…how a new baby may affect your relationships…
No-one has a baby and remains unchanged, and your relationships with family and friends will change forever too. Many women first notice this change during pregnancy when their thoughts and dreams become increasingly focused on the baby they are carrying. When the baby arrives nature really takes over and what with the hormones charging through your body and the sheer hard work of caring for a young baby the outside world may even seem to ‘disappear’ for a while.
With so much love and attention going to the baby, for a while it can feel like there isn’t much left over for everyone else. Some mothers can feel torn in all directions and exhausted by the prospect of everyone wanting a piece of them when partners, family and friends want their attention.
Luckily, many parents share the early obsession with their new baby and enjoy the intimacy of this special time together. Evenings are no longer spent sharing the latest news from work but are taken up with talking over what the baby has done today and what she might do tomorrow. But sometimes one partner may feel left out, neglected, sad, lonely or even angry. It can seem childish to be jealous of a baby, but these feelings are real and actually quite common. When someone feels like this they need a friend to talk to who will understand, and remind them that the early intense phase will soon pass. It won’t be long before the baby is sturdier and less needy and the family will feel more balanced.
It’s not only a partner or friend feeling left out who can feel discontented. No matter how much you love your baby and enjoy looking after her, there will be times when you miss the life you had before, when you could go out when you wanted to and generally ‘do your own thing’. There’s always a strange sense that you should be really happy now your baby is here and that everything should be rosy – but the first couple of months are a phenomenal rollercoaster, where a combination of intense emotions, hormones and sleep deprivation can give life a strange view. As your partner leaves for work in the morning, or carries on with hobbies, you may feel irritated that your life seems to have changed so much more than theirs, and this can lead to arguments and resentment.
For partners it can feel strange as well. If they take paternity leave then for a short time they will be as absorbed as you in the new baby, but then they have to return to work. It can feel strange having a foot in two different worlds: the working world where they have to carry on functioning in the same way as they did before their child was born and this intense new life with their baby. It helps if you try to remember that you’re both going through change. And it’s not just couple relationships that alter; with the arrival of a new baby, parents often find that relationships with some of their friends change too. Once the initial excitement of meeting the new baby wears off, old friends without children may feel as if they have little in common any more.
While your best friend wants to talk about the issues current in her life, you can’t help talking about your baby. How often will you talk now it seems you have less in common? For a time you may grow apart but, as with your partner, it’s important to try to remember that there will be a time later in the first year when new parents turn around, look at their baby-filled life, and decide that they too want to watch the latest films, see their mates and have the conversations they used to have, and good friends will still be there ready to go out again and reclaim the part of you they used to know.
In the wider family you move up a generation and you have the strange experience of seeing how life looks from a parent’s point of view and not just a child’s. You may still feel like someone’s daughter but you now have the responsibility that goes with being a parent. Becoming a mother may make you look at your own mother with fresh eyes and wonder how the experience of becoming a parent was for her.
Babies are demanding, time consuming and wonderful and they change everything. Sometimes it may feel as though you are losing a lot, especially when you see your old friends less, hardly go out and lose touch with workmates, but you also gain in unexpected ways. For some, family can mean much more and they can find a new closeness with their own parents and wider family. Others may find that the family unit that consists of them, their partner and baby becomes the most important thing. And then there are the new ‘baby’ friends who are happy to talk for hours about births, nappies and feeding, helping to create a wider friendship network for you.
Meet up with other mums and dads at local NCT groups – visit www.nct.org.uk to find your nearest event.
Photography by Holly Dawson