregivers to a very vulnerable young person. Having a baby also alters a woman’s body physically and for some mothers – this is something that they will need to deal with psychologically and emotionally as well.
A healthy relationship is characterised by the ability to talk through difficult issues as well as by a level of trust that allows spouses to speak honestly with each other. So, if your spouse is reluctant to have children, it is ideal to invest the time that is necessary to get him/her on the same page instead of forcing him/her to commit to such a monumental life altering decision.
On the flipside, there are also couples who become parents by accident and although one spouse might have been hesitant at the beginning, they eventually manage to adapt well and find themselves stepping up to the responsibilities of becoming a happy parent.
Couples need to make a conscious effort to set aside time for their marriage. This is especially important after the baby. And when it comes to making this time for your marriage, the saying that it takes a village to raise a child rings true. New parents need not be afraid of admitting that they are unable to take care of a newborn themselves. It is completely acceptable for new or second or third time parents to ask for help so that they can tend to the other equally important areas of their life, like their marriage.
This also brings us to another important concept; the view that parents need to be perfect. Many parents feel they need to do everything perfectly in order not to fail their child. This consumes a lot of time and energy. What parents should aim for is to be a ‘good enough’ parent. The ‘good enough’ parent is not definable by percentage or hours but by simply being receptive enough to their child’s needs most of the time.
An advice for parents who work long hours? It’s all about making a choice. Parents need to consider if taking home lesser money each month is a worthy sacrifice if it allows them more quality time with their children. In situations where they are unable to cut back on their long working hours, parents should focus on the small pockets of valuable time to engage their children.
It is inevitable to find that you have different parenting styles. A successful and healthy parenting relationship is one that allows you to trust your spouse enough not be worried when he/she is parenting your child. So if one parent insists on being perfect, then he/she should not force that upon the other spouse but be willing to listen and accept an alternative style of parenting.
Parents can definitely take on different roles. However, there must be commonality in the stands that you take together. For example, if your stand is a maximum of half an hour of screen time after dinner, then perhaps Dad can take on the “fiercer” role of telling the child to stop while Mum can be the more “lenient” parent who suggests another activity. Parents also need to strike a balance and take turns when it comes to being the fiercer or lenient parent.
Self-awareness is key. If you are already concerned about repeating your parent’s style of strict parenting, then that gives you the opportunity on how you will do things differently. Also remember that your child has two parents so both have a role to play to balance out each other’s parenting style.
How can I get my spouse “in the mood” to try for baby?
The more important question is why your spouse is not “in the mood” to try for baby. There are a few factors, such as their busy lifestyle and stressful job that may make a person much less inclined towards physical intimacy, and the thought of having a child may feel even more overwhelming. Once you understand why your spouse does not seem interested in trying for a child, it becomes a lot easier to discuss the situation and come to a common decision about what you would like to do as a couple.
I am afraid of getting pregnant because I don’t know if I can handle my stressful job and a pregnancy at the same time.
It is important to take time away from your job to think about what it is you really want in your life and what you want to be remembered for. Do you want to be remembered for the last presentation you made at work or do you want to leave a different legacy behind? Every individual is likely to have different values, and there is no “one size fits all” answer. Be prepared that you will likely have to make some sacrifices as every choice carries its own costs.
When facing a difficult and emotionally charged decision such as this, it is often helpful to be away from the immediate situation in order to think more clearly. Consider taking an extended weekend break or going on holiday. Additionally, it is pertinent to do this together with your spouse to ensure that the both of you are on the same page.
How can I overcome the fear of not conceiving a healthy baby?
It is worth asking if you have valid reasons for this fear. Some people may have medical issues that lead to having higher risk pregnancies. If this is so, seek medical advice and together decide if you should try having children.
If you still harbour the fear despite having had the necessary medical checks done and the doctor’s reassurance, it is good to ensure that you have a support system to help you overcome your fear. Do consider professional support if required.
Any advice for couples who have been through unsuccessful IVF procedures?
There is a lot of pressure on couples in such situations; more so on the wife because she might feel she is to be blamed for the unsuccessful attempt. The first thing that couples in these situations should do is to take time to process what they have been through to date and not rush into any future actions or decisions.
An IVF procedure takes a toll on a couple both physically and emotionally, so it is important to allow time to grieve before deciding on the next step.
I Love Children thanks Ms Shelwyn Tay for her valuable input.