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  • Is New Parenthood Making Your Marriage Miserable? How To Help Your Marriage Survive the Transition

    Have you ever heard another mom gush, “Becoming parents has made our relationship so much more fulfilling!” Did you want to slap her? Did you question her sanity and/or honesty? Becoming a mother is one of the most significant transitions a woman can experience, and it changes virtually every aspect of her life:  her career, her self-image, her friendships, her mental health, and her body.

    One of the most substantial adjustments, often overlooked, is the profound impact that parenthood has on a couple’s marriage. Many women may assume that having children will primarily strengthen and enhance their marriage, and they are consequently surprised when parenting takes a toll on their relationships.  In the research literature, the decline in marital happiness following the birth of a child has been well-documented. (Marital happiness is high immediately after the wedding, and then declines after a child is born.  It peaks again when children leave the home.)

    Jessica and I talked to mothers this week about how the transition to parenthood has affected their marriage. As it turns out, the women that we spoke to have a lot to say on this subject. Here are a few of these women’s reflections about marriage and parenthood:

    •  I feel that parenthood has made us stronger and yet more distant.
    •  Having a child has definitely been the hardest thing on our marriage, hands down.
    • I miss my husband, and yet I feel even more tender towards him after seeing him with our daughter.
    • After a stressful day staying at home with my kids, all I want is for my husband to come home and take over. But I know that he’s at work dealing with stress, and all he wants to do is come home and relax in front of the TV a little. We both want peace and quiet, but for either of us to have it, the other has to NOT have it.
    • The darkest point for us in our marriage was about six months ago, when for the first time, I actually could see why people get divorced after having kids. As amazing as our child is, he was becoming like a wedge between us. We were exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed.
    • It’s amazing the intensity of the anger and the intensity of the love felt for one person – and sometimes even in the same moment.

    When it comes to identifying the emotional effect of parenthood on marriage, the range  is staggering. Mothers feel everything from “becoming parents has brought us closer together,” to “I am so frustrated with my husband that now I understand why people divorce after having children.” Some of the recurring challenges we’ve heard about (and experienced ourselves!) are:

    • difficulty making time together
    • differences in style, such as parenting choices, coping skills, and communication styles
    • struggles with navigating role changes and balancing parenting responsibilities
    • a substantial change in sex life

    I had the opportunity to interview Susan Forde-Bunch, LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), a practicing psychotherapist and marriage counselor in the Denver area, and ask her some questions about marriage, motherhood, and finding support. Susan verified that the transition to parenthood can be one of the most difficult stages of marriage, stating,

    “I think the early years of parenting are indeed the least satisfying for married couples. The relentlessness of the demands of parenting young children can’t be overstated.  As parents we are often underprepared for this, particularly since it can be romanticized for us culturally. Haven’t we all visualized ourselves as the beautiful couple taking our perfect baby home to the life of idyllic family bliss?”

    I concur that many parents are blindsided by the reality of becoming parents, and our fairytale daydreams often fall short. Forde-Bunch added, “While it is often the stage for the most falling in love with our children, it usually isn’t the stage of falling in love with our spouse.”

    We all melt a little over the proud new Daddy.
    We all melt a little over the proud new Daddy.

    Many of the women we spoke with indicated that watching their husbands interact with and care for their children made them feel even more connected to them. However, other mothers were frustrated by the fact that they seemed to be pulling more than their fair share of weight. Forde-Bunch described how challenging it can be to adjust to your new roles as parents, particularly when factoring in sleep deprivation and increasing workloads. One mother told us, “I really thought that our decisions about our baby would be ours, and they are mine. That has been the hardest part for me. I don’t even know if it surprised me so much that the decisions were mine but that there were so many decisions to make when our son was a newborn. I was completely overwhelmed.”

    There is a fairly broad spectrum when it comes to the responsibilities and engagement of the father. Forde-Bunch noted, “Although we are in a process of a cultural change which is increasingly emphasizing fathers as egalitarian participants in all aspects of parenting, the primary parenting still tends to be the mother’s, especially in early infancy.”

    I’m sure there are many dads who would stand up and strenuously object to this statement.  However, it is also true that there are plenty of mothers who feel resentful about the imbalance of parenting duties in their households.

    Another interesting layer is, according to Forde-Bunch, that this situation “is magnified by the fact that women’s primary identities are often more defined by our roles in relationships than they are for men.” She points out, “Have you seen many little boys dressed up as grooms for Halloween?”

    This role discrepancy can leave many women seeking out support from female friends and family members. No matter how great a dad your husband is, it is nearly impossible for men to truly grasp what it feels like to be a mother, just as we are not fully capable of understanding how it feels to be a father. Many moms form alliances that can help them to feel more understood and validated. Forde-Bunch explains that being understood by another person is one of the most transformational interpersonal interactions, and that we seek it out and experience tremendous healing when we find it. She added, “When parents can share their struggles with other supportive parents of the same gender, it can provide powerful reassurance and validation.” While women may be more likely to form friendships with other moms, I think this is important for men, too. Even my own stoic husband has shared stories of being empowered by a conversation he had with a fellow dad.

