21 Feb Feeling Suffocated by Parenthood? How To Find Peace.
Feeling suffocated by parenthood? Life will be much easier once you can let go of what was.
New parents love their babies. Many however, struggle with the loss of freedom that parenthood brings.
Some couples wait for years to conceive and deliver a child they’d been longing for, and others are taken completely by surprise by an unplanned pregnancy.
It doesn’t seem to matter how new parents arrive at parenthood: sooner or later many of them are confronted with an unexpected truth:
The loss of freedom that parenthood brings isn’t easy.
In a working with a couple recently, one of them mentioned that their relationship conflicts and arguments weren’t an issue before baby came along.
I was struck by how many of their relationship conflicts seemed to stem from their own respective struggles with loss of freedom.
In their case, this was manifesting in arguments about sharing (or not sharing) basic household and parenting tasks, and also about how each was respecting (or not respecting) the other’s need for personal time out.
Until each partner grieves for their former life (and self), and finds peace with the relative lack of freedom that marriage and parenthood brings, their relationship will stay stuck in cycles of tension and conflict.
This is because partners who haven’t found peace with the loss of freedom that parenthood brings will often (consciously or not) blame each other for stuff that’s really not each other’s fault.
“Grieve for my lost freedom? How do I do this?”, my very astute client then asked.
It’s a great question. Grief is such a personal thing. There’s no one recipe that works for everyone.
Working through grief and loss is about understanding what we’ve left behind and what we can find in its place.
If you or someone you love is struggling with the loss of freedom that new parenthood brings, this exercise will help:
Think of “Freedom” like an actual thing… a character… an actual “person” who you can have an imaginary conversation with. Then put aside some time to have a conversation with “Freedom”, either in your own mind (head off on a long walk with baby in the pram), by writing in a journal, or even by talking with your partner.
Try not to feel too crazy as you start your imaginary conversation that sounds something like this:
“Hello Freedom! Thanks for agreeing to have a chat with me today”
Then, speaking to “Freedom”, explore sentences and questions such as these:
(I’ll use the female pronoun however this exercise is equally valuable for dads)
I hear you used to hang out with (your name) a lot. You used to be a huge part of her life, but now you’re not.
Did this take her by surprise? Do you think she assumed you’d always be around?
Does she miss you? If so, how does it show?
Does she try to hide how much she misses you? Who from? How? Why?
What does she find most difficult about her new life without you?
What did she gain when she lost you?
To what extent are you still a part of her life now, even if just a little?
Do you expect to be a bigger part of her life sometime in the future?
How will her life change when this happens?
What hopes do you have for her? For her personal life? As a parent? In her relationship?
What do you admire most about her? What are her strengths?
What advise would you give her about her relationships now? With partner? With child?
This isn’t a definitive list, nor must you ask every question on it. Narrative therapists ask their clients questions like these to help them explore and “thicken” their understanding of their unique life and relationship experience.
Finding peace in your changed relationship with “Freedom” (or indeed whatever other “thing” you might feel you’ve lost since becoming a parent… sensuality is another common one), is really important if you want personal and relationship peace and happiness.
If you are a new parent struggling with feeling suffocated by the demands of parenthood and grieving for the lost freedom that you once enjoyed, there’s no turning back. Move forward. Do the work. Take responsibility for a (very normal and very common) grief and loss issue that’s yours.
Then watch your relationship with yourself, and with your partner and with your beautiful child, thrive.
Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For over 20 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.