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  • Frances Bilbao

Family dynamics

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.

She never existed before.

The woman existed, but the mother, never.

A mother is something absolutely new” Rajneesh

This saying about mothers being born can also be applied to all the people in her circle. When a child is born so too is a father, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a brother or a sister. This saying helps to conceptualise how significant the relational changes are when a baby is born. The whole family dynamic can change, and this can be a huge challenge for everyone as they get used to their new roles.

One of the challenges for new mums and dads is being able to parent their child in the way that they wish. Oftentimes people around the new baby have ideas about things like feeding, sleeping and who should do what role with the baby and these might not align with the new parents’ ideas. Perhaps a grandparent expects the woman to breastfeed, but she has decided not to. Maybe the in-laws are being too involved, coming over more often than you would like. Perhaps an aunt expects to babysit but the new parents are not ready yet. Or maybe a grandparent shows no interest in the child at all and the parents had thought they would be more helpful. All these situations show that expectations have not met with reality which can be disappointing, surprising and even sad. It can also increase tensions in the home if the new parents are disagreeing with how this should be managed.

This period of having a new baby involves a renegotiation of all the important relationships and this takes time and can feel a bit uncomfortable to start with. One of the key parts of this change in the relationships is being able to have clear boundaries and express them to others in a way that preserves the relationship. It also requires the parents to be on the same page about how they want family and friends to be involved. This is usually the first step to ensure that there is consistent messaging from both new parents about family and friends involvement.

For some people drawing those clear boundaries can be hard. Perhaps they have never had to do this with family and friends before, or maybe they feel it is not right to do with elders. Something that can be helpful with boundaries is developing a quick and easy response beforehand that is clear and to the point. If you have developed something you will say each time it means that you are not trying to get your point across when you might be tired, emotional or upset about the situation. An example could be the one mentioned above- grandparents coming over too often and fussing over the baby. You might think of something like:

“We really appreciate how much love and care you are taking with baby now that he’s here. There are times though when we both need to rest, and we would appreciate some notice if you are planning to visit. If you text first, then I can let you know if we are resting and whether it is a good time to visit.”

Something like this can help set the expectation but also acknowledges that they love the child and want to be involved.

The renegotiation of relationships can be incredibly challenging on top of having a new baby and can take up a lot of energy. Make sure you are taking care of yourself and consider talking to someone outside the situation to get another perspective.


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