    So what can we do to overcome some of these relationship challenges brought on by parenting? One mom shared,

    “Communication is, by far, the biggest key for our marriage- keeping open, honest, and respectful lines of communication going. We have had to learn how to not bicker as much. We’ve had to rally together through some really difficult transitions and upheavals in our child-rearing. It’s never been more important to put each other first, to keep that foundation strong.”

    Forde-Bunch added that staying connected as a couple, in addition to being crucial to the health of the marriage, also supports the mental health of the individual parents and even benefits the self-esteem of the children. She said that being aware of the importance of staying connected helps set the stage for success, and she offers some tips for staying focused:

    1. Embrace the goal of maintaining connection by verbalizing it and jointly developing practical strategies. 
    2. Set realistic expectations regarding time, energy, money, and support available to you.
    3. “Institutionalize” time together; build it into your lives as a structured part of your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.
    4. If communication is particularly difficult, consider using a couples’ therapist to get back on track.
    5. Consciously provide emotional support to one another, by being compassionate and putting yourself in each other’s shoes.
    6. Schedule time for physical intimacy. Sex is a powerful bonding experience on the most primal level, and it defines a couple from all other relationships.

    Communication is often harder than it seems, especially considering that men and women can have very different needs, expectations, and styles. One mother described, “My husband copes so differently than I do: he’s much more of a “grin and bear it, stop talking about things and it’s not that bad, just deal” sort of person. I need to talk about things and get validation and encouragement at the end of a day. My husband interprets that (often) as focusing on the negative. We have very different coping techniques, and we’re learning to help each other.”

    I have found that the more deliberate, clear, and conscious my husband and I are about caring for our relationship, the more likely we are to connect. Being mindful of this while in the midst of raising young children is also harder than it seems. Another mom said, “We try to be intentional about dates and talking, but it can be hard in the chaos.”

    Making time for yourselves as a couple is key.

    We asked Forde-Bunch if she had any advice for expectant couples on how to “baby-proof” their marriage. Once again, she emphasized the importance of communication. She advised couples to talk about their expectations, hopes for themselves as a couple, their own childhood experiences, ideas about parenting, and the specific logistical issues to anticipate. She offered some helpful discussion questions such as, “How did your parents divide duties around childcare and housework?” and “How do you anticipate your current roles will change when a child is involved?” and “How did your family of origin use discipline?”

    I think we can all agree that navigating changes to marriage after becoming parents takes a lot of work and a lot of communication. Many of us share the same struggles and frustrations, and simply admitting these out loud to another mom that you trust can be tremendously helpful. I feel that although becoming parents may solidify your connection and add meaning to your marriage on a deeper level, on the surface it often creates complications and struggles. Rather than pretend that having kids has done nothing but improve my marriage, I prefer to acknowledge the challenges so that I can more adequately cope with them.

    How has parenthood affected your marriage? What strategies have worked for you to maintain closeness with your partner?


    102111133136Susan Forde-Bunch is a LCSW and has been in full-time private practice for more than 30 years in Colorado. She works with adults both individually and as couples. In addition to having a general practice, her specialty area is women and women’s issues. 

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  • Friendship Breakup Lessons: Here’s What I Learned

    friendship breakup lessons

    Losing a friend is so painful that it’s difficult to learn any friendship breakup lessons. That comes with time.

    I have often marveled at the parallels between friendship and romantic relationships, especially romantic breakups and friendship breakups. Finding new friends can be disturbingly similar to dating, complete with awkwardness, insecurity, and butterflies. Really connecting with a new friend can feel much like falling in love, as you find yourself bringing the other person up in conversation when you are not together. And breaking up with a close friend can be just as devastating as breaking up with a partner.

    Jessica and I have been reading Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend by the “Friendship Doctor,” Irene Levine.  In her book, Dr. Levine talks about why friendships fall apart, how to cope with getting dumped by a friend, how to end an irreparable friendship, and how to move forward after a traumatic friendship split.

    She pinpoints many of the various reasons that  friendships can disintegrate and also helps shed light on when it is worthwhile to mend the relationship, or better to cut your losses and move on.

    Last week Jessica wrote about toxic friendships: how to spot them and how to handle them. This week, I am going to share the story of one of my closest friends, and the painful breakup we experienced.

    I met Shannon shortly after I moved to Denver, having completed a post-graduation internship and secured my very first real job. Shannon was interning with the small company of music therapists I worked for, and we found ourselves connecting through our magnetic need to process the intensity and hilarity of the groups we were learning to lead. After co-teaching a music class for toddlers and parents, we would often stand in the parking lot for close to an hour afterwards, laughing at our mistakes and the unexpected turns our session had taken.

