Why we support parents

I often wonder why we don’t prepare parents enough for the psychological challenges and changes they may face when they start on their journey to parenthood. Why don’t we talk more about preparing ourselves psychologically to be parents? As parents-to-be we hear so much about the importance of taking your folic acid and being physically fit, but what would the psychological version of preparing yourself for parenthood look like?

To my mind, the most important take home message is to be prepared for change – because to paraphrase the words of WB Yeats ‘all will change utterly’ when you start down the road to becoming a parent. Whilst for women the most obvious changes may be the physical ones – breasts, waistlines and much more beyond change, there are also a myriad of shifts in identity, in relationships and in psychology that both mums and dads will face.

Whilst it is well documented (most recently in the NSPCC’s All Babies count report) that new parents report higher levels of dissatisfaction with their relationship, lower levels of intimacy and more gender based dynamics, it is perhaps less well known that becoming a parent may often cause the re-emergence of previous psychological difficulties such as depression and anxiety. And unfortunately many new parents are not prepared to face back into symptoms of anxiety that they thought belonged to adolescence. In addition, becoming a parent may cause us to remember our own experiences of being parented and for some these memories may not be positive.

So alongside the message of being prepared for change it is also really important that new parents and parent- to- be understand that feeling less connected as a couple, or perhaps low in mood at times, or indeed overwhelmed by responsibility for this precious new life is all normal. But what we know from research on the transition to parenthood is that there are things that work:

  • An understanding that old coping strategies may need to change

    That tried and trusted 5KM run is not that feasible after the 3am feed!

  • Social support matters

    Whether that’s granny offering to take little one so you get a nap or finding an online chat group of like minded dads

  • Self-care and compassion are key to being ‘good enough’ parents

  • Communicate, communicate and communicate some more

  • and finally don’t be afraid to ask for help.

– Julianne Boutaleb, founder and director of Parenthood in Mind