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Advice for Expectant Parents Part 2

In yesterday’s blog I talked about practical issues you need to consider that you may not have thought of, like picking a pediatrician and installing the car seat.

But there are lots of parenting issues a couple may not be aware need discussion, that can really test the marital ties in the midst of sleep deprivation and three days in a row of Chinese takeout. So here’s my biggest piece of advice to expectant parents:

Have lots of fights with your spouse.

You’ve got many decisions to make about what sort of parent you’re going to be. Some of them are already half-made based on your upbringing and seem so obvious you assume your spouse agrees with you until it’s 3 a.m., you bring the baby in bed with you, and your husband freaks out, saying you’ll make your 2-week-old son a mama’s boy. Trust me, it’s better to at least start these fights now, when you can play the old hormone card, than after the baby comes and you’re both so sleep-deprived you can’t remember your husband’s name. Here’s a list of topics to get you started: 

Breastfeeding You’ve got to be on the same page with this. Trying to breastfeed while you’re husband’s going “Yucky!” is well-nigh impossible. What are your expectations? How long do you want to breastfeed? Are you willing to pump if you go back to work, or do you want to supplement with formula? What’s the “bare minimum” amount of time you’d like to nurse? If he’s thinking 6 months and you’re thinking 6 years, you’ve got a long conversation ahead of you.

Going back to work This is obviously not a conversation that’s going to be closed before the baby comes. No one can predict how motherhood will strike her; you may be certain you’ll be back at work in six weeks, see your baby, and vow not to leave his side until kindergarten. Or you may want to be a stay-at-home-mom and find yourself climbing the walls after three months. You may not have an option budget-wise. But you can have a conversation about what you think you’d like to have happen, and make sure he’s on the same page. In an ideal world, what would your division of parenting labor look like?

Parenting styles There’s a lot to cover here, but the main camps are attachment parenting vs. Ferberizing. Will you want to “wear” your baby in a sling all day to keep her close to you? Will you want to have a family bed, rather than a separate place for baby to sleep? Do you think that it’s impossible to spoil a newborn? Will you want to teach your baby to self-comfort at a certain age – the “cry it out” method – or will you always rush to comfort your crying baby? Read The Baby Book and Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems to get the two extreme points of view. Most people end up somewhere in the middle, but know your tendencies before it’s the middle of the night.

Night wakings This is tied to the previous topic, but not limited to it. You and your spouse will have a conversation that goes like this-

You: “I lean more towards the Ferber method, and think children can be taught to self-comfort."
Him: “I’d be happy doing the family bed and comforting throughout the night, but I can lean towards the Ferber method. I’d be willing to give it a try.

Now that you’ve had the abstract conversation, you think you’re on the same page until it’s 3 a.m., baby’s awake and crying for the fourth time already, and both of you are pretending to not hear it.

So you need to have a conversation about the practicalities of the night. It’s fine to leave the final decisions about sleep style until the baby’s there and you both know how you feel – because it will change when you see your infant and hear her screaming. But you need to discuss things like, Who is going to get up in the middle of the night? Will mom take all the feedings after dad goes back to work? Will mom pump a bottle so dad can take one feeding? If the baby’s crying and you disagree on whether or not to go in to comfort her, who wins? Who gets veto power? Again, these things will change once you get in a rhythm, but it’s nice to discuss expectations now.

Circumcision Not having had a boy, I’m not going to weigh in on this except to say, talk to each other, and talk to your pediatrician. Read up and make a decision you both support.

Religion If you are not both religious, you need to talk about how you’re going to raise the baby. Will you want a bris? A baptism? Will you insist on taking your child to church every Sunday? How will you feel if hubby stays home? Will there be a Christmas tree in your home? This is obviously an ongoing topic, but talk about the early stuff now.

Extended family involvement You come from a big family that lives nearby; he’s one of two kids with no relatives within a thousand miles. You expect your family to be at the birth and on a 24/7 rotation at your house for the first month. Does he know that? Will he resent the intrusion, or welcome it? Or how about this – his mother is planning on flying in for two weeks to “help out”. You strongly disagree with the way he was raised and don’t want 1) his mother offering you advice you really disagree with, and 2) your husband weakly saying in front of her, “Maybe you should try formula, hon. It worked for my mom.” Talk about it now.

Parental control issues Some topics won’t be relevant for a while but they’re definitely hot-button and should be on your radar. For example, the AAP recommends not letting children watch ANY television before age 2. Do you agree with that? Are you both willing to give up your reruns of “Friends” to enforce that? How much television is too much? Then there’s food. Will you make your child belong to the clean plate club? Are you going to try to hold off on junk food for the first few years? You don’t want one parent giving the child ice cream at 11 months while the other one thinks baby’s not getting any refined sugar for two years. And how do you feel about punishment? Do you believe in spanking? Time-outs?

Obviously, this is not a complete list, and obviously, you won’t get all these issues resolved immediately. But starting a dialogue now is crucial for the health of your marriage. If you don’t talk about junk food now, you’ll find yourself storming around your bedroom six months wailing, “I can’t believe I’m married to a man that thinks it’s ok to give a baby Pepsi! I can’t believe I married you!”

Hopefully, this article hasn’t made you panic about the fact that after nine months, the real work’s just beginning. Take it one step at a time, and know you’re working hard to be prepared. You can do this, I promise.


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