    I remember the exact day we began to consider ourselves true friends- we met after a monumental work week to celebrate with cocktails at a trendy bar. Over Dreamsicles, we exchanged stories, laughed, and disclosed personal details that further cemented our connection. We continued our “first date” long into the evening, and emerged from this rite of passage as kindred spirits. Each subsequent year, we acknowledged that anniversary by returning to the bar and ordering the same drinks.

    Shannon soon became a staple in my life; each Wednesday, along with another girlfriend, we honored Ladies Night, and took turns hosting and cooking for one another. Our raucous evenings included lots of wine, dessert, laughter, and profuse oversharing. We often spent hours on the phone together after our work days, debriefing each other on our challenging clients, commiserating about our incompetent boss, and of course, laughing until we were breathless.

    We traveled together, briefly lived together, and were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. Even after the birth of my first daughter, we maintained our tradition of Ladies Night, though we had a tiny new member who was passed around each week. My transition to motherhood definitely impacted all of my friendships, and also inspired me to seek out new friends who were experiencing similar struggles and challenges.

    Girls NightWhen my daughter was about eight months old, Shannon and I broke up. It was not a gradual fade, though I’m certain my transition into motherhood along with my decision to file for divorce from my first husband was a burden on our relationship.

    But our breakup happened suddenly, in the most dramatic and unmistakable way possible- a blowout. I will refrain from sharing the details of our blowout, because I don’t believe it is productive or appropriate to rehash it; suffice it to say, hurtful words were exchanged, and both of us walked away from the experience feeling wounded and misunderstood.

    We did not reach out to each other. My life was changing significantly, and I was swept along by the inescapable wave of single motherhood, navigating new roles, and eventually, finding a new relationship with my husband. I thought of her frequently; I no longer enjoyed Ladies Night on Wednesdays, I didn’t have anyone who would fully appreciate my music class anecdotes, and her absence was felt sharply at my daughter’s first birthday party.

    Months went by, and though I had other friends, I did not have Shannon. I missed her intensely, with the deep ache of someone who has become a refugee from their home. But I clung to my sense of justice and wounded pride, and did not contact her. And then one Christmas I received a text message from her. Merry Christmas. Missing you. It was late at night when I saw the message, and my heart began to pound with shock and elation. I called her the very next day, and we made plans to get together for dinner.

    I will always remember where we went, what I ate, and even where we sat. We filled each other in on the tremendous changes and tiny joys that we had missed out on.

    Avoid rehashing old arguments.

    We carefully navigated the tender details of our breakup, and were able to hear one another, understand things with a fuller perspective, and make amends. That was over five years ago, and we have stayed close ever since. We do not often revisit the context of our breakup; I still maintain that it is unproductive to rehash old arguments, no matter what type of relationship you are in. Unless you have found yourself in an unhealthy pattern that continues to reappear, it is often enough to acknowledge the isolated disagreement and move on.

    However, I do think it is possible, and beneficial, to learn from a friendship break.

    Think about the balance between honesty and support.

    In our case, Shannon and I learned a lot about what lines to avoid crossing in terms of offering advice, appearing judgmental, and speaking our fullest opinions. Dr. Levine refers to the importance of finding a balance between honesty and support. My friendship break helped me to clarify my own opinions and practices when reconciling the role of honesty vs support in relationships.

    Severing ties (temporarily) in times of flux can help a relationship.

    While it was never my intention to end my friendship with Shannon, when I reflect back on our breakup, I feel that it served a purpose for us both. Sometimes when we are experiencing great flux in our lives, be it the transition of motherhood, career change, divorce, or even a move, we need to temporarily sever ties with a friend in order to fully move forward and reinvent ourselves.

    Dr. Levine devotes an entire chapter to friendships in flux, discussing the various life changes and transitions that can take a toll on relationships. I saw this happen with several of my best college friends, many of whom are an important part of my life today; we simply needed to break away from one another, learn who we were outside of the context of our friendships, grow up a little, and then assess whether we still belonged in each other’s lives. And unless the friendship has become toxic, is no longer relevant, or irreparable harm has been done, it is often possible, and even therapeutic, to find your way back after a friendship break.

    In an earlier HerStories essay, Nina Badzin shared her insightful perspective in The Case For A Friendship Break. Her piece deeply resonated with me, as I have successfully rebounded from several friendship breaks, including Shannon’s, as well as others that were more gradual. I think that sometimes they are necessary, and provide the space and perspective to grow, process, and reevaluate the role of the friendship.

    Wedding shower 419I will be forever grateful that Shannon reached out to me that Christmas night; she was present when I remarried, celebrated with me when my husband adopted my daughter, and supported me after the birth of my second child.

    She is the friend who keeps me grounded- the friend who knew me “back when,” who understands who I am at my core, and who knows me apart from my children. She makes me feel appreciated, celebrated, and listened to. Shannon is a friend who brings out my sense of joy, a friend that I laugh with more than almost any other person, and a friend who isn’t afraid to get muddy wading around in the depths of our own psyches.

