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.
Hohschild, Arlie. The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home. 1989. Penguin, 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
Hoppe, Kara and Stan Tatkin. Baby Bomb: A Relationship Survival Guide for New Parents. New Harbinger, 2021.
Interrupted sleep. Laundry. Fevers and spit-up. Nursing or round-the-clock bottles. Babies are sweet and snuggly bombs but bombs nonetheless! When the baby bomb detonates after labor or adoption, the world of a couple has instantly shifted irrevocably. Hoppe and Tatkin joined forces to share how secure relationship skills can be implemented amidst the explosion of a baby bomb. While these skills cannot make the baby bomb not a bomb, they facilitate couples finding the new normal post-baby and creating as much of a safe haven and secure base for life as 24/7/365 parents (and a couple with children) as possible. Baby Bomb principles rest on the solid foundations of attachment theory and neurobiology. Essentially, couples learn to embody ten guiding principles to learn to function as a cognitive team and also a neurological team: literally how couples can jointly soothe one another at the nervous system level. The ten principles include (but are not limited to): the couple comes first, team decision making, co-regulating nervous systems, and in every circumstance and disagreement looking for winners. Not only do couples learn the principles, Hoppe and Tatkin cover why they’re hard to implement. There are cultural messages (granting the mother’s automatic primary parent status). Provided is a new framework for understanding attachment style. Attachment colors: blue (island/avoidant insecure), red (wave/ambivalent insecure), and yellow (anchor/secure). Speaking in color terms allows for a new way to understand each other’s attachment styles. Specific techniques are provided for regulating when activated. Part of finding the best way to regulate is self and partner understanding. One way is to identify each other’s “tells”: signals that let people know they’re over-extended and need self-care. Plenty of more concrete skills and behaviors are provided. Hoppe is vulnerable and relatable with scenarios from her own experience of becoming a couple with children sprinkled throughout the work. Her scenarios illustrate both messing up in sheer exhaustion as well as learning how to do become more tender with each other and thrive as a party of three. So much of our welcoming-a-child rituals showcase the happiest parts and obscure much of the struggles of early parenthood. Baby Bomb acknowledges that while welcoming children is a joyous occasion, it is also demanding, exhausting, and stressful. Hoppe and Tatkin incorporate attachment and neuroscience skills into a more integrated description of early parenthood, making Baby Bomb reading for couples welcoming children or who plan to.
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, it’s classic enough on this topic that it is worth the read!
Kleiman, Karen. What About Us? A New Parent’s Guide to Safeguard your Over-Anxious, Over-Extended, Sleep-Deprived Relationship. Familius, 2021. ** AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE September 2021. I reviewed an ARC**
A baby is a jolt of change to any relationship. It is sudden shifts in priorities, less time, less money, sleep-deprivation (sleep loss is used as a form of torture because it works), body changes, and a slow transition to a new normal with baby. Perinatal expert Kleiman came out with Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts in 2019 to explain and normalize perinatal mood disorders (PMADs). It was short, in graphic novel form, with addition resources for new parents. It was easy to pick up and put down. What About Us? is the same format with illustrator Molly McIntyre joining Kleiman again but this time centered on the relationship that preceded baby. Just as having a PMAD does not equate with being an “unfit” parent, so does having relationship struggles after welcoming a child absolutely not mean your relationship is doomed, bad, or unfit to welcome a child. Struggles post-baby just means your relationship needs lots of TLC on the path to stretching for the new normal with children. There’s a lot of road bumps to becoming a family with children, but being aware is the first step to talking together and figuring it out as a team. Kleiman shows couples what the new normal is, the panicked thoughts racing through moms and dads’ minds, physical shifts and recoveries from birth along with the meaning of the 6 week check up for both parents (you want to put that where now? and the seeking of connection), struggles unique to moms and dads, navigating chores and other responsibilities, infertility, pregnancy after loss, and navigating extended friends and extended family’s well-meaning but possibly unwelcome behaviors. The book represents many people with same-sex, BIPOC, and interracial cartoon couples in addition to same-race heterosexual couples with conversation and thought bubbles that illustrate how the dynamics generally play out with couples. Not only does Kleiman describe these topics, she also shares how to talk vulnerably with one another about them and resist plummeting into gridlock and emotional distance over them. Some spaces for notes are present as well. A comprehensive resource list is also provided showing readers where to locate therapists who specialize in providing perinatal support, other books about the perinatal period and PMADs, books for couples on relationships in general, and even medication apps. Reference notes are also provided for each chapter so you can access Kleiman’s sources beyond her own expertise. A beautiful book both in presentation and how it educates couples in this both joyful and stressful transition to parenthood.
Kleiman, Karen. What Am I Thinking?: Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression. Xlibris, 2005.
Life after postpartum depression begets many emotions, especially when it comes to contemplating having a child after it. It may have taken a family by complete surprise after a first child with no previous history of mental health disorders or any other risk factors. Subsequent contemplations of pregnancy or of pregnancy itself usher in anxiety about another bout of postpartum (this time with a vulnerable child already outside the womb who needs care), joy, relief to be at the point of wanting another child and having the teacher of experience (and support) on one’s side. To a point, worry about another postpartum episode demonstrates a woman’s careful consideration and diligence. Kleiman is clinically more concerned when a woman who has experienced a PMAD is not feeling any nervousness about a new pregnancy. Cautious but not debilitating worry (and this distinction is to be monitored by the couple and involved practitioners) springboards a woman into preparing for the future for her health and safety. Candidly sharing women’s lived experiences of postpartum depression, Kleiman guides readers into showing how women and families navigated having a baby post-postpartum depression as well as offer prompting questions with note sections for writing thoughts down for future women and families as they prepare for another child. Scenarios such as the appearance of symptoms during the new pregnancy or the postpartum need to be considered along with identifying clear support people (which may include friends, family, spouses, therapists, doctors) and concrete plans that are able to be executed. Some decisions, such as medication during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, need a cost-benefit analysis that is as unique as the family having the baby. Kleiman presents a useful blend of informational (risk factors, women’s lived experiences) with prescriptive instructions (how husbands can be supportive without inadvertently dismissing feelings, the assessing of current circumstances and support women must be aware of, how women can communicate with medical professionals so a PMAD is not missed in diagnosis). The slim physical book belies its thoroughness of information and planning potential for women and families.
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
Most of these articles are going to be free online. 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
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
“Perinatal Mood Disorders.” Anxiety & Depression Association of America, n.d., https://adaa.org/find-help-for/women/perinatalmoodisorders
“Postpartum Depression.” Mayo Clinic, n.d., https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617
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/
“Signs of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety in Men.” Pacific Postpartum Support Society, n.d., https://postpartum.org/services/dads/signs-of-ppd-anxiety-in-men/
“Toxic Stress.” Center on the Developing Child, n.d., https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress/
United States, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. “Perinatal Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, n.d., https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/perinatal-depression/
Weiner-Davis, Michele. “For the Sake of the Kids.” Divorce Busting, 2009, http://divorcebusting.com/a_stay_for_the_kids.htm
“What to Do If You and Your Partner Disagree about Child Discipline.” Fatherly, 2 Nov. 2014, https://www.fatherly.com/parenting/what-to-do-when-you-and-your-partner-disagree-about-child-discipline/
“Yes, Postpartum Depression in Men is Very Real.” Cleveland Clinic, 16 Sep. 2019, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/yes-postpartum-depression-in-men-is-very-real/
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