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Will You And Your Spouse Get Along After The Baby Arrives?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


How will things go after the baby comes? Will your child’s other parent do things the way you think they should be done? Or will your new parenting roles divide your family, as you and your partner argue over the right way to raise your child?

A new study set out to get an advance look at how parents will work together  – or not – following the birth of a baby.  Researchers got that look by videotaping parents as they interacted with a doll a few weeks ahead of their real baby’s birth.

You read that right: a doll.

Researchers visited 182 couples at home during the third trimester of pregnancy with a first child. They brought with them a doll made from a newborn-sized footed sleeper stuffed with 7 to 8 pounds of uncooked rice and topped by a head made of green fabric. As you can imagine, this doll was as heavy and as floppy as a real newborn but looked nothing at all like the expectant parents themselves!

Researchers then videotaped the parents-to-be as they interacted with this pretend baby, first individually, then together, and then as the parents discussed the interaction experience. Nine months later, after the real babies were born, the researchers again visited the families and videotaped parents as they interacted with their children.

Parents differed in their levels of support of each other during the pretend-baby interactions, including how well parents cooperated with each other, how playful parents were, the levels of warmth each parent expressed, and how much each parent seemed to use intuitive parenting behaviors. But the key finding was that the ways parents behaved with the pretend baby pretty much predicted how they would behave nine months later, after their real baby was born. Things don’t change after the baby is born. Parents continue to be the people they were before and to interact with their partners in the same ways.

Lead author Lauren Altenburger said, “Some of the couples were very positive, saying nice things to each other about their parenting. With the doll they might say ‘You’re going to be such a great dad.’ After the birth of the baby, their talk would be very similar: ‘You’re such a natural.'” But others, with both the doll and the baby,  were not so kind to their partner. They said things like “You’re not going to hold the real baby like that, are you?” They were critical of each other, she said.

So this is pretty interesting. I, for one, can’t wait to stuff a sleeper with rice and see how much it seems like an infant. But  – without getting out the baby dolls – what does this study mean for you?

  1. Your partner is who he or she is and will continue to be the same person even after your children are born.  While becoming a parent is certainly a life-changing experience, parents’ personalities don’t change and you shouldn’t expect that to happen, for you or for your partner.
  2. If you tend to be critical of others or overly perfectionistic – if you like everything to be done exactly your way – then now is the time to work on lightening up. Now, before the baby arrives. A new baby brings out the protective streak in most adults but you don’t want to alienate your child’s other parent by insisting that your way is always the best.
  3. Notice the excellent qualities in your baby’s other parent and celebrate those. What is your partner bringing to the parenting experience and how do you complement each other? Parenting isn’t a competition and goodness knows every parent needs someone else to collaborate with.  Creating a happy family really requires partnership.

It’s a commonplace thought that we parent our children the same way our parents raised us. This might be true, and if it is, it supports the idea that how we might pretend to be parents carries over into our real life actions as moms and dads. It means our parenting instincts run deeper than the latest parenting advice books. But what really matters – what has always mattered – is that parents get along and respect and support each other.

Now, before your baby arrives or now even after your children are around, is the time to do just that.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.