After my husband I got married, well-meaning people would ask us all the time, “When will you be starting a family?” Which was just the more polite way of saying, “When are you going to get busy and make some babies?” But weren’t we a family?
I mean, we had chosen one another out of all the millions of other people in the world “to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, till death us do part, etc.” (Our actual vows were different, but you get the idea…) I felt like we were a family already. A little island unto ourselves. Hoping to bring some things from our families of origin into our own family, but maybe hoping to avoid a thing or two as well. I felt in my heart, then and now, that we were a family long before we had any children of our own.
How much thought do you think we gave to what we would want to bring or hope to avoid when we actually got busy and started making some babies?
I’d love to tell you that we sat down beforehand and got clear with one another about all the most important aspects of parenthood. That we checked everything out first to see where our parenting similarities lined up, as well as identifying early on any divisions or discrepancies we might have. And that next, we respectfully dialogued with each other about the most thorny topics, finally coming to some well thought out compromises months before we even considered expanding our family so that the transition to parenting would go as smoothly as possible.
But sadly, no. That was not the case.
Like most expectant parents, we kind of fell head first into this parenting thing. And at times it felt like we were free-falling.
How’d we do? Well, it was a rough first year, if I’m telling the truth. In preparing our definition of family to include a newborn, we only got as far as answering “Yes!” to the following question: “Do you want to try and make a baby?”
When that process ended up not taking that long (I realize how lucky we are!), the focus shifted to handling the first four months of throwing up what felt like a million times a day. Then there was the fluttering feelings of baby moving in utero – which were both bizarre and thrilling at the same time – and my ever-expanding belly to distract us. All the aches and pains of pregnancy, coupled with my determination to maintain that nothing really significant had changed, didn’t provide very much time for reflection about parenting the little baby that was still snugly tucked inside of me. So the reality of negotiating what our family – which now included someone who had her own personality, demands, timeline and wacky schedule – would look like, was truly a shock to us both.
If there’s one thing that I would have liked to have done more of before I became a parent, it would be to have actually discussed with my partner what the reality of that would look like for each of us. What did we want our family to be? Not getting stuck in the lofty ideals of perfection (it doesn’t exist, people!) but identifying what that first year might really look like for us – as individuals, as a couple and as a new family. I would have liked to have known how different I would feel as a woman. I would have liked some insight into my husband’s experience of what it meant to wear the title, father. We’d already weathered a lot as a new couple and felt like our relationship could “handle anything.” But there were so many changes happening all at once, it often felt like we were reeling, making it all up as we went along. Starting a new family sometimes means making it up as you go along. But I wish there had been a roadmap on how to avoid the pitfalls and lessen the normal, everyday challenges that all couples go through when they transition to becoming a family.
I’m really happy to tell you that there’s a book that has been written that will give you all of that and more. It’s called, “Becoming Us – 8 Steps to Grow A Family That Thrives”, by Elly Taylor. I’ve been telling my classes that this is the book to get ever since I bought it last year. It’s a wonderful resource to help prepare for what it means to expand your definition of family. Elly provides a lot of practical, real-life scenarios to help families prepare for the transition to becoming a family before the baby arrives. And she also does two other very important things: she normalizes what happens in the first year of parenting, and provides realistic expectations of what this transition will look and feel like for new families. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Families come in all stripes, there is no one definition of what a family is. But when you are making the transition to parenting a newborn, there are some specific challenges awaiting you. Pick up this book as you’re preparing for your baby’s arrival, or even if the baby has already gotten here and you’re feeling like you wish this transition was going a little bit better than it has so far.
And share with your friends and family members the specific challenges you’re going through as a new parent. You’ll realize that you’re not alone, as your definition of family continues to change and grow.
How was the transition for you from couple to family? What resources did you rely on as your definition of family changed to include your new little baby? Please share them in the comments section, I love to provide my families with whatever resources I can.