    She is not my fellow mom friend, nor is she a friend of convenience. We have to work hard and put forth a lot of effort to make time for each other. Shannon is the proof that some friendships, the ones that are truly meant to be, can survive a break-up and emerge even stronger.

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  • Still Looking For My “People”

    A few weeks ago, my husband and I took our daughters to the neighborhood swimming pool. I ran into a colleague and casual friend who was there with her two boys. She was chatting with another mom of two boys, and the four kids were splashing together happily while their moms lounged on the edge of the pool. (Note to self- bring a buddy to the pool next time to enhance Mommy’s relaxation experience.)

    My friend introduced us, and explained that they had all gone to college together, and wound up moving to Colorado at the same time. “We’ve been here for 13 years,” she told me, “and we met their oldest son in the hospital the day after he was born. Our boys are more like cousins than friends.”

    I felt a pang of jealousy. These were her “people.” A few weeks ago, 3 Things For Mom ran a post that included this tip: “Find your people.” The full post articulates the importance of surrounding yourself with a tribe, and when I read it, I immediately felt grateful for all the fantastic girlfriends I had in my life.

    • My best friends from college who all live less than an hour away from me. 
    • My two closest friends without kids who keep me grounded and know me as more than Mommy.
    • My fellow mom friends who listen without judgment and make me feel less alone.
    • The friend who “gets me,” sharing my sensitivity trait and even matching my exact Myers-Briggs type!
    • My blogosphere friends, most of whom I have never met, but who relate to my ambitions and frustrations so well.
    Two of my college BFFs- we all have little girls of our own now.
    Two of my college BFFs- we all have little girls of our own now.

    But there is one thing that has always felt missing to me- my husband and I don’t have “that family.” You know- the other couple that you both like so much, whose kids are of a similar age. Maybe they live next door and you wander freely into one another’s backyard, understanding that the lack of shower and presence of pajamas is not a deterrent to sharing time. Maybe you’ve known each other since your wild college days, and you’ve navigated the transition into parenthood together. Maybe it’s your sister and her family, and a standing invitation for reciprocal baby-sitting.

    We don’t have those people in our lives- not yet. It’s not that we don’t have friends with kids that we have suffered through birthday parties, street fairs, and carnivals with. It’s not that we don’t have neighbors with kids- we actually love spending time with the other families on our street. But there’s something different about having that couple that you know without a doubt would come stay with your kids if you went into labor in the middle of the night, or who can join you for dinner without inspiring that “hostess” panic. Those people. 

    It seems like this type of relationship is very elusive- both the husbands and the wives have to like each other, or worst case, the husbands have to tolerate one another! It helps if the kids are close in age, so you can plan activities that everyone will enjoy. It seems like the kid:kid ratio should be close as well- the family with one child may not mesh well with the family who has two sets of twins. Then of course you factor in proximity, schedules, parenting styles- how can all these factors possibly add up to the perfect dual family friendship?

    I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the fantastic, loyal, empathetic friends that I have. Perhaps our inability to align ourselves with another family has more to do with conflicting schedules; I work part-time, and often my children are in school or childcare when my stay at home mom friends are available to socialize. Conversely, my friends who work full-time may not have the same flexibility that I do, and who has time to get together during the infamous Crappy Hour- that mad rush from 4:30-8:00 that involves frantic dinner preparation, a sit-down meal (or not!) and the bedtime countdown?

    One of my favorite HerStories essays, from Christine of A Fly On Our Chicken Coop Wall, shares the story of two families who had weekly community dinners. Reading that post filled me with longing; I have always envied people who had another family that they dined with, played with, and traveled with on a regular basis.

    My cousin lives in a neighborhood with several families whose children are of similar ages; she and her next door neighbor have traded off caring for one another’s children during pregnancy, illness, the post-baby months, or even Get-these-kids-out-of-here-right-now! moments. They often show up in one another’s kitchen, not necessarily having bothered to call or even knock, and frequently join each other for a communal backyard BBQ.

    I want that. My parents have a couple they have known since college; their names are Charles and Charlene, and my brother and I have always known them as Uncle Charlie and Aunt Charlie. They haven’t shared a city with my parents in over 35 years, and yet the lack of proximity did not diminish the importance of their role in our lives; we routinely traveled to visit them and their two boys, or hosted them at our house. “The Charlies” were a staple in my life, and a model of what an enriching adult friendship could look like with another family. I have often remarked that I am still looking for “Our Charlies.”

    My parents with The Charlies at my wedding reception.
    My parents with The Charlies at my wedding reception.

    I wonder if I will ever be fortunate enough to have another family that I consider to be my tribe, my people. It is possible that I am romanticizing the idea, but I have the sense that for those who have found their “Charlies”, this type of friendship is life-changing.

