Ask most parents about their first few months of child rearing, and you’ll likely hear the same stories. They’ll talk about sleepless nights and painful deliveries. There will be tales of messy homes and even messier schedules. It will include leagues of harrowing narratives that end only when the youngsters move away to college — and even that’s unlikely to put a stop to the madness these days.
So why do we decide to breed new generations, year after year?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 73 million children in the United States. At the same time, there has been a looming level of what’s called “tokophobia” that has been permeating the American family.
A 2000 study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry defines tokophobia as the dread and avoidance some women feel about childbirth despite desperately wanting a baby. The study concluded that tokophobia is a harrowing condition that needs to be acknowledged.
Additionally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there has been a considerable decline in the number of children born to women between the ages of 15 and 29. Millennials are reportedly opting for cats and dogs. In today’s busy world, it’s no wonder why so many couples report experiencing anxiety when considering having children.
To help ease some of the worry, we talked to Dr. Foojan Zeine, a marriage and family counselor who runs a large private practice in Irvine and is the author of a recent book called “Life Reset.” She also has more than 30 years of experience working with couples.
Q: What are common fears you hear from soon-to-be parents?
A: Fears are about the health of the baby, especially regarding autism; parents’ competence toward raising a child; changing the couples’ romantic and sex life; financial burdens; too much involvement from in-laws; not having personal time anymore; creation of more conflict between the couple regarding parenting styles; and the woman’s body never going back to her original shape.
Q: What are some questions couples should ask themselves before trying for a baby?
A: Are we ready financially to provide for a child up to college? Are we the right age (young and early in career, or older and not having enough patience or stamina)? Do we know how to communicate and negotiate well enough to discipline and raise a child? Do we have enough information about the different development stages of children? Can our marriage handle the stress
of having a child?
Q: What is some of the best advice for couples considering children?
A: Talk about your vision of your family. Talk about how each of you was raised and what you liked about that — what you would like to pass on and what you didn’t like and would like to upgrade. Explore values that you want to teach your children and come to some common ground. Read general parenting books to become familiar with the fundamentals of modern parenting.
Q: What are common misconceptions about parenting?
A: They think, “I will just duplicate what my parents did with me and all will be fine.” This era is so different from what our parents faced, it is no longer acceptable. Many think, “All I need to do is control and protect my child,” but with the open access to the world via the internet, controlling our children is no longer applicable. We have to teach our children how to assess data and to apply what they see in their lives.
Q: What do you say to couples worried their social lives will end after they have children?
A: Don’t worry. Social life does not have to end, it just changes. Couples need to have date nights on their own and with other couples. As their children grow, they can socialize with parents who have similarly aged children.
Q: What are some ways couples can take care of themselves during the first few months after birth?
A: Ask for help from friends or family; hire a baby nurse; take shifts in taking care of the baby; talk to each other about your experiences, expectations and fears. Stop judging yourself and know that you are a novice at this (with the first baby); ask questions and obtain information from the internet; sleep in shifts.