Two Become Three (or More)

Books

Gottman, John, and Julie Schwartz Gottman. And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance after Baby Arrives. Crown, 2007.

When a baby arrives alongside a relationship, an irrevocable shift has occurred. While there is no way to make sleep loss and an explosion of tasks stress-free,  with deliberate attunement and intention, the transition to parenthood does not have to relegate a couple to a disconnected and dissatisfying relationship. Drs. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman share research-backed actions for staying close and even strengthening the relationship and the family unit. After imploring to readers that the postpartum sleepless and irritable boot camp is ubiquitous, the book transitions into offering a tip per chapter. The Gottmans share the why (a happy relationship, baby’s development) and the how (practical advice) of implementing each piece of the plan. As we learn to play with our baby, healthily manage our conflict, nurture friendship, allow for warm and emotionally attuned fatherhood, we capstone all of these with intentional legacy by developing our family values. Each chapter gives readers questionnaires to assess functioning in each part of the plan along with exercises to strengthen in this area.

 

 

 

Hochschild, Arlie and Anne Machung. The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home. Updated ed., Penguin Books, 2012. **

The “Second Shift” is everything outside the realm of work that needs to be done around the house. Chores: cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the physical and emotional labor of child-rearing. The labor of the household is one of the most contentious topics for heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples of course face the same challenges of navigating the second shift of chores and parenting, but power dynamics of gender that come into opposite sex households especially heats up the couple’s push-and-pull of the Second Shift. This book is a blend of psychology and sociology. Originally published in 1989 and this updated edition in 2012. Arlie Hochschild argued that while empowerment has been praised, care (ie, the second shift) has been intrinsically devalued. Even the term “unpaid labor” demonstrates our society’s drift into everything weighed against its ability to make money – or relinquish the opportunity to make it. Hochschild argues that we have a stalled revolution in which women have been shifted much more away from their mothers’ lives and have entered workforce and take on the (traditional) empowerment of money, yet men have shifted away from their fathers less dramatically. Men have less systemically transitioned into taking on Second Shift roles as much as women have transitioned into the workplace. Women have in many respects added on to their work load in “having it all”. She profiles the Second Shifts of many heterosexual couples. Some have been somewhat worked out and settled to everyone’s liking. Others couples are unable to hear and navigate challenges and shifting priorities, and they emotionally distance. Some husbands are not able or willing to hear the wives’ pleas for action, and even if the husband wins the Second Shift battle, he may lose the War (fighting against inertia and an unhappy marriage). Not at all a guiding couples how to manage the Second Shift – these are longitudinal qualitative interviews of couples, this is more from the sociological lens of advocating for paid leave and (presciently) remote work. This is more of a book that illuminates the problem of the second shift and can get couples thinking about the Second Shift and how THEY are going to handle it (spoiler alert: hopefully as a team). This is an articulate and well-researched read for any working family navigating the complexities of work and family.

** See Also Work: Life-Balance to Retirement

Kleiman, Karen. Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts: A Healing Guide to the Secret Fears of New Mothers. Familius, 2019.

While mothers give birth to babies, in a way mothers are born through the fourth trimester and beyond. Kleiman wants people to #SpeaktheSecret (The Postpartum Stress Center’s campaign) of how overwhelming and stressful the postpartum period is. When society colludes to avoid this reality, women’s mental health suffers, and their sense of aloneness and shame at those feelings rise exponentially. This aims to speak the secret of the reality of new motherhood and packs a powerful punch! Great information told in remarkable and spot-on cartoons by Molly McIntyre interspersed with pages of short paragraphs and write-in lists for support or listing feelings. Short and sweet presentation of the information is a perfect format for new, busy parents as newborns rule the house and exhaustion, snuggling an infant, and a long to-do list make intense concentration and free hands for deep reading difficult if not impossible. Kleiman discusses worry, feeling overwhelmed, longing for the old life, feeling frumpy, being “touched-out”, and intrusive thoughts of harm coming to the infant. Kleiman leaves readers with further resources including ways to locate a therapist trained to offer postpartum assistance to postpartum women.

