The arrival of a baby into a family can affect many people, not only the parents. The new baby may have special significance for grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and the extended family/whānau.
What is important?
The significance of the baby in a family is influenced by many factors such as:
- The culture the baby is born into.
- The gender of the baby.
- Whether there has been a major loss for parents or family members in the past.
- The expectations of various family members.
- How the baby fits into the dynamics (emotional connections) within the family.
It is important for family members to think about what a new baby might mean to them and reflect on how this might affect the way they relate to the baby or their parents. For example, a grandparent that has had a family of all girls may react in a special way when they have a grandson.
Adjusting to the baby
Whatever the expectations of family members it is important to support and encourage the mother and father to have their own relationship with the baby (as long as the mother and father want this and can provide it safely).
Mothers and mothers-in-law can be very important at this time to a new mother. If they have time, they can provide support, help, and backup – especially if their daughter/daughter-in-law is unwell. Increasingly, grandparents are unable to give this support – they may be employed or busy with their own retirement interests, they may not live close by or they may be too elderly or frail. Those that do provide support can find it very rewarding.
Grandparents, especially grandfathers, sometimes find it easier to relate to their grandchild compared to how they related to their own children when they were babies. It can be a very exciting time for them to be around babies again. It gives them the opportunities to develop close bonds to their grandchildren. They may have been too busy to develop close bonds with their own children when they were at this stage.
The diagnosis of PND or a related condition
Often family/whānau can miss the signs of postnatal depression. A mother can be afraid that if she expresses how she feels she will be judged to be ‘not maternal’ or a ‘bad mother’ for not coping.
A mother of a daughter who experienced PND says …
“I was relieved when my daughter got a diagnosis of PND as she was clearly unwell and was not coping. She was self diagnosing and everyday thought she had something else wrong with her.
I did not experience PND when I had my three children and, as a consequence, did not pick up on any of the signs or symptoms. I did not know anything about PND. It was difficult for us as a family because we had no information. We often felt isolated not knowing what was going on. I feel that new mothers today do not get as much support as we did in our day.”
The father of this daughter says…
“I thought my daughter was acting like a hypochondriac and I told her to pull her socks up and get her act together. Obviously now I know that this was not the right way to approach the situation. As a consequence the relationship with my daughter was rather strained for a time.”