Workshop helps new parents care for each other first

The next workshop runs on two Saturdays, April 26 and May 2, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $150 per couple. Parents are welcome to bring baby. To register, call Overlake at 425-688-5269 or visit www.overlakehospital.org/classes. For information, visit www.gottman.com/parenting/baby.

Bringing Baby Home

The next workshop runs on two Saturdays, April 26 and May 2, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $150 per couple. Parents are welcome to bring baby. To register, call Overlake at 425-688-5269 or visit www.overlakehospital.org/classes. For information, visit www.gottman.com/parenting/baby.

Before bringing their baby home, there’s a basic list that most parents go through as the day gets closer.

Set up the nursery: check. Stock the diapers, powders and onsies: check. Read the required books, watch the videos and seek advice from other parents: check.

Then baby arrives - and something happens that most couples aren’t expecting.

“A big finding in research is that couples fall apart after their babies are born,” said Carolyn Pirak, program director of Bringing Baby Home, a new workshop offered at Overlake Hospital. “There is less communication, less friendship, less intimacy and more conflict.”

The international workshop has evolved from Dr. John Gottman’s research of marriage and family conducted over the past 30 years. According to his findings, between 40 to 70 percent of couples experience stress, conflict and drops in marital satisfaction as they adapt to caring for an infant, all of which affect their baby’s care.

Two other big findings: dads withdraw and moms experience Postpartum Depression.

“These are horrible things that can happen to couples after they have babies,” Pirak said, noting the workshop can guide couples through these changes.

The two-day workshop is designed to ease a couple’s transition into parenthood and help them understand the changes they will experience so they can become better parents.

While some programs are designed to “groom moms together” to meet and talk about breastfeeding or other topics relevant to motherhood, Bringing Baby Home is different, Pirak said.

“With programs just designed for moms, they go home feeling great about the group, but not about who’s at home,” she said. “It’s really important for a couple to come to something like this together and connect and see couples going through the same things.”

The program, which focuses on strengthening the entire family unit, is targeted for parents in their second trimester through the baby’s first year. This is the period of time when couple’s lives are open to chaos: work schedules are being rearranged to address who will take care of the baby or houses are being remodeled and baby proofed, said Pirak, who has taught couples for 10 years.

Most of the financial and emotional transitions translate into problems that couples don’t expect, she said.

During the first day of the workshop, couples work on rebuilding their friendship and connecting on a deeper level with communication and emotions. It also helps couples identify what the father’s role will be and how he will work with the mother.

Often, moms have a specific way of how things will be done.

“Sometimes moms have to realize that the way dad does something is perfectly acceptable,” she said. “The fact that baby is wearing mismatched clothes is fine. This helps moms understand the value of dads being involved.”

On the second day, couples work on how to regulate conflict. They listen to brief lectures based on Gottman’s research, and then do hands-on exercises. In addition, at each level of the workshop couples learn about the child and how to be prepared.

Conflict is okay and can even be healthy if it is managed the right way, Pirak said.

One exercise asks couples to identify an area that they both disagree on and try to resolve it. Pirak has seen couples work on everything from the division of household chores and who will be present during the baby’s birth, to finances, childcare and in-laws.

Gottman’s research shows that how the first three minutes of a discussion goes will determine the outcome.

“You can walk in and say, ‘You idiot, you left the diaper bag in the car,’” Pirak said, “but if you bring up conflict in a softened way, people are much more open to work through it.”

Another exercise, and one of Pirak’s favorites, asks couples to pull a card from a deck that asks a different question.

Some examples: How does your partner feel about daycare? At what age does your partner hope to potty train the baby? How does your partner feel about the child watching TV?

“Even though they have been married for years, these are likely things they haven’t talked about,” she said. “I’m always fascinated that couples start to laugh and there is very little conflict. It helps couples realize how much fun it will be.”

Carrie Wood can be reached at cwood@reporternewspapers.com or 425-453-4290.