Kleiman, Karen. The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions for Living with Postpartum Depression. Xlibris, 2000.

                Kleiman uses the term postpartum depression (PPD) to encompass the variety of perinatal illnesses women can encounter. No woman who gives birth is guaranteed to be immune from postpartum illnesses such as obsessive compulsive disorder, postpartum anxiety, or panic disorder. While many of these illnesses readers will recognize the root as a general disorder that can strike anyone (anxiety, clinical depression, obsessive compulsive disorder), Kleiman stresses that the period and adjustment after childbirth is a unique concoction of stress, hormones, and emotions that collide and can cause even the most resilient person with no history of clinical mental health conditions to experience PPD. While written toward husbands, a person of any sex partnered with someone who has just given birth finds succinct, blunt, and accessible information presented in chapters of bulleted lists. Winding paragraphs with lots of history or clinical language are blessedly absent for readers looking for the crux of understanding PPD as a caregiver. PPD strikes anyone, can’t be “positively thought” out of, and requires love, patience, support, and often clinical interventions such as medication, therapy, or a combination of. The book covers defining PPD, prevalence, symptoms, ways for women and partners to cope, helpful ways to hold space and things that absolutely should never come out of a caregiver’s wife, caregiver emotions, treatment options like medicines, individual therapy, couple’s therapy, and planning for the future after PPD (including having another baby). This is a wonderful slim guide for understanding and working through PPD with two individuals, a relationship, and a new child. If non-heterosexual couples are working through postpartum, replacing husband with partner is advised, along with looking for a clinician who has experience working with non-heterosexual couples where one partner has given birth. Since it is from 2000, it could be updated (new further resources, new PPD developmens in the text). However, its classic enough on this topic that it is worth the read!

Millwood, Molly. To Have and To Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma. Harper Wave, 2019.

Motherhood upends a woman’s life in an individual sense: exhaustion, role strain, loss, grief, happiness, love. Motherhood also often is a shift done in a relationship, and so motherhood often unfolds next to and diverges from fatherhood. While fathers experience a seismic shift, the shift in energy, identity, mental load, and stress is larger still. Millwood delivers on her hope to write a well-written, cogent book that addresses motherhood both on an individual level and its development and resulting strain and contentedness in the context of marital relationship. Millwood covers a lot of ground and adeptly discloses her own evolution as a mother as well as uses clinical knowledge. She lays out by chapter the barriers and challenges faced by women in acclimating to being mothers: weak social support of new families with no systemic paid leave, a dizzying race to have a work/life balance that often results in working the equivalent of two full time jobs, marital disconnect from different distances to the baby, and a systemic, undiscussed code of silence that has traditionally brought wrath and shame on to those women who were brave enough to acknowledge that motherhood is sometimes hard, boring, decidedly not fun, and that aspects of the pre-child life feel like a wistful, longed for dream. Millwood also beautifully describes the moments of sheer love and beauty that can poke through the demands and the mundane. As many moments as children (more accurately the exhaustion of having children) frustrate mothers, so moments emerge where children are amazing miracles that we would be inconvenienced for a thousand times over. Millwood shares her own story into seasoned motherhood, where the blur of the early years gives way to tremendous growth from embracing what she calls the “full catastrophe” of motherhood without shame. Mothers find themselves after they lose themselves. Millwood’s writing is engaging, poetic, and enlightening. This book will move and resonate with seasoned mothers, normalize the emotions and dynamics in their mother-self and relationship, and women who have decided to become mothers or are thinking about becoming mothers could also benefit from Millwood’s information and spirit in adjustment to motherhood.

Sacks, Alexandra, M.D., and Catherine Birndorf, M.D. What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood. Simon & Schuster, 2019.

