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Wilburn: A baby brings changes and opportunities
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Becoming first-time parents is a significant experience, personally and for your marriage.

A lifestyle once comfortable and familiar becomes unpredictable and perhaps stressful. Many first-time mothers and fathers share anxieties regarding the changes a baby brings to the marriage.

Among these concerns are the added expenses of a new child, managing child care responsibilities, and — the biggest concern of all — how the marital relationship will change. Nearly all couples report lower marital satisfaction after the arrival of their first child. Changes in roles and expectations place heavy demands on new parents, and negotiating these changes can cause tension. In fact, research on first-time parents shows roles not only change but change differently.

On average, men tend to shift more commitment and time to providing for their family, whereas women tend to identify with work less and prioritize parenting more — a shift towards more "traditional" roles. Consequently, both men and women end up placing less emphasis and energy on their marriage.

According to Pamela Jordan, co-author of "Becoming Parents: How to Strengthen Your Marriage as Your Family Grows," deciding who does what becomes an important issue for couples as they become parents, whether or not it's been an issue for them before.

Each partner's expectations, values and beliefs will influence how economic, child-care and household responsibilities are divided. And, while there is no one "best" arrangement, Jordan cautions that "when you have different expectations for how things are going to be, your opportunities for conflict are greatly increased."

Therefore, it is important to figure out a plan to meet your needs.

Steps to take

1. Re-evaluate what roles and responsibilities are important.

Where do you want to invest more of your time and energy? What are the pros and cons of prioritizing your roles this way?

2. Share your thoughts with your partner.

Discuss, in detail, the realities and needs of your own family. Work out an arrangement that is not only best for you but that will work for you and your spouse as well. Important questions to ask include:

Who will work outside the home?

How will parenting responsibilities be shared? Will you need outside child care?

Who does what around the house, and when?

3. Be open to change.

The decisions you make now don't have to last forever. As you and your partner negotiate work and family responsibilities, make sure to give yourself options. Plans usually need to change as time goes by, your baby grows or you have more children.

Make time to discuss

Set aside time for each other. In the businesses of attending to parenting, work and household responsibilities, couple time is often ignored — or you are just too tired to worry about it! Set aside at least a few minutes a day to check in with each other. Turn to friends and family for child care so you can spend time alone together.

The stress from balancing work and family roles, coupled with fatigue and the seemingly endless demands of a baby, make it easy to understand how conflict in the relationship could increase. Although becoming a parent can challenge you and your relationship, view this transition as an opportunity to enrich your marriage — take charge of these changes and create opportunities for lasting love and connection!

Source: Ohio State University Extension

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column runs in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month. Contact: 770-535-8290.

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