    Have you found your people? Do you have another family that you spend time with regularly? How has it affected your life? 

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  • How Personality Type Affects Your Mothering Style

    Motherhood can be overwhelming and discouraging in many ways. We can be so consumed by our “mistakes” that we often lose sight of the things we are doing right with our children. As parents, I think it can be difficult to take a close look at our personal strengths and weaknesses; we are bombarded with choices from everything to our parenting philosophy (attachment, free-range, etc) to our schooling decisions (Montessori, public schools, homeschooling) to how we feed our baby (breastfeeding wars, anyone?). Sometimes we forget about the things we innately bring to the table as parents: our temperaments and our personalities.

    I have found it to be both fascinating and helpful to identify some of my most prominent traits, both positive and negative, and apply them to how I function as a parent. For example, I would describe myself in general as sensitive, passionate, affectionate, emotional,  communicative, and introspective.

    On the positive side of the spectrum, these qualities make me a nurturing, affectionate, joyful, self-aware parent who is quite effective at emotional processing and imparting knowledge.

    On the flip side, I am also moody, overreactive, overly sensitive, and selfish at times. This manifests by me losing my temper when I am frustrated, and becoming overstimulated by the chaos that occurs naturally with young children.

    I thrive when it comes to hugging, snuggling, and rocking my children. I am quick to kiss boo-boos, sing songs to my children, read with them, and share the wonder of experiencing life together. It is easy for me to connect emotionally with my daughters.

    100_1578However, I often struggle with the more physical aspects of parenting: wiping bottoms, learning over to put a squirming child in her carseat, chasing an uncooperative child: the constant bending, bending, bending overwhelms me. I am also uncomfortable with imaginative play.

    While reflecting on these observations is interesting, it didn’t really get me anywhere. Then I hit the jackpot. I found the book: MotherStyles: Using personality types to learn to parent from your strengths, by Janet P. Penley. This book employs a philosophy based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality inventory to help mothers understand how their personality type shapes their unique styles as parents. Penley writes,

    “According to many psychologists, we are happiest and feel most fulfilled when we are using our strengths. Understanding your personality type can help you identify your natural strengths as well as your personal path to success in mothering and in life.”

    Many of us are familiar with the Myers-Briggs assessment tool: There are 4 key areas that are determined, resulting in sixteen different categories:

    • Extraversion or Introversion (E/I)– where do you focus your attention and get your energy?
    • Sensing or Intuition (S/N)– what information do you attend to most?
    • Thinking or Feeling (T/F) – how do you make judgments/decisions?
    • Judging or Perceiving (J/P) ­– how do you like your outer world structured?

     If you haven’t ever taken the Myers-Briggs assessment, I highly recommend it. It is a fascinating process, and although there are many different factors that contribute to person’s overall nature, understanding our personality types can inspire a great deal of self-awareness. Visit the Myers-Briggs website for more information.  There are several quizzes online, including this one that describes how personality style affects your mothering style. The MotherStyles website has a very short quiz to assess your style, and provides some great insights.

    I happen to be an ENFJ, which makes me extraverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. Here is what MotherStyles has to say about my particular type as it pertains to mothering: ENFJ is the “Heart to Heart Mother.” Penley explains,” Expressive and warm, the ENFJ mother is adept at talking about personal concerns, both her children’s and her own.” Well, that pretty much hits the nail on the head!


    She goes on to specify that these mothers are skilled at initiating heart-to-heart conversations with their children, providing an open forum for articulating feelings, and nurturing through affirmation, praise and encouragement.  It was both comforting and validating to hear my positive qualities summarized so concisely, but is was equally helpful to read the struggles that mothers of this type encounter.

    ENFJ moms often feel guilt when choosing between people and getting things done. They have difficulty backing off, and sometimes worry about being overbearing. ENFJ mothers may struggle with objectivity due to their own sensitivities to their children’s pain. Because she is emotionally expressive, she may fly off the handle. Suffice it to say, this assessment definitely resonated with me!

    I found it extremely helpful that in addition to discussing the strengths and struggles of each type, Penley offers some tips in the chapter of each specific type. For example, she comments that humor can be helpful to balance the natural intensity of the ENFJ mom. She also noted that this personality type benefits from daily peace and quiet to re-energize. Take that, mommy guilt!

    I also found it interesting to read about the personality types that are in direct contrast to mine. For example the ISTP type is known as the “Give ‘em Their Space” Mother, excelling at respecting a child’s privacy but struggling with providing emotional support. Definitely not my style. The ESTP mom is described by Penley as “active and spontaneous, the ESTP mother can turn ordinary life into a fun-filled adventure.” Hmm. Not so much.

    Other types are summarized as “The Giving” Mother- ISFP– who is a people pleaser above all else; The “Totally There” Mother- ESFP– who likes to give her children an immediate response; The “Happy Together” Mother- ESFJ– who thrives on the whole family being happy together; The “Responsibility” Mother- ISFJ– who has a serious love affair with her to- do list.