In a stack of parenting prep books, this should be right on top of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Yes, really! Anyone who is pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or is contemplating having a baby should read this! Society quickly expounds on the joys of pregnancy, on early scenes of serene parenthood to a newborn, and on the baby being a fresh start to happy family-unity. By forcing the positive, the hard physical and emotional parts of parenthood are sanitized away in almost an unspoken code of silence, leaving mothers (and even fathers to some extent!) to suffer in silence. Reproductive psychiatrists Sacks and Birndorf pull back the curtain to “keep it real” and put powerful, life-changing information in the hands of perinatal women who will benefit from it. Women will find space for their unique feelings at pregnancy/parenthood junctures, and they will breath a sigh of relief at not being alone in their turbulent, sometimes bizarre, and always human emotions. The writing is clear and matter-of-fact. Arrangement is chronological from seeing that positive pregnancy test through the “fourth trimester” and the first year. Emotions are unpacked at many stages, from ambiguous emotions (joy! Panic!) at that positive pregnancy test to gender disappointment to the baby blues. Sacks and Birndorf go even further discussing how relationship shifts effect maternal health and not only romantic (though those are covered as well): they discuss the emotions of upcoming grandparents, bosses, and friends who don’t have children.  The very last parts of the book are websites by topic for further information, and endnotes for further reading. The only criticism of this book is that PMADs (perinatal mood and anxiety disorders) aren’t fully discussed until the appendix. Its placement at best potentially downplays the seriousness of PMADs and at worst inadvertently shames women who are scared that they might have a PMAD or could develop one. Aside from that criticism, this book does good to the world and brings excellent light to all the perinatal emotions!

Siegel, Judith P. What Children Learn from their Parents’ Marriage. HarperCollins, 2000.

Time and money plunge with the arrival of children, and necessary tasks rise exponentially. Children pull at the very fibers of a relationship when the warmth from that blanket needs to be at its strongest. While even Siegel acknowledges that this book might be hard to read because of guilt or remembering our own childhood experiences, her tone avoids shaming or minimizing and seeks to open readers’ eyes at the need to do better – and how to do better. Siegel backs up her writing with endnotes – that children need to see the parents put one another first in a culture of respect, need to see healthy conflict resolution and apologies, and need to see trustworthy follow-through. When these behaviors are not modeled, children are more likely to experience profound consequences including to their own adult intimate relationships. Siegel provides lots of disguised clinical cases in her matter-of-fact writing. Each chapter ends with a few questions (no more than 7, averaging 5) for the reader to reflect and plan. Talking through questions in a dialogue with a partner could be even better to determine how your past experiences have shaped you and how you will create a healthy home culture.

 

 

Ziegler, Sheryl. Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process. Dey St, 2018.

