It's the rare expectant couple that doesn't go through classes to prepare for labor and delivery—events that, while momentous, are over in a matter of hours.
But few mothers- and fathers-to-be receive training for the much more challenging and long-term tasks: becoming good parents and remaining close and loving partners in the face of new stresses and strains as their family grows.
Being a parent may be the most important job you ever have, and it's the one for which most of us are poorly prepared. You create a new human being, and it doesn't arrive with any instructions. Expectant couples need practical training and support to deal with the many issues that confront them during and after pregnancy.
The best way to be a good parent to your child is to nurture fun, friendship, teamwork and intimacy in your own relationship. This creates an environment that helps ensure a good outcome for your child.
Consider the following suggestions:
Don't keep your concerns to yourself. Share your thoughts, hopes, and fears with each other.
Talk about what it will be like to be a parent. Talk about the challenges you'll confront, like work and child-care issues. Discuss your expectations, values, and beliefs.
Write down a job description for yourself and for your partner and then compare your expectations. You may be surprised at your differing perceptions.
Use creative problem-solving. Discuss each other's perspectives, during which time the problem will likely disappear; decide which problem you're really addressing; brainstorm on solutions, without limits; settle on one solution and on how long to try it before evaluating whether it's working.
Work on communicating clearly with each other by paraphrasing your partner's statements back to him or her. You won't always arrive at agreement, but each of you will know your concerns have been heard.
Talk about how each of you deals with anger and conflict. Learn to use the timeout technique.
When giving either criticism or praise, try to be specific. Tell your spouse specifically what bothers you, and what pleases you.
Protect your times of fun and intimacy from problem-solving. Arrange a regular couple meeting time that each of you knows you can count on to bring up issues and do the "work" of the relationship.
Make time for the activities that keep your own battery charged. Have your "me" time. Having time for your own pursuits becomes even more important after you become a parent.
Mothers need to let fathers be involved. The woman has to involve the man in the experience of pregnancy; the baby is not as real to him as it is to the woman experiencing all the changes of pregnancy. Don't assume that motherhood comes naturally. Share your insecurities and show confidence in your partner's ability to be a good and nurturing parent.
Anticipate stress and fatigue. They're an inevitable part of being new parents. Eat well, exercise, take time for yourself, and recruit a support network.