The Impact of Infants on Family Life
Mary F. Longo
Ohio State University Extension
Family and Consumer Sciences
Campbell Hall 1787 Neil Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210
Having a new member of the family is typically an exciting, welcomed event. Often, though, the transition from nonparent to parent is a very stressful one. Responsibilities change overnight and never change back to the way they were prior to a child. Many factors can influence how a new baby impacts a family's life, whether it is the first baby or not.
Through their childbearing years, individuals decide whether or not to have children or a larger family than two. Many factors influence their decisions. For example, the social clock may be an influence for some. Couples who wish to wait may feel pressured by well intended grandparents-to-be.
Many families try to anticipate the best time for a child to come into the family. They consider job security or career levels. Some couples have financial goals they would like to reach before having a child. These families may be more prepared for a child in material ways, but the child still has a lifelong impact on the family.
Individuals differ in their natural tendencies to follow a routine. If baby and family are similar in their tendency to have a consistent routine, less adjustment is usually necessary to integrate the new family member. If the family or the baby tend not to follow a routine, parents and infants are more likely to go through a period of adjustment to find some balance.
A first child may have an especially large impact on the family's routine because the couple only had themselves to worry about before the baby. With time and experience, parents learn to adjust.
Mothers and fathers may differ in some of the ways they accommodate a new infant. On the average, for example, mothers respond more frequently to their baby's signals and learn the baby's needs. Fathers are more likely to disregard cues and direct the baby's attention to other things. Fathers are also more likely to continue their leisure activities, such as reading or watching television, while the baby is present. Mothers tend to interact with the baby more. Each of these results in different relationships between parent and child.
Social support beyond the baby's other parent can increase the quality of parenting and family life. This support may come from grandparents, other family members, and friends. Using a social network helps parents not to be isolated while developing parenting skills. Others are often able to help identify and interpret child-rearing problems.
If the parent has previous experience with children, either through siblings or job experience, he or she is more likely to be efficient at problem solving. The faster a minor problem is taken care of, the less impact that child has on a family adapting to the new role.
Infants provide a certain amount of stress on the family, although they also may provide a guard against loneliness. This impact on family life may occur throughout the life of the child and parent.
The presence of the first child in the family is usually associated with lower marital satisfaction and less marital happiness. The couple tends to be satisfied with the marriage, but at a lower level.
Influence on Family
Research has shown that babies definitely impact the family. Here are some key points to consider:
* During the first few months after a child is born, both parents are usually exhausted from lack of sleep. They are often inexperienced in the care of a baby and have a new schedule. The constant search for answers or help from friends, family, pediatricians and books can create tension between marriage partners.
* Child rearing practices can also create tension between parents. Even if the parents have discussed how a baby will be raised and disciplined, these tensions may occur.
* The husband-wife relationship is likely to take second priority to the ever-present needs of the new infant. There is less time for the couple to be together without the baby. Occasionally there may be feelings of resentment towards the new family member due to the lack of time for self or spouse. After the birth of a child, couples only have about one-third as much time together alone as they had when they were childless.
* The parents' experiences as a child influence the way they react in the parenting role. If either parent had a difficult childhood, for example, the baby might remind the parent of negative aspects of their own experiences.
* As the parents adjust to the new role in the early months of the baby's life, the family may strengthen. Over time, parents are likely to be better able to define their parental role and its importance in family life.
Newman, Barbara M. and Philip R. Development Through Life: A Psychological Approach. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, California, 1991.
Strong, Bryan and Christine DeVault. The Marriage and Family Experience. West Publishing Co., New York, 1993