Dr. Ziegler wants readers to know that their stress, pain, and love encompassed by mothering is not misplaced or wrong. Women who are exhausted and stressed and burned out are not unfit mothers. Mental health conditions such as major depression or an anxiety disorder neglect the unique nuances and add-ons of stress and grief mothers are encountering as they raise the next generation. These unique add-ons require understand and attunement to mothers’ lives and responsibilities in order to fully reach mothers where they are. Mental health conditions can also act out within the normal repertoire of mothering tasks and be a point of concern. Lunch duty. Crafts. Activities. Transportation. Classes. Laundry. Emotional Comfort. Nap time. Bed time. This short list belies the stunning shifts in magnitude of time and responsibility ushered in with the arrival of children. In heterosexual relationships*, today’s fathers are often doing more childcare and nurturing, but even so the arrival of children disproportionately consume mothers’ waking hours and worries. Mothers run of the risk of night time being a second shift as child-related care intrudes upon mothers’ “free time”: after all, ordering clothes, photo albums, and school forms still deserve attention. These necessary tasks of love are often today stacked upon some type of paid employment. Even if mothers do not labor outside the home, the demands and stresses of motherhood can burn an at-home mother out. Whether mothers work or not, social media can play a role in connection, but it also can add a significant level of stress and disconnection. Social media is everyone’s highlight reels, and mothers see few online having a tough time with their family. Mothers isolate and despair at being the only one having a difficult time, and isolation begets isolation. Ziegler writes to end this isolation and shame over mothers’ exhaustion. She profiles “mommy burnout” and explains contributing factors: social media, isolation and difficulty connecting with friends, men and women’s misunderstanding of one another, perfectionism, and our society’s demand that mothers be both perfect parents and perfect employees. These dynamics cook up a physical cocktail inside the body that can express as physical illness and chronic pain. Zieger infuses lots of descriptions from women she has worked with, some clinical research, and her own questions she uses conversationally to assess how burned out her mother clients are. Ziegler peppers her book with applicable exercises designed for readers to assess and reduce their own mommy burnout. These exercises range from having mothers take time to connect with other people and build social networks to managing time more effectively to taking better care and documentation of their physical health. One weakness of the book is Ziegler’s assertion that fathers will ever fully get mothers’ stress. Mothers “unconsciously expect” to vent to their husbands, the fathers, as if they were their girlfriends, and Ziegler is adamant this will fail (ie, mothers’ needs will not be met by their husbands’). This strikes as a sense of unnecessary futility when a better attitude would be to have written more with understanding as the goal (and segue Ziegler’s tips for connection as a bridge to understanding). Otherwise, highlight differences as absolute hurts both members of the heterosexual couple and fosters gridlock instead of reaching for understanding. Overall, Ziegler strikes, explains, and offers practical tips for navigating the challenges of motherhood.

* If you would like a book recommendation on the perspective and shares research on parents in same-sex relationships, try Darcy Lochman’s All The Rage

Articles

Most of these articles are going to be free online (ie, Open Access). If the article is not freely available, I will indicate that. In that case, check with your local librarians! Please first ask your librarian at your local library before buying online – many times you can get an article at no cost through one of your library’s databases or interlibrary loan.

 

Caron, Christina. “How to Reconnect with Your Partner After Having Kids.” New York Times, 7 Oct. 2019, https://parenting.nytimes.com/relationships/sex-romance-after-kids

Case, Ashley. “The First Few Years of Parenting Our Marriage Felt Broken, But It Wasn’t.” Motherly, n.d., https://www.mother.ly/love/the-first-few-years-of-parenting-our-marriage-felt-brokenbut-it-wasnt

Fairyington, Stephanie. “3 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Relationship when You Have Young Kids.” Thrive Global, 18 April 2019, https://thriveglobal.com/stories/young-kids-children-strengthen-marriage-relationship-stress-tips/

Ferranti-Ballem, Lauren. “Modern Marriage: Till Chores Do Us Part.” Today’s Parent, n.d., https://www.todaysparent.com/modern-marriage-till-chores-do-us-part/

Gaspard, Terry. “Four Ways Parents Can Balance Couple Time and Family Time.” Gottman, 22 March 2017, https://www.gottman.com/blog/4-ways-parents-can-balance-couple-time-family-time

Glassburn, Sharon. “Relationships and Work Demands: Finding Time to Reconnect.” Good Therapy, 24 Nov. 2015, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/relationships-and-work-demands-finding-time-to-connect-1124145

Luscombe, Belinda. “Why You Shouldn’t Love Your Kids More Than Your Spouse.” Time, 9 May 2019, https://time.com/5586397/loving-your-spouse/#d7c946fc-6d31-4951-9fbf-3bb2fdf5b362

Shearn, Amy. “5 Ways to Rev Up Your Relationship Without a Date Night.” Parents, 8 April 2020, https://www.parents.com/parenting/relationships/staying-close/ways-to-rev-up-your-relationship-without-date-night/

Weiner-Davis, Michele. “For the Sake of the Kids.” Divorce Busting, 2009, http://divorcebusting.com/a_stay_for_the_kids.htm

Disclaimer: This site is informational only and its resources are not substitutions for professional therapy. If you need professional help, see the Find a Therapist page to locate a qualified mental health professional.