The transition from being a wife or partner to being a mother with children can be a difficult one. Whereas before you could give all your time and attention to your partner or spouse, hobbies, work, and other pursuits, now there is a demanding baby to care for. Some women feel that during pregnancy they begin to experience “mommy brain” and have trouble with memory. In fact, research shows that women’s brains do shift during pregnancy. A study published in Behavioral Neuroscience showed that there was a small but significant level of growth in the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hypothalamus. These changes are associated with increased worry, obsessively thinking about and caring for the child, and placing a high emphasis on the baby’s needs. Well beyond birth, when the child is a little older and more independent, many women continue to have a difficult time shutting off obsessive thoughts about their child and focusing on being a wife or partner.
As a couples therapist, I hear often how hard it is for women to transition from being constantly involved with their children to being a wife or partner again. It’s completely normal for most women to have some challenge making the transition. After all, just because your children are asleep does not mean that your “mommy” duties are fulfilled. You might have to prepare lunches or fill out permission slips for the next day.
Just as the husbands and partners of mothers have to adjust to new roles and realities, women, too, have to come to some balance. Even in the throes of parenthood, it is essential to have time together with your partner independent from your children.
Here are some strategies for making the switch from “mommy mode” to “partner mode”:
- Effectively manage your time. Think about cutting some obligations so you have more time in the evening. Schedule things if you have to, and stick to the schedule. If there’s a task that isn’t a “must-do,” let it go. Make time with your partner a priority, right alongside fixing those lunches. When you’re with your partner, try not to think about anything else and allow yourself to immerse yourself in the moment. A family is only as strong as the partnership.
- Set aside one or two nights per week for intimacy. Make it a point to head to bed a little earlier than usual a couple of nights a week. (If you’re too tired at night, why not set the alarm for before the kids wake up?) If you set certain nights aside (and you know they are coming), you can train your mind and prepare yourself better. Oh, and just because you are not already in the mood does not mean you cannot get in the mood once you are physically close. Remember: desire does not always come before intimacy. Intimacy can generate desire.
- Do relaxing activities before bed that don’t have to do with housework or child care. For example, take a hot shower or bath, read a chapter from a novel or peruse a magazine, have some red wine and chocolate, or watch a favorite television show (perhaps one you wouldn’t watch with the kids). These activities will ground you and help you transition to intimacy with your partner, in whatever form that may take.
- Talk to your partner about your relationship or even “adult” things. Have an intellectual or emotional conversation about current events, work, your passions, or your relationship. Avoid discussing the kids, if possible.
Kim, P., Leckman, J. F., Mayes, L. C., Feldman, R., Wang, X., and Swain, J. E. (2010). The Plasticity of Human Maternal Brain: Longitudinal Changes in Brain Anatomy During the Early Postpartum Period. Behavioral Neuroscience, Vol. 124, No. 5. 696-700
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