    Do you recognize yourself in any of these types? Keep in mind, there are 16 unique types, and many of us may recognize ourselves in several of them. Taking the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, or even the short quiz provided in the book,  is a fantastic way to get a feel for where you may fall on the spectrum.

    So what is the value of learning more about our personality types and mothering styles? When Janet Penely experienced her “aha” moment that began her journey to creating this book, she describes,

    “I had to reclaim myself in my mothering. It was time to stop turning outward for answers and start tuning in to who I was as a person. Right or wrong, I had to muster the courage to raise my children in my own very personal and human way.”

    She also mentions the fact that mothers are bombarded with information from well-meaning experts, instructing us with the supposed “right” way to parent. She asserts that moms need less advice and more support to find their own way, incorporating their own strengths and values. The Myers-Briggs assessment refers to our type “preferences” and “nonpreferences”, and Penley explains,

    “Consistently overusing our nonpreferences makes mothering difficult and draining.”

    One of my favorite sections of this book is the discussion on family dynamics; Penley breaks down how your type may interact with your spouse’s type, as well has how your type combines with those of your children. She discusses that mothers may connect more easily with one child, and clash with another, due to personality type differences. She also breaks down differences in preference between parents, and focuses in depth on how specific personality types interact within a marriage. I especially enjoyed the “My Husband Is My Opposite Type!” section.

    I found this book to be engaging, (I couldn’t put it down!) intriguing, (being a person who enjoys analyzing myself and others) and practical (filled with helpful tips and insights to apply to family life). Penley shares that her hope for readers is that they will learn to trust their strengths, gain confidence, be more accepting of their struggles, understand differences and minimize conflict with a spouse or child who has a different type, and strengthen family relationships. You can buy the book on Amazon here or visit the MotherStyles website for more information.


    So….what type are you?

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  • Reassessing Happiness Research: Are New Parents Really That Miserable?

    Welcome to the Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting!   Our second carnival topic is New Parenthood. 

    A couple weeks after my son was born, new parenthood became an overwhelming reality for my husband and me.  Both sets of our parents had returned to their homes.  We were alone with a screaming infant who demanded constant feeding, changing, and burping.  The effects of endless sleep deprivation were starting to hit us.  Neither of us showered, ate properly, cooked, or was able to keep our clothes clean for more than five minutes.  Laundry piled up.  We argued constantly, nearly delirious with fatigue, our arguments illogical and fierce.

    A dear friend of mine from my university came over to our apartment one Friday after work.  She took one look at us — the bags under our eyes, our dirty clothes — and our apartment and its explosion of baby paraphernalia.

    “Wow, this place really has that ‘new parent’ glow,” she said sarcastically.  She stayed just long enough to hear a few minutes of my son’s nightly scream fest that began around 7 p.m.  And then left in her cute, sporty car to watch movies, drink wine, read thick novels, and sleep in until 10 a.m. all weekend.

    As I watched my unmarried, childless friend drive away, I sat by the window, weepy, and pleaded for her to hear my unspoken thoughts, Take me with you.  Please.  I want my old life back.  I was once like you.

    But those thoughts disappeared within the same hour as I watched my beautiful, perfect baby sleep, swaddled and content in his bassinet.  I felt happier than I had been in my life.

    My newborn son and me
    My newborn son and me

    Was this time — and the early years of parenting — going to be the most joyous of my life?  Or would new parenthood — my son just turned two — made me miserable?  What is “happiness” in the first place for new parents?  And how in the world do you measure it — and the love, joy, frustration, and fear that goes along with the chubby baby cheeks, the sweet baby smell, and the cooing?

    Anyone with even a casual acquaintance with the research on parental happiness should not be blamed for being confused.  For years it’s been conventional wisdom in the media and in academia that parents are unhappier than non-parents.  The media establishment, such as the widely dissected New York magazine article “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” frequently reports on the disastrous accounts of parenting on marital satisfaction, mental health, and life satisfaction.

    By the time my son was born I had read enough of these doomsday articles to prepare myself mentally for the fact that parenthood would probably make me a bit anxious, depressed, stressed, exhausted, and, well, unhappy a lot of the time.  This would be the lowest point of my marriage.  I would weep a lot.  I got it.  Message received.  Parenthood sucks a lot of the time.

    But would I really be that unhappy?

    It turns out there have been some serious flaws in previous parenting research on satisfaction and happiness.  One of the most widely cited articles on parental misery is a 2004 article by economist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues.  They surveyed more than 900 working women in Texas, asking them to reconstruct the previous day’s activities  and to describe their levels of happiness during each activity.  Not surprisingly to anyone who has taken care of small children for hours at a time, child-care associated tasks did not get described as the most fun.  (In fact, child care was rated lower than vacuuming.  Is anyone surprised that parents were having less fun changing diapers than watching TV?)

