The Biggest Secrets We Keep From New Parents……about Fighting Parents

What Prospective Parents Most Need to Know

There was a landmark study in 1957 by E.E. Le Masters which made the incredible claim that 83% of new parents went from a “moderate to severe crisis.” Le Masters claimed that giving birth was an intense relationship stressor. But these numbers were incredibly high for social science research.

So high that the research was rejected by a skeptical and smug 1950’s academia.  In social science research, results over 80% indicate you are really on to something, or that there is, more likely, is a serious flaw in the design of the study. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that this subject was again revisited with clinical research. The results were astonishing. We now know from more than 16 long term studies the the stress of becoming new parents is powerful and acute.  Dr. K’s dissertation covered this material.  It was entitled:  Interactional Processes and Styles of Marital Adaptation to Parenthood.

The Future is Friendship and Family

This stress is multiplied when depression goes untreated in parents. For example Gottman reports that the blood pressure of babies rises when they overhear their parents fighting. Fighting parents also miss emotional cues from the baby, and began to stack negative dysregulated interactions on top of each other.

Fighting parents materially impact a baby’s ability to learn how to self- regulate. Gottman report that in the first three years of life, essential neural nets that determine the baby’s ability to self-soothe, trust in the love of care-givers, focus attention, and emotional attach. It logically follows that a baby with the unfortunate luck of being born to squabbling parents is at a disadvantage for developing the fundamental social skills needed for happy living.

New parents who want to be great parents will treasure their friendship. Gottman says that understanding how your partner sees the world, expressing affection, appreciation and admiration, and the skill to repair and turn toward each other and not away from each other are the fundamental skills that will shape your baby’s emotional future.

marriages problems after babies


Pregnancy as an Invitation for Teamwork

These abilities shine through when couples describe their pregnancy experience as a shared experience. The ability to adjust from a “me” perspective to a “we” perspective is a crucial skill. This skill is particularly important for young fathers. This is another cultural secret…fathers have enormous influence on the emotional climate in their families for future generations.

family of three with laughing baby

The Child is Father of the Man

          My heart leaps up when I behold
              A rainbow in the sky:
          So was it when my life began;
          So is it now I am a man;
          So be it when I shall grow old,
              Or let me die!
          The Child is father of the Man;
              I could wish my days to be
          Bound each to each by natural piety.

In the 1950’s Robert Sears conducted a famous piece of research on 300 five year olds. They were again assessed at age 31. The question was… what is the largest predictor for the capacity to acquire empathy? The study revealed that the best predictor of empathy is the degree of dad’s involvement with the child at the crucial neurological age of 5.  This is where the wet cement of empathy lies. Ten years later, at age 41, the capacity of the father’s warmth toward the child at age 5 was still, compellingly, the finest predictor of adult empathy.

In other words, a father’s involvement play’s a crucial role. But a father’s role may be shaped by the perception of threats in the environment. Anthropologist Peggy Sanday’s research suggested that men dominate their women and children when resources are scarce, and threats are many. I interpret Sanday’s work as suggesting that economic struggle, marginalization, and cultural dislocation promote patriarchy.

However in safer cultures, moms and dads both play a role in nurturing babies. These more egalitarian cultures were less likely to be engaged in violent conflicts with other groups and also had more reproductive success.





About the Author Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.

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