A Podcast Series from The Family Institute
In this episode of Let's Talk, Nikki Lively, Clinical Director of the Transitions to Parenthood program interviews Elly Taylor, an Australian parenting expert and the author of the award-winning book for expectant couples, Becoming Us.
They discuss research on the impact of parenthood on a couple's relationship and the importance of supporting couples to maintain a stance of curiosity and openness to themselves and each other as they learn about how to parent together.
Lastly, they discuss the exciting new classes for couples based on the book (also called "Becoming Us") that give couples the tools to understand and cope with the eight stages of the parenthood journey!
Nikki Lively: Hi everyone! My name is Nikki Lively and I'm the Clinical Director of the Transitions to Parenthood program here at The Family Institute. We are a team of psycho-therapists specializing in reproductive mental health and provide therapy and support to women, men, infants, couples and families during this important life transition. Today on the podcast I have the privilege of hosting Elly Taylor. Elly's an Australian parenting expert who's becoming known as a parenting pioneer. She is also the author of the award winning book, Becoming Us. And the creator of a class to prepare expectant parents for parenthood also called Becoming Us, that we are offering at The Family Institute as a part of our Transition to Parenthood program. So welcome Elly.
Elly Taylor: Thank you Nikki. I'm absolutely delighted to be here. And I'm thrilled to be a part of what you're doing there, and really impressed by what you're doing there. And thanks for providing this service to your community. 1:02
NL: Yeah. Thanks for developing this curriculum. I wanted to share that I met Elly at the Postpartum Support International Conference. You spoke really passionately about the vulnerability of new parents. And how there aren't really any preparations or rites of passage in western cultures to really prepare people for this awesome life change. It struck me as absolutely true. And so, I really wanted to talk with her and learn more about her work. I wondered if you could speak a little bit, Elly, about this topic and how you became a parenthood pioneer. 1:38
ET: Well I guess it started when I became a mom. I thought I was really well prepared for parenthood. I read all the books that I could find. I did prenatal yoga classes. My husband and I paid to do private classes. You know I did everything. It was a natural next step for us. We bought our home. I was ready to leave my career behind for a little while. And it just felt right. And yet, after we had our son, I became quite painfully aware of all the ways that I hadn't been prepared for parenthood. It was, you know, so many changes. You know, life was turmoil, and it was really chaotic. And there are also some sort of social changes that were going on inside of me as I was growing into my mother-self that I couldn't put words to. And I noticed the relationship changes that we were going through as well. And so I started researching. And I found, as you said, in ancient cultures, that parenthood was considered a rite of passage. And I found out that there were different stages in that rite of passage that were facilitated by village elders and older parents. 3:00
And then I realized that I was sort of angry at my midwife and my childhood educator for not covering some of this stuff. But then I realized that it wasn't really their role. They did a great job of preparing me for the birth and and great job of getting me through the birth. And we had a fantastic experience. But nothing they covered, prepared me, let alone my husband, for the early weeks, months of our parenthood. So when I became a relationship counselor — I was actually pregnant with my second child when I became a relationship counselor — I started noticing that my clients had been coming to me with very similar issues that my husband and I had been grappling with and having to work through. And it's funny, often the first question a relationship counselor asks a couple is when did things start to change between you? And inevitably my clients would be saying that it was when they became parents. They may have been having issues for years and years, but when we went back to when the issues started it was quite commonly in that period after baby, you know the postpartum period. 4:08
And so, I thought, you know I realized over time when I also then started to look into the research, that you know it wasn't just me and my husband. It isn't just me and my clients. It was pretty much everyone that was grappling with these same issues. And I thought this is crazy, You know? Like if we are all going through it, why is it not part of somebody's role to be preparing us for this stuff. And so that was the beginning of doing this research, and preparing for this role, and training other professionals to be doing this work. 4:46
NL: Yeah. That is really profound if these changes are so predictable, why it's not something that somebody has the role of really preparing people for this change.
ET: Yeah. Well I kept looking, you know? I kept looking for who's doing this work? Therapists, a lot of therapists are doing this work from the other end. So we are looking back during that time, repairing relationships and helping couples to forgive each other and then to move forward with each other. But nobody was doing as you said, this predictive work. And so I thought, you know, what are we predicting? What can we equip couples for? What is the process that we are all going through? What are the steps in this process? What are the stages in this process? And can we equip couples to manage this process so that parenthood is what it should be. Which is a beautiful, bonding and joyful experience. And the answer is yes. And so, that's what we are doing now with the classes that I hope we are going to talk about in a little while. 5:59
And you know, I'm really happy and proud to say the this work in now being done by professionals. It's really exciting.
