Transitioning to Parenthood


When couples become parents, marital satisfaction often declines (1)(2). Research has found several factors that influence this transition’s outcome. For one, a baby brings more household responsibilities and a new area of childcare responsibilities. “It is not the unequal division of labor, but rather the perceived fairness of the division that is most strongly associated with relationship satisfaction” (2)(1). For two, spousal support is also a factor. Predictive of marital satisfaction, spousal support is especially significant “during the transition to parenthood as couples consider their spouses a primary source of support” (2). When couples have similar parenting attitudes and expectations of what it will be like once they are parents and between what they actually experience, marital satisfaction is greater (1).

Couples co-parenting is an extension of their “marital relationship to include interactions centered on their child.” Higher competitive co-parenting is related to a decline in fathers’ marital satisfaction and when mothers support of their spouses’ parenting decreased, so does their marital quality (3). “A lack of preparedness for the baby and the strain and conflict created by role negotiation” can lead to a decrease in marital satisfaction; and “when there are discrepancies between women’s expectations for their partners and their actual post-birth experiences, women exhibit poorer adjustment to parenthood and lower levels of marital satisfaction” (1).

So what can couples do?

  • Be deliberate when negotiating the roles of being new parents (1)
    • Decide who will take care of what household tasks. Take time to reevaluate how things are going as family circumstances change (4).
    • Share childcare responsibilities. Allow the father to spend as much time caring for the baby as he can. Discuss your parenting values and concerns together (4).
  • Make sure you communicate clearly with one another. Let your spouse know your needs and feelings and strive to work together to make things better for one another (4).
  • Balance work and parenting (4).
  • Work on developing a strong, stable marital relationship before children are born.

In short, try to keep realistic expectations for yourself and your spouse before and after the baby arrives (1); and always do your best to support one another in your parenting efforts (2) (3).

For more information see:

1 Adamsons, K. (2013). Predictors of relationship quality during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology, 31(2), 160-171. doi:10.1080/02646838.2013.791919

2 Chong, A., & Mickelson, K. D. (2016). Perceived fairness and relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood. Journal of Family Issues, 37(1), 3-28 26p. doi:10.1177/0192513X13516764

3 Christopher, C., Umemura, T., Mann, T., Jacobvitz, D., & Hazen, N. (2015). Marital quality over the transition to parenthood as a predictor of coparenting. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 24(12), 3636-3651. doi:10.1007/s10826-015-0172-0

4 Berk, Laura (2010). Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 7th ed. Boston, MA.

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