Becoming parents is a unique and beautiful experience regardless of your relationships age or stage. But when you're already in the midst of starting a new chapter in your life by getting engaged and married, tossing in a whole other chapter, called parenthood, might throw a little wrench in your plans. For starters, depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy and wedding prep, you might have to find a new dress to say "I do" in. And, while that might seem like a giant deal, it will be a blip on the radar after becoming a mommy. The bigger focus for you right now should be learning how to adapt to going from fiancé or wife to co-parent in a flash. We asked marriage and family therapists to help navigate the waters of first-time parenthood.
Communicate openly, directly.
You probably already know this by now, but communication is key in any stage of relationship—and parenthood is certainly no exception. "Partners need to communicate and strategize together, join forces by thought sharing, processing feelings, and considering options," says Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, and licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California.
Give yourself permission to feel overwhelmed and stress.
It's normal to feel completely overwhelmed—it's part of being a parent—but what matters is how you respond to feeling this way. "Think about what it takes to be your best you," says Karen Ruskin, LMFT, psychotherapist, and author of Karen's Marriage Manual. "Think about how you respond verbally, physically, emotionally to all the people in your life and to yourself when it comes to stress and try your best to take healthy approaches whenever possible."
Show respect for one another.
Even when you've had a hard day—and there will be hard days during pregnancy and parenthood—be consciously mindful of showing respect to your partner who's in this with you. "Show your partner with words and actions each day that you value and appreciate them as a parenting partner," says Dr. Ruskin. And don't forget to do the same for your baby once she makes her debut. "Babies and infants feel your behavior, your words and your inflection, so don't forget to show her you appreciate that she is your child."
Whether it's keeping track of feedings or stocking the diaper-changing station, staying organized will help you manage parenthood together. "A baby brings on added levels of stress financially and in terms of time management, housing and care of the baby," says Dr. Mendez. "Staying organized and as on top of tasks as possible can significantly bring down stress levels and contain the experiences of feeling overwhelmed."
Connect with resources.
Just like with planning a wedding or managing newlywed life, you'll need help managing your pregnancy as well as caring for your child. "Connecting with resources such as prenatal care, pediatric care, parent and baby playgroups, child care, and developmental guidance provides couples with knowledge and tools necessary to travel the new road of parenthood," Dr. Mendez explains. "Resources open the doors to knowledge and action and decrease isolation."
Accept responsibility for your own feelings.
It's easy to bottle up your emotions when you're feeling overwhelmed, but this only lets negative thoughts and anticipations plant their seeds. "When facing unexpected situations or situations requiring change and adaptation, confronting feelings openly and without judgment frees you up to problem solve," says Dr. Mendez. Acknowledge that you're feeling the way you're feeling—it will lessen the opportunity for negative thoughts to fester and promote the self-reflection necessary for clear thinking and action-taking.
Take the time to enjoy parenthood.
Remind yourself that not everyone gets the chance to have children. You are blessed and lucky to be able to bring a child into this world. "Make it a point each day to relish the reality that you do have a child and each day tell yourself one thing that you are excited about parenthood," suggests Dr. Ruskin.
Set aside time as a couple, too.
You've probably been used to divvying up your time only between work, friends, family and your significant other, but now you have to make room for parenthood—which will undoubtedly take up as much time as you have. Still, don't forget to squeeze in time for you and your partner as a couple. "It's important to preserve the unity of the partnership as the foundation of the growing family. "It's important during the transition to parenthood for couples to hold onto the value they place on together time and build such time into their plans as they welcome a new addition to their lives," says Dr. Mendez. "When couples neglect time alone together, the chances of distancing and disconnecting from the core of the unit increase."
Create a vision for the future.
There will be moments that are tough and challenging. Remind yourself that it's going to happen and that this, too, shall pass. "There's a future—the future in a few hours from now, the future tomorrow, the future in a year and years," reminds Dr. Ruskin. "Looking at and thinking about what the future might look like when it comes to parenthood can help things feel a little less overwhelming."