There are two scenarios that can play out once a child comes into the picture and you suddenly go from a family of two to a family of three or more. The positive outcome is where both parents are able to adapt to the change and the negative outcome is where they start to drift apart. Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario includes the looming reality of co-parenting and divorce. The success of the transition from husband and wife to mom and dad relies on the new parents’ health and maturity. A person’s ability to manage extreme stress strongly affects how one will react once a new family member arrives.
The Case Study:
Baby George’s arrival really is just another instance of separation for husband and wife. The physical distance between him and his anchor—his wife (Maria)—may be tiny, but the emotional distance seems huge. Maria is there, just on the other side of the bed, but there’s a chasm between them, and his name is George. He turns to make eye contact, to hold her hand, to be reassured and to reassure her, but she’s not there. She’s absorbed in their beautiful little boy, as she must be.
Maria’s experience is different. Her emotional anchor is grouchy and tired and detached. He’s always at one job or another, and she’s grateful but lonely too. She’s had her own mom and her girlfriends around to refuel her, but she’s also had the bizarre and wonderful and totally incomparable experience of growing a new human being inside of her.
Her love for Mike was no less, but her love for baby George was profound. His happiness was her happiness. His cries were hers, nursing him was the utter bliss of coming home, reconnecting, and a sense of floating. The feeling was… oceanic. The act refueled her far more than it drained her.
Sometimes the life-changing event a baby can create unbalanced and unhealthy alliances that may ultimately lead to a divorce if unaddressed. In this all-too-common reality, Maria’s pregnancy and George’s birth have pushed Mike away. He’s not only physically separated by working two jobs, he’s emotionally feeling left out. Like the kid that was picked last for the team, Mike sees his wife and his son laughing and playing and being their own team. He sees the baby clinging to mommy and he’s jealous, he gets it, but he resents it.
It might take days or months or years, but Mike and Maria eventually stop turning to each other for emotional fuel. They find new anchors, Maria has her mom and her friends and Mike has the guys at work and his friends and family. There’s no room for Mike in the big bed anymore (as he sees it), so he sleeps on the couch. Maria’s too tired to go out at night, so Mike goes with his friends.
Meals at home are mushy green, orange, or yellow and come in four-ounce jars, so he eats out. Emotion and misunderstanding accumulate between Maria and Mike, becoming a speed bump and then a hill and then a mountain that seems impossible to climb, even with the help of the professionals they hire to show them the way.
Sometimes there’s a last straw: an argument, a secret, a lover, a suspicion, and sometimes not but there are three aspects that always exist: a divestment, a withdrawal of dependence, and a loss of trust. The end of an intimate relationship can feel like being cast adrift. It’s the beginning of the end of one chapter and now having to deal with courts and lawyers in order to get divorced and start your coParenting journey. It’s a grieving process like any other, complete with its own stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and—hopefully, eventually—acceptance. It’s a test of emotional resilience and resourcefulness. There is hope that the love for George outweighs the animosity between them and that they can settle into a new normal now as coParents.
In this second scenario, the family of three finds the balance of complementary roles, needs, and resources. Mike and Maria discover new ways to be refueled by one another and, in the process, become better able to manage their stress. Their intimate adult relationship takes on the additional dimension of parenting. They become an efficient tag team, refueling one another even as each refuels their baby. In this reality, mother and father together weave a safety net that catches and holds their son. They establish limits and follow through with consequences, finding ways to reward George’s successes rather than wait to oil the wheel when it squeaks. They establish both boundaries that define space and routines that define time. During the years ahead, these are the structures that George—no longer a bouncing baby—will internalize and fall back on as he defines his own identity and personality and also as he finds new anchors in his adult world. Mom and dad, in this case, are working together and have adapted to being parents. They have emerged through this tough transition and avoided a potential divide that could have led to the dissolution of their family and ultimately divorce.
It is not always so clear cut between the two scenarios, but the important takeaway is the fact that the way you communicate and cope with stressful situations will have a huge impact on those around you. Finding and focusing on things that bond you as a couple are paramount and key to avoiding the path of divorce. Sometimes even the best of marriages and relationships fall apart and you need to find healthy new coping skills to begin your next chapter. Arm yourself with the tools to succeed and your transition will be smoother both for you and your children. And sometimes a new beginning is exactly what is needed!
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