Stronger Marriage

Children Bring Changes to a Relationship

Children Bring Changes to A Relationship
Dorothy James, Ph.D.
Texas A&M University

Few people realize how much having children will change their lives. Prospective parents can read about children’s needs, health, schedules and dozens of other topics, but still be perplexed when they realize how much time caring for children can take, said Dorothy James, family life extension specialist, Texas A&M University.

As an example, James said that she recently overheard a conversation between two young fathers: one had a five-month old; the other had a three-year old and a seven-month old. Each was distressed about trying to manage a demanding job, loving relationship with his wife, and young family. One might have expected such a conversation from two young mothers, but I was heartened to see that fathers, too, are experiencing concern, she said.

Feeling overwhelmed is not an unusual feeling for new parents; it's a feeling that may not abate as soon as new parents would like, either. That doesn't mean that people who truly want to be parents should give up the idea of having children. It does, however, mean that they may be able to benefit from re-thinking some of their priorities, said James, who offered these thoughts for parents:

Is your relationship on solid ground? Are you each ready to accept the changes adding a new person to the relationship will bring?

How will you care for a child? Will one parent become a stay-at-home caregiver? Have you re-worked expenses, either to accommodate the loss or reduction of a second salary, or expense of day care? Is high-quality day care available? And, have you thought about how you will feel when a stranger witnesses your child's firsts, rather than you?

"When a couple has utilized a second salary for luxuries-an expensive vacation and high-dollar clothes or entertainment-they often find that cutting back on such expenses allows them to enjoy a less stressful lifestyle and their children. When two salaries are needed to meet basic expenses, some couples are opting for job sharing, shift work or at-home businesses," James said.

Stay-at-home parents can miss interaction with other adults; in time, however, most develop a network with others who are making the same choice; they often trade child care to spell each other or job share.

"Most parents truly do want what's best for their children. If arranging child care is a must, parents can benefit from visiting several prospective sites; talking with child care providers; observing other children; talking with other parents, and communicating regularly with the child-care provider," she said.

Parents who have compatible work ethics usually have smoother sailing; if one partner is a workaholic, their relationship and family are likely to suffer. The same is true for spending. If a couple as parents can agree on spending priorities, they may feel more secure in their life together as parents and partners.

Good communication with children also can help maintain a sense of family. Trying to resolve conflicts and issues as they occur can help smooth family life.

Parents also need to take time for themselves. Nurturing their own relationship is essential because their strong bond will provide a more secure foundation for their relationship and their family. Intimacy can change: a touch; a glance; a walk; a weekend away; or simply reserving a few minutes of adult visiting time every evening can help couples maintain balance in their relationship with each other as partners and parents.

A couple's commitment to each other can make their job of parenting easier; couples sometimes allow normal life changes in their relationship to frustrate them. Such couples may opt for a divorce, when all they really need is to re-think their priorities, refresh their commitment to each other and, perhaps, take a vacation, James said.

"The best gift a couple can give their children is their love for each other," the family life specialist said.

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