    What’s wrong with this study, and others like it that have been used to describe children as parasites of life satisfaction, gradually sucking the joy from our lives?

    First, most of these studies did not directly compare parents to non-parents; rather, these studies would control for many complex demographic factors, often using sample data that was many decades old.  For instance, many older studies did not account for how parenting satisfaction changes during each stage of parenting, from the newborn years to late adolescence and early adulthood.

    Recent articles actually report on combined series of studies that use complementary methodological approaches to “triangulate” the data to better capture how parenting affects different groups of parents, the individual experience of one parent or family, and variations in perceptions across the lifespan.

    Here are a few findings from that research that complicate the “parenthood is misery” picture:

    1.  The “happiness” of new parents actually spikes in the months before the birth of a child — as new parents wait, prepare and get excited — and then drops precipitously in the first year.  Thus, comparing the happiness levels of parents pre-baby and post-baby is not a valid measure.

    2.  Older parents — particularly in their 40s and beyond — are actually quite happy.  People who become parents at young ages have lower levels of satisfaction than older parents.  This finding is thought to be associated with greater levels of socioeconomic security and emotional support.

    3.  Parents may feel differently after the birth of additional children.  They report being happiest after the birth of the first child, slightly less happy after the second, and then describe no changes in happiness after the third child.

    4.  Parents overall are happier than their socioeconomically paired peers with no children.

    5.  Parenthood is best of all for dads Fathers are happier than mothers, expressing higher levels of positive emotions and happiness than mothers, whose happiness presumably could be tempered by the biological changes of new motherhood and the increased responsibility in caretaking that women generally take on, compared to men.

    For me, looking through this research, I’m more bewildered than ever.  I’m not actually sure if this is an area where research studies can ever adequately ever capture the full range of experience and complexity of factors that impact a parent’s feelings about parenthood — or how that experience of parenting interacts with other areas of one’s life.

    Parenting is hard, really hard.  It can give your life tremendous meaning and joy but also drain you like nothing else.  Let the researchers figure out the appropriate statistical modeling, but I want to say to new parents, you are not doomed to decades of toil, boredom, and misery.   Life — with children, without them — is just so much more complicated than that.  Maybe philosophers can provide us with better answers.

    Has parenthood made your happier?  Why or why not? 

    If you’re a new mom, we’d love to find out more about your experience.  We invite you to take our new motherhood survey and tell us about how parenthood changed you.

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    Here’s a quick list of our contributors for  this second edition of the Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting:

    The Transition to New Motherhood (Momma, PhD)

    Bonding in Early Motherhood:  When Angels Don’t Sing and the Earth Doesn’t Stand Still (Red Wine and Applesauce)

    The Connection Between Poor Labour, Analgesia, and PTSD (The Adequate Mother)

    For Love or Money:  What Makes Men Ready for New Fatherhood (Matt Shipman)

    What the Science Says (and Doesn’t Say) About Breastfeeding Issues, Postpartum Adjustment, and Bonding (Fearless Formula Feeder)

    No, Swaddling  Will Not Kill Your Baby (Melinda Wenner Moyer,  Slate)

    Sleep Deprivation:  The Dark Side of Parenting (Science of Mom)

    The Parenting Media and You (Momma Data)

    Reassessing Happiness Research:  Are New Parents Really That Miserable? (Jessica Smock)

    40 Long Days and Nights (Six Forty Nine)


    You can also “like” the Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting on Facebook.  Check out our Facebook page, and connect with all of us there!



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  • Introducing Our First HerStories Expert: Patience Bleskan, Child Development Specialist and Parenting Coach

    We are thrilled to begin introducing our panel of experts, starting with sleep expert and parenting coach Patience Bleskan.  Patience currently practices in the Denver metro area as a doula, parenting coach, educator, and group facilitator. Visit her website to learn more about her work.

    As the mother of 4, Patience Bleskan supports mothers with both the personal and professional perspective. She has had her own experiences with postpartum depression, loss of community, and balancing a career with raising a family. These experiences and her passion for helping others understand children is what drives her life.

    Stephanie has attended Patience’s sleep support group in the past, and was extremely impressed by her skills as both a sleep expert and a group facilitator. She had the opportunity to ask Patience some questions about her perspective on new motherhood, finding support, and the power of women gathering together in a group. Read her responses:

    The HerStories Project:  What do you perceive as the biggest challenges and most significant areas of need for new mothers?

    Patience Bleskan:  During pregnancy, women start to build and create an image of themselves as a mother. We create pictures in our head of what being a parent will look like, and feel like. We create birth plans, learn to change diapers and how to swaddle. No one ever pictures that motherhood will look like the entire family crying at 2 am exhausted and wondering if it is possible to just run away. The disconnect of the image we created before baby arrived and the reality of the daily grind with a newborn throws us for a major loop-de-loop.

    Expecting women need to be taught realistic expectation before baby arrives. The image they have of mother will happen, when baby is closer to a year old.

