by Lindsay Armstrong
Lauren Deakin, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, is bringing a new parenting workshop to the studio on Saturday, January 27th.
When 2 Become 3 is workshop for new parents on nurturing your relationship. Adding a baby into the mix of a relationship represents a particularly challenging era for many couples. On top of learning to be new parents, you’re also changing the ways you relate to your partner. This learning curve may be steep, but can bare the fruit of a deeper connection and greater intimacy with your partner if approached in conscious and mindful ways. Find out more info about the workshop here, and get to know Lauren below!
Q: What’s your background as a therapist?
I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist so my education focused on couples and family bonds. Partly from my life experiences and partly because it’s something that I have a natural passion for, I’ve worked with a lot with young couples and young families.
I’m also a mother and I’m married and so a lot of what I’m talking about in the workshop and a lot of what I discuss with couples in my practice I’ve been through myself so there’s a different kind of knowledge or experience that comes with that.
Q: Why did you want to develop a workshop for couples specifically around this transition into parenthood?
Often times, couples are just trucking along and everything’s smooth and then a baby comes along. It can be a jolting time for a lot of couples, but I think a little bit of knowledge and awareness can go a long way towards curbing that jolting experience. Instead of being overrun by this radical shift in their lives, they are in a place where they are a bit more grounded and more solid together. They can experience the roller coaster in a way that really lets them be in it and love all of it, even the inevitable hard parts, as a connected, bonded couple that comes out stronger on the other side.
Q: It sounds kind of like having a wedding and getting married. Everybody talks about how great it is and people sometimes have expectations of how they should feel versus what the process is really like. Does that come up for people?
I think plenty of people talk about how difficult being a new parent is but the hard truth of it is that you don’t really know what that difficulty means until you are experiencing it. The people around you are very encouraging and supportive. They are parents who are now grandparents and siblings who are now aunts and uncles and they are all very excited for you, but I don’t think it helps anyone to protect ourselves or others from the shadow parts.
It also tends to be a part of our culture to really put a positive spin on things and to try to be optimists to a fault. I think it does so much good when we show people the whole spectrum so that they can be prepared and realize that the hard parts shouldn’t be pushed away.
It’s a really special moment as a parent when you’re up at 3 a.m. and you’re exhausted and you’re holding this new thing. You can experience that as, “I can’t do this. I’m exhausted. I’m holding my screaming baby at 3 a.m.” but there’s this other part of you that’s like, “This is the stuff that life is made of. These are the memories that I look back on when I’m looking at my teenager or sending my kid to college.”
That’s why I really believe in preparing couples for the good as well as the tough so that they can go in equipped to face anything or, even if not equipped, they have the awareness in the middle of the hard stuff to realize, “I’m not alone. Other people go through this. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and my partner and I will make it through!”
Q: It sounds like if you think that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal, there’s also a lot of guilt associated with it, like, ‘Why am I not happy all of the time?’ or ‘Why is it hard for me if it’s easy for other people?’
Absolutely. We have a lot of research that shows us what new parents experience and that those experiences are very common. That’s one of the things I want to talk about in the workshop so that people don’t feel isolated. When couples feel isolated that’s when it gets really hard and it’s easy to have happen in our culture, espeically in New York City. We’re going to talk a lot about building your village, building the community around you and having access to that network because it can not only help you as a parent, but it’s also a way to make sure that you have time with your partner so that you can stay connected.
Q: You said that many of the experiences are common, so what are the themes or issues that come up again and again with new parents?
The common issue is that partners can react very differently to a baby being born. There’s often one partner who is the sustainer or the nurturer and then there is the other role, which is the supporter. Generally that falls into male-female roles, but not always. For the most part it’s because we are hardwired, physiologically in our bodies, to respond to our babies in these ways.
The nurturer’s responsibility is to make an intense bond with the baby and to make sure that the baby is ok. That can mean an almost obsessive focus on the baby’s needs. The shadow side of that is that it can turn into this anxiety and this do-it-yourself mentality because you’re so concerned about the baby’s needs being met just so. That can lead to that person getting burnt out or turning away help.
The other side of it is that the supporter then gets this intense urge to support. They can throw themselves into work or finding a way to support the family and that can also lend itself to anxiety and possibly lead to feelings of inadequacy. If we’re not prepared for these varied responses to the baby, they have the danger of causing divides between partners.
I think that’s what’s hard for a lot of parents. If you’ve never been that way before and these things come up, you’re like “Why am I behaving this way? What’s happening right now?” It can be jarring and fear provoking. We revert to protecting ourselves and that means pulling away from our partners instead of joining with them.
We also tend to have very high expectations of ourselves and our partners as parents in America. That’s heightened by the fact that we often don’t have support around us. We don’t have our families around us, so we put all of our expectations to meet those parenting needs on ourselves and on our partners. It’s just way too much. No one can meet those needs alone.
Q: You said that just a little bit of work can yield big results in this area, so what can people expect from the workshop?
It’s going to be a mix between experiential activities and discussion because people learn in both ways. When you’re in a moment where you are sleep deprived and not at your best, your body can remember things that your brain can’t so it’s important that we kind of have these bodily experiences in the workshop.
We’re going to be talking about common experiences and what those experiences might feel like physically. People will play out these scenarios with their partner. If their baby is there, we’ll involve the baby in that experience. That way they can register in their bodies what emotions it evokes when they are going through these situations with their baby and with their partner. Sometimes we go through these day-to-day experiences without really tuning in to how we’re feeling. Then we’re going to discuss, what they can do, what are the ‘couple hacks,’ to stay bonded and connected and intimate as a couple.
We’re also going to talk about sex because that’s a big thing for couples, shifts in sexual experiences after the baby is born. How do couples prepare for that and how do they respond to that when it happens?
Q: You mentioned, “couple hacks.” What is one of those that you have seen be really effective in your practice or your own experience?
Regular date nights or, I’ll take the pressure off, just regular time for you and your partner alone without the baby. That can be really hard for new parents. It can also be really hard in our culture because we’re very baby-centric. Even just an hour-long walk or a 30-minute walk is great. It’s just about taking time away from the baby for you and your partner to talk, not about the baby, but just to talk. That’s how you keep those connections alive and reinforce all of the other parts of your identity that still matter, reminding you of who you are aside from being a mother, aside from being a father and who you are as a couple aside from that part of your identity as well.