NL: Yeah. I know I'm excited about it. Would you say, that in Becoming Us, the book, which I love and recommend to all of my expecting women, men and couples, having a baby may be our first real opportunity yin life to develop this awareness of how stress and change affect us, and to develop the skills for coping with that. I'm curious if you have an comments about what makes the transition to parenthood such a unique time to observe these things about ourselves, and why it's so important. 6:41
ET: The first thing is that we don't get any preparation for it. I mean when I think about it I think, well I have to do a course or do some training to drive a car. Or I have to do some sort of educational course for any sort of vocation. Parenthood is something in life that we don't have a course for or didn't have a course for, and yet we call it the most important job in the world. Well, if it's the most important job in the world, and parents know that it's way, way, way, more than a job, why shouldn't we have some sort of preparation? The second thing is that because most couples don't grow up with a baby in the house anymore, we don't grow up on extended families and close communities where we might have a sister or an aunt that has a baby in the house. Most couples have very little real lived experience of life with a baby. There's a lot of unknowns for them, of what life is actually really going to be like. And there's a lot of challenges that they are not prepared for. Like they might know that they are going to be tired for a period of time because they are going to be waking up at night for the baby. But they don't get to see what really tired looks like. Until you get there you don't really know the effect of sleep deprivation. Like now I know why it's a form of torture. It does terrible things to a person. 7:53
They may have this concept of what it's going to be like but not really have any experience with the reality. And the flow-on effect is suppose, the ripple effect that being unprepared has. Even transition are quite stressful. Any sort of transition. A transition into a job. A transition out of a job. Marriage. Any transition is stressful. So there's some inherent stress in any transition, but I think it applies particularly to the transition into parenthood. The other big problem is I think that our culture, our culture in a lot of ways, I think sets couples up for failure. You know, you give them kind of shiny happy images. The Instagram posts. The social media posts about how perfect it is, how wonderful it is, how happy we are. And you know, there's a lot of pressure for couples to be that and to feel that. But the reality is, the reality is that most couples are actually struggling in some way, shape or form.
NL: Well I think you were saying that our culture sets couples up for failure in a lot of ways because a lot of the images that we see just aren't realistic. 8:58
ET: Couples get bombarded with so much information, and marketing, and messaging about parenthood. It's really really hard for them to know what's most important for them to focus on. Often they are focusing on stuff that's not so important. Advertisers play on this I think a little bit. It's like there's some natural anxiety about becoming a parent. And an advertiser will take advantage of that anxiety and basically say, oh you know, buy this product and it's going to reduce your anxiety. You know? So that's often what parents focus on. And if they've got some money to invest they would be a lot better investing it in preparing in some real concrete, practical ways that are going to serve them going forward for years and years, not just for the first couple of months sort of thing.
NL: Well speaking of expectations, I think one of the more common ones is that having a baby together will naturally bring a couple closer together. I'm curious about your thoughts on this and how you might talk to couples about this particular expectation. 10:08
ET: Yeah. Look, this is a huge one for couples. And I know that this is how I felt that because I loved my partner so much that I wanted to have a little person that was half him and half me. But the research actually paints a very different picture. I'm going to tell you about that but I don't want anyone listening to get too anxious about it because I will put it in perspective in a minute. The research tells us that something like 92% of couples actually have increased conflicts and differences in the first year after the baby. Which is a shock for a lot of parents to hear. Sixty-seven percent, apparently, of couples have decreased relationship satisfaction in the first three years after baby. And you know, that's not going to make sense for some people. But then you know, when we think about the fatigue, the sleep deprivation that we've spoken about. We think about all the time and energy as going to that gorgeous gorgeous little baby. And there's going to be very little left over for ourselves, and even less for our partners.
Let's talk about how there's all these unrealistic expectations that we are not living up to. But maybe we are not supposed to. I remember thinking that my relationship with my husband's parents was never an issue until we had a baby. Because all of the sudden, there were these cultural differences. There were these ways of doing things, even down to, you're in America and I'm in Australia so I can tell you about my mother in law. You're a long way away. I love her to pieces. I absolutely love her to pieces, but she come from a different cultural background to me. And she wanted to feed my son at four months of age, something that wasn't on the approved baby food list. And I was breastfeeding anyway. So all of the sudden I had these issues with my in-laws that put my husband in a really difficult situation. 12:00
This is just one example of stuff that doesn't come up until you're really sleep deprived, and tired, and you just don't have the energy to figure this stuff out. And that's what I've found in my research. So my research was about the different stages of parenthood. And the challenge for couples in each stage. And in a nutshell the research was that if couples took one path through the stages it could mean that they could become more and more disconnected from each other. But if they took another path through the stages, and I provide lots and lots of steps about what those steps are on that path, that it could actually bring them closer through the challenges. And that's the crux of the work, that if you don't shy away from the challenges, if you use the challenges as an opportunity to get to know yourself better, get to know your partner better and manage the challenges, it not only brings you closer but really sort of lays a deep foundation for your family.
NL: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I want to thank Elly Taylor for being with us today. For more information about Elly and her work, please go to ellytaylor.com And if you're interested in more information or enrolling in "Becoming Us" at The Family Institute, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call us at 847-733-4300, extension 899.