Expectations of parenthood are so different from the reality that some new parents "do not know who they are anymore" according to research from Monash University.
While becoming a parent is seen as a ‘happy event’, it is also a time when significant emotional changes occur and where parents must learn new skills and re-focus their lives on the baby. This also involves a changing dynamic in the relationship between the parents of the baby.
According to researchers at Monash University, the challenges of new parenthood are unexpected both in terms of nature and magnitude.
“Australians today are having fewer children than past generations and are often starting their families later,” write A/Professor Renata Kokanovic and Kate Johston-Ataata, co-authors of the study.
They say this reduces the opportunity to learn informally about infant care through helping to raise younger siblings or being around friends with babies.
A contributing factor is also the ‘romanticising’ of early parenthood and especially motherhood.
“This contributes to perceptions of instant bonding, instinctive breastfeeding and ‘perfect babies’ being cared for by ‘perfect mothers’,” the study states.
This overly-optimistic view of the simplicity of parenthood can lead to significant stress for all parents, and regardless of the diversity of the family and parenting arrangements.
“Most parents we interviewed described having ‘unrealistic’ expectations about baby behaviour, particularly in relation to crying, sleep patterns and feeding.”
Many parents also believe they imposed standards that were too high on themselves, resulting in distress at the gap between their expectations and experiences.
The authors have made three recommendations to help prepare expectant mothers and fathers for early parenthood.
1. Better antenatal education
Antenatal education provided through hospitals should be more relevant to expecting parents. The research identified that many new parents believe antenatal education hasn’t been updated for decades and needs a better balance between labour and birth and early parenting.
2. Willingness for other parents to be open about their experiences
This is to make-up for the informal learning that is no longer available through family networks, and involves more experienced parents openly discussing their ‘real-life’ experiences. The study takes the view that greater openness of experience can better help expecting parents for what’s ahead.
3. Improved online resources to share experiences of early parenthood
There is a lot of information online, and it is an increasingly important source of information about pregnancy and birth, but new parents need to be guided on what is useful and reliable.