The anticipation of becoming parents for many couples, usually involves quite a substantial amount of preparation. A lot of energy is dedicated to how and where and when things will happen, and the inevitable arrival of the new family member. From visits to the gynae, setting up the baby’s crib, preparing baby clothes, juggling around work arrangements, to childcare support, to mention just a bit of what goes on.
The transition from couple to parents, whilst carrying its own excitement, is undoubtedly one of the major life transitions involving a big adjustment, the reality of which usually hits soon after the baby arrives. Coping with this transition provides a number of challenges, including maintaining and caring for the mental well-being of both parents.
Screening for mental wellbeing at ante-natal and post-natal periods are both equally crucial, so parents can be offered the support they need to cope with the changes in their lives, and most importantly to provide the necessary care to their baby.
We know from research that the environment in which a child grows will interact with that child’s wellbeing and future development on different levels – emotionally, cognitively, behaviourally, academically, socially.
The early environment for the child is the relationship between the parents, including not only their mental wellbeing, but also the quality of their relationship.
If one or both of the parents were to be struggling with mental health issues, the levels of stress would be expected to rise, and the quality of care and interactions with the child would reflect this.
It is also evident from recent research, that a child in such an environment can become more irritable and difficult to soothe, which inevitably elicits more stress from the parents and vice-versa.
Supporting parents is therefore crucial to avoid such stress. Parents need and deserve all the help they can get. Specifically supporting them to support their relationship as partners is the key to better parenting, even when a couple is parenting separately.
The quality of the couple relationship is fundamental to how effective their parenting would be. Sadly, the couple relationship is one of the first things put on the back-burner, because the baby takes so much time and energy. If the couple relationship is forgotten, it is likely to be a matter of time before other difficulties start to show up.
Therefore the importance of nipping the relationship in the bud, supporting it throughout the transition to parenthood and beyond, cannot be underestimated. Evidence from co-parenting programmes held with couples of infants clearly showed us that when the couple invests in the quality of their relationship as a couple, the frequency and level of conflict between them decreases, the interactions with between them and with their child improves, and their baby becomes easier to soothe.
Therefore, let us continue to develop the means to invest in supporting couples in their relationship to be better parents.
Doing so is investing in the future of our children, and in the future of our society.