Thursday, October 01, 2009

On Shpielkas Waiting for a First Child

Here's my monthly Home News column which appeared on September 22, 2009 and was titled "A First Child, and Many Anxieties". Arlene and Jeffrey are a tremendous source of information and inspiration.

When I first met with Arlene and Jeffrey, (click here to read my previous column) they had just finished their first year of marriage and were grappling with the questions:

When is the best time to have our first child?
What's the best spacing between our children?
What is the ideal number of children for a family to have?

One decision has been made; they are expecting their first child in three months. We met again recently to talk about their new perspective on life, labeled "transition to parenthood" by social scientists. Our discussion focused primarily on the uncertainty of life with an infant, striking the right balance of work and family, and their dreams for their child.

Arlene's second, third, and fourth months of pregnancy were very difficult, but she's feeling much better now. On seeing the first sonogram, Jeffrey commented, "It was a very moving experience to see the arm move and hear the heartbeat, but I didn't start crying."

Arlene shared her anxiety, but not about delivery; rather, about motherhood: "It means a lifetime of responsibility; it's life-changing! "I am excited but nervous, because I have no idea what it's going to be like. I'm an only child and didn't have any other babies at home growing up."

Arlene emphasizes that she had a happy childhood, but she always wanted a sibling. "My friends were jealous of me and said, "You have your own room and your own toys.' My reaction was, "Oh yeah, big deal. I wanted to share it with a sibling.'?"

Echoing Arlene's anxiety about child rearing, Jeffrey remarked, "We haven't talked about this much because we have no idea what this will be like; I have no idea how this works with a newborn." We discussed infancy for a while and it turns out that they have several good books at home. Jeffrey has actually read more about babies than Arlene so far.

On the topic of Jeffrey's long work hours, Arlene complained, "Sometimes he works ridiculous hours late at night, even from home. Then he's exhausted and we don't spend quality time together. "I enjoy time with him. I'm used to it and I feel like I need it. Now I worry with the baby coming soon, how does everything get balanced? When the baby arrives, it will add another whole level of busy-ness."

Sensing her frustration, Jeffrey responded to Arlene, "I have made certain work-related changes, and you see that. I have people working for me, and I have a lot of help these days to get all my consulting jobs done." I am encouraged by this productive dialogue between them, because they are grappling with the timeless issues of parenting and the work-family balance, which families have dealt with for centuries.

Rest assured, Arlene and Jeffrey are good communicators in a very strong marriage. They will make it through this phase of their family life. As we concluded our session, I asked about their dreams and hopes for their forthcoming child.

Jeffrey hopes for a healthy baby, and "to raise our child in such a fashion that he/she grows to become independent, enjoys life, and has a lot of opportunities." Arlene wants those things as well and is hoping that their child will be respectful. She explained, "I am excited to see who we created and how our two personalities are going to become part of our child. Sure, I am curious about appearance too, but mostly personality."

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site