As part of our Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) series, Gordon Parenting provides Healthy Matters exclusive tips and advice on parenting.
If you’re a pregnant mom-to-be, you’re probably getting a lot of attention! From ‘extra caring’ family members to having complete strangers ask personal questions and touch your belly. But dads-to-be? You may feel far less visible.
The truth is that fathers have an important role to play – once baby has arrived of course but also during pregnancy. Long gone are the days when fathers were left in the hospital’s waiting room… anxiously waiting to hear the announcement of their child’s birth. Today, more men than ever are playing an active role in their partner’s pregnancy and birth. More couples are actively parenting and involved in every aspect of ‘baby duties’.
Here in Hong Kong it is also very common to turn to grandparents for help. Responsibilities of grandparent caregivers may be more challenging than expected as previous parenting experiences may be less applicable today. This is why clear communication with grandparents is key.
Last October at our at Healthy Matters’ 4th Maternity + Baby Event, we had a packed room for our signature talk on tips for daddies and grandparents and we are sharing with you some of the valuable tips we learned from our parenting expert panelist Odette Umali, Founder of Gordon Parenting.
What are your 3 key parenting tips for couples who are expecting?
1) Take care of your health. Take of yourself and be strong so that when the baby comes you are ready for the long haul. You will be sleep-deprived and will lose out on your regular exercises. You will also have to develop new routines with the change in your status as a parent and this is almost a permanent adjustment.
2) Line -up your support system well ahead before the baby comes. The couple needs to find the experts they need like a pediatrician. They need to decide if they will get a caregiver and hire them ahead of time so they can join in the preparation. The couple needs to agree who they can call when then need help or someone to look after the baby – maybe the grandma or an auntie or a trusted family friend.
It will also be good for the couple to discuss and agree on some key issues like: when to leave the baby with a caregiver, going out as a couple without the baby, when to travel again, how to get their sex life back, and where the baby will sleep.
3) Bond or connect with the baby, even before he/she is born. The fetus can recognize mom and dad’s voice – perhaps the most significant one a baby hears in uterus is the mother’s voice. Around the seventh and eighth month, a fetus’ heart rate slows down slightly whenever his mother is speaking, indicating that mom’s voice has a calming effect. By the time they’re born, babies can actually recognize their mother’s voice.
It is also a natural tendency for soon-to-be moms to rub their bellies, but sometimes you can intentionally do so and give your baby a bit of a massage. It’s a great way for you to relax, but more so, for Baby to feel your touch. Again, as you begin to feel Baby’s movements, you’ll notice that Baby responds to your touch.
The London Journal of Primary Care highlighted importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children. The brain development of infants (as well as their social, emotional and cognitive development) depends on a loving bond or attachment relationship with a primary caregiver, usually a parent. There is increasing evidence from the fields of development psychology, neurobiology and animal epigenetic studies that neglect, parental inconsistency and a lack of love can lead to long-term mental health problems as well as to reduced overall potential and happiness.
What are the mommy-daddy parenting conflicts that you often witness and that should be avoided?
From our interactions with expecting and new parents, we see the following as the sources or potential conflict:
(1) Obsession with “the right way”. There are situations when parents tend to know more than the other and would tend to warn the other or just instruct the other on what to do – The Baby Authority. Such parent will tell the other — don’t do that, don’t do this, this way, not that way, did you wash your hands? That’s not good for the baby? He doesn’t like it that way!? This tendency to think that there is only one way of being a parent can cause a gap in the relationship with one parent feeling left out. In another way, this obsession with “the right and only way” also leads parents to seek out and consult/listen to too many people and sources. This causes confusion and anxiety. Such anxiety may be toxic to couples and can negatively influence the child as well. To avoid this, parents are advised to:
- Pick an adviser – For most people that is their pediatrician and/or a parenting coach. Someone you chose because you have faith in their ability and knowledge about the child’s health and development; and someone who you feel understands your feelings and situation. They should make you feel confident in your ability to care for your child.
- Pick an “instructional manual” or resource on childrearing. This can be a big relief when you need to be pointed to the right direction.
- Remember that even though they’re tiny, babies are very resilient.
(2) Being Too baby-centric. This becomes a problem when one or both parents focus too much on the child at the expense of the relationship with their partner. Research indicates couples who nurture their friendships with one another maintain greater marital satisfaction. Making the effort to stay attuned to the routine details of your partner’s life (what happened in his meeting, what you did at the park) proves that you still care about each other despite the baby’s pervasive needs.
(3) Abrupt and unexpected change in the couple’s lifestyle. Working mom becomes domesticated, couple don’t get to travel easily anymore, they cannot do the usual activities which they used to do and enjoy like traveling, relaxing, going out with each other and friends – all may happen when the baby comes and parents should be ready to accept and adjust to these changes.
How can grandparents help caring for grandchildren?
There is no single way to answer this question. It really depends on what grandparents can contribute in terms of time, abilities and resources. However, it is important for new parents to make space for grandparents to be involved with their newborn. Grandparents are allies of new parents, the children and their development will benefit immensely. Key item to remember – be clear and be open to communicate respectfully to grandparents your values and expectations as parents. It will also be useful if you agree as a couple before talking to grandparents to avoid conflicts or misunderstanding.Some of the common ways grandparents can help are:
- Helping care for the newborn so mom can sleep/rest/take a shower.
- Emotional Support to parents by listening, understanding and showing empathy.
- Cleaning, Shopping and cooking so mom can feed the baby and bond with the baby to create a secure attachment between mother and baby.
- Take kids to their activities.
- Talking to/spending time with kids frequently so they learning another language and custom.
- Spending time looking after them while parents are traveling (work or pleasure).
- Share stories about the family.
- Emotional support to the child and to parents.
- Mediator – when there is parent-child conflict.
How is the role of grandparents different than the role of parents?
For parents this is clear – they are the ultimate authority and are responsible for the physical, emotional, and overall well being of the child. For grandparents it is also clear – they have fun with the baby and then return when they start to cry!
On a more serious note — the role of parents and grandparents in caring for the baby will again differ and depend on each household’s specific circumstances. What is important, though, is for parents and grandparents to learn to effectively communicate between each other: both should be able to communicate their needs, and if there are any conflicts in needs or values (due to sleep issues, digital device, food, play, unacceptable behaviors), they should be able to resolve them on a ‘no lose’ basis – which means both should be happy with the solution.