     The HerStories Project:  How does sleep deprivation affect new mothers?

    Patience Bleskan:  The simple answer is that sleep deprivation is one of the key factors leading to postpartum depression.

    The more complex answer is that sleep deprivation is an interesting phenomenon in America. We don’t value sleep as a culture, it is just something we squeeze in. There is almost a badge of honor that comes with being so busy you don’t have to get a good nights sleep. When baby arrives, getting things done is still a greater priority then sleep for ourselves. So in the first weeks we do, do, do and then crash.

    Taking naps in the middle of the day, leaving dishes and laundry undone does not fit in with the supermom image. Lack of sleep wears us down until we only feel like a shadow of who we were before.


    THSP:  What do you think women gain from attending sleep support group?

    PB:  Sleep group is a place where women can come and be honest about how sleep is going. Tears happen often in group as a new mom is able, for the first time, to really admit how tired she is. There is so much pressure from our doctors, mothers, and even strangers to have a baby who sleeps well. This creates growing anxiety for new moms. At group women get to be reassured their baby is normal and the way they feel is normal. They also leave with more information on sleep and how to make changes if they need to, but that is secondary.

    THSP:  Please share any observations you have about the power of women gathering together with other women who have similar needs and circumstances.

    PB:  My favorite moments in group are when the mothers share their experiences with each other. I often say parenting was never meant to be a solo sport. When mothers gather together we create the environment where women and children flourish. A mom in sleep group for the first time relaxes at a deeper level when another mother says, “I was there and it gets better.”

    Play group is one place where parents and children get to come and just be together. We can share about anything from our crazy parents taking too many birthday pictures, to how did you camp with your infant. The families are all in the same place developmentally.

    It makes a huge difference in the well being of the mother to see others dealing with what she is dealing with.


    THSP:  We are interested in how the changing needs of the baby over the first 12-18 months affect the mother, as baby’s patterns evolve and the haze of the first few months wears off. What kinds of support does a mother typically need after the baby’s first 6-12 months? How does a baby’s changing sleep needs after the first 6-12 months typically affect a mother, in your experience?

    PB:  I don’t think the mother’s need changes after the first 6-12 months. The challenges are just different. As baby gets older parents often struggle with how to balance their own needs with the needs of the infants. Since the child is not as all consuming, parents can struggle to know what they should expect their child to do. Going back to work and balancing the desire to work with the desire to be at home creates guilt all the way around. You can’t work the way you use to, and you are missing time with your child. It can feel like a lose, lose. If you are staying home it can feel secluded, and not valued. You can feel you are not contributing enough. Another struggle that comes in during this time is the relationship between the parents. It is often pushed to the side when baby is so little and demanding.

    Now that baby is older you have to redefine your relationship not just as a couple, but as co-parents. This is can be very difficult. Having your community and support in this aspect can be critical.

    Baby’s needs change very quickly and dramatically over the first 12-18 months. They go from completely dependent beings to moving communicating humans. Every new development with baby brings up yet another curve for the first time parents to navigate. This is why being in community with others is so important. Seeing and hear other mothers and children navigate the development of new skills creates an understanding of what is typical behavior and what needs to be taught or learned.

    For sleep, the 12-18 month time is usually when sleep starts to become more stable. This can be a good time for the mother whose child is now sleeping a good one nap a day, going to bed and sleeping most of the night. For the child who is still waking often it can feel disheartening. After the first birthday the brain is much more ready to regulate sleep like an adult does, which means changes can usually improves sleep very quickly. We often hide other issues behind our baby’s sleeping patterns. If baby is still co-sleeping or waking, we can avoid confronting our relationship issues that have developed since baby arrived.

    We are so happy to have Patience as part of The HerStories Project! We will continue to introduce our experts each week- stay tuned!

     And don’t forget to take our HerStories Project New Motherhood survey!

    Patience Bleskan spent the majority of her life learning to better understand how children learn, and how adults, teachers and parents, affect who children become. As a toddler she walked around nursing her baby dolls and in high school her final term paper discussed how parents can teach children to make good choices.

    As she went out into the world her choice of work was easily made as she became a preschool teacher. Patience continued to work with young children as a teacher while she received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from the Metropolitan State College of Denver. She wasted no time before continuing her formal education with a Masters degree in Early Childhood Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado.

    While Patience learned a great deal about children and the many theories of development during her schooling, her study of the Reggio Philosophy of Early Childhood Education made the biggest impact in her professional life. The schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy have become the benchmark for high quality education for young children. Patience has attended numerous conferences on the Reggio Approach and was able to study directly with Carla Rinaldi from Reggio in 2002.

    After teaching preschool for seven years, Patience Bleskan founded her Parent Education and Coaching Business in 2004. The work began with classes for parents, but has grown to include groups, consulting, preschool training, keynote speaking and doula work. She has now worked with hundreds families from all over the country.




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