Relationship Advice for Couples after Having a Baby with guest Catherine O’Brien, LMFT

About this Episode

Relationships change when you add a baby to your family, but you can still be happy amidst the sleepless nights, demanding feeding schedule, and bottomless diaper pail. On this episode of Brainy Moms, Dr. Amy and Teri interview Catherine O’Brien, marriage and family therapist and author of the book Happy with Baby: Essential Relationship Advice When Partners Become Parents.

Catherine talks about the relationship challenges of being a new parent…for the first time or even the fifth time.  She offers advice to our listeners for connecting with your partner, your new baby, and yourself to strengthen relationships and increase happiness in the middle of your chaotic life.

About Catherine

Catherine O’Brien is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the founder of HappyWithBaby.com and the author of the book, Happy with Baby: Essential Relationship Advice When Partners Become Parents. She has worked in the field of psychology for over 15 years, working with new parents and new moms.  She has facilitated different classes, including Mine, Yours, Ours: Relationship Survival Guide to Baby’s 1st Year. Catherine is a Certified Gottman Educator and trained to deliver the Bringing Home Baby program. She also has Postpartum Support International’s (PSI) Perinatal Mood Disorders Certification and is a former school psychologist working with children and adolescents with learning disorders.  

Catherine really enjoys working with new parents and new moms so that they can be Happy With Baby. She loves helping them with this transition to parenthood because so many new parents are struggling to manage their relationships now that baby is here. She says new moms often struggle with anxiety and depression and feel it is taboo to talk about, so she gives them the tools and resources they need to help them feel better as their family changes.

Catherine lives in Sacramento, California, where she enjoys paddle boarding with her husband and two kids and coaching her youngest child’s soccer team.

Connect with Catherine

Website: happywithbaby.com

Social Media: @happywithbaby

Mentioned in this Episode

Get Catherine’s book

Happy With Baby: Essential Relationship Advice When Partners Become Parents

Free stuff

Link to schedule a free consultation with Catherine: https://catherine-obrien.clientsecure.me/client_portal 

Link to Catherine’s Blog: Blog — Catherine O’Brien | Happy With Baby

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Read the transcript for this episode:

Dr. Amy Moore:

Hi, and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms brought to you today by LearningRx brain training centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore here with my co-host Teri Miller coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado. We’re excited to welcome our guest today, Catherine O’Brien. Catherine is a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of happywithbaby.com. She’s the author of the book Happy with Baby: Essential Relationship Advice When Partners Become Parents. Catherine lives in Sacramento, California, where she enjoys paddleboarding with her husband and two kids and coaching her youngest child’s soccer team.

Teri:

So glad to have you here Catherine.

Catherine O’Brien:

Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to have this conversation.

Teri Miller:

Good. Well, we want you to tell our listeners, first of all, a little bit about yourself and your story and what brought you to creating Happy with Baby?

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah, so like Dr. Amy said, I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I had been practicing for quite a while. I don’t know times anymore, for quite a while. At the time when I got pregnant with our oldest and going through the pregnancy and then the early postpartum, I was like, “What in the world just happened? Why did I feel so like unprepared for,” well, the sleepless nights, but also just the impact it had on my relationship with my husband. It was such a challenge, and for many months felt like this disconnection with him and had this, I guess, tension would be the best word, for a while that I had experienced with him, and just feeling constantly on a different page.

Catherine O’Brien:

So then I’m realizing it wasn’t just me. Like going to different moms groups and everything, and hearing other moms talk about either frustration or overwhelmed and difficulties they were having in their own relationships. So I just started keeping a mental note of what I wish I would’ve known, what I wish I would’ve been better prepared for, and that I wanted to share with other people. So it just kind of got rolling from there. I had an opportunity to teach a workshop for expecting parents and came up with one on relationship survival guide to baby’s first year.

Catherine O’Brien:

That’s kind of where the book came from, and my practice, my specialties working with new and expecting parents, and through the postpartum period and beyond. But yeah, just I loved it. I knew, I had always known I wanted to be a therapist and went straight through college to do that, but then I really found my passion when I realized this is what I want to do. These are the people I want to help.

Dr. Amy Moore:

We found it so unique that that was your focus. There are so many books written about how to raise your kid, and guidance and discipline, and what do you feed them, but to actually see that you wrote specifically about relationships and self-care related to becoming new parents, we just found was super novel. That’s why we wanted to talk to you. Yeah. So you say there are three essential questions that new parents need to ask themselves every day. In fact, you structure your book around these three questions. So the first is, “What will you do to take care of and reconnect with yourself?”

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So what does that mean and why is that important?

Catherine O’Brien:

Well, I think, well, it’s important because I think it’s hard to do anything else if on a sustainable level, like you can and people do it all the time without, but I feel like it’s difficult when we’re not checking in with ourselves. I’m seeing more and more like overwhelmed, burnt out, tired parents all the time that aren’t doing sometimes the basic essentials to take care of themselves, but even like other things, more fun, or things that make them who they are, that they enjoy doing outside of their being a partner, being a parent.

Catherine O’Brien:

So I think it’s really important that we continue, or that continue like some people have never done it, but that we really feed into taking care of ourselves, making sure that we’re getting enough sleep, making sure that we’re getting some sort of movement that we enjoy doing whatever that looks like for you, making sure you’re eating three meals a day or whatever that looks like for you. But I talk to moms who are like, they don’t eat all day and then finally the kids are in bed and they’re eating leftover goldfish or something that’s sitting in the couch. I don’t know. I mean, not that bad, but sometimes they’re just like [crosstalk 00:05:08]-

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah, sometimes not bad.

Catherine O’Brien:

They’ll do everything. Oftentimes too, the moms are like, “Oh yeah, I’m, pureeing the food. So they get organic,” but they’re not doing any of that for themselves. So I’m like, “What if you also… Maybe you’re not pureeing the food for you, but you’re like eating the actual food as you puree it for your kids,” or whatever that looks like. You deserve that too, you deserve good quality food on a regular basis. So that’s…

Dr. Amy Moore:

And you deserve a shower.

Catherine O’Brien:

You deserve a shower. I don’t know if you ever hear this too, but I’ll talk with new parents and they’re like, “Well my partner, they seem to work out and get a shower and get to start their day like that. I’m like barely get a shower.” And like, “How is that? This is not fair.” And I’m like, “Because they just take it.” They’re like, “I’m not waiting for an invitation to go take a shower. Like if I need a shower, I need a shower.” Then you say like, “If you have the baby,” it’s like, “Okay, now I’m going to go take my shower.” Like, don’t wait for a written invitation because probably you’re not going to get it, but just take it. If that’s what you need, if that’s when you need it, go do it and have that shower.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. Yes. I can remember with my first child newborn, my husband took six weeks off, or no, I’m sorry, he took two weeks off, and then went back to work. So I took 12 weeks off and so he would come home from work and I would literally hand Cael to him. “Here you go.” And then I would go take my shower. So I watched the clock until 4:45 every day because I’m like, “Okay, in another hour I’m going to be clean.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes. You’re like, “I will feel better.” Yeah.

Teri Miller:

Well, I mean, and sometimes it’s as small as, “Can I just go poop?”

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes.

Teri Miller:

“I’m so sorry, but I need to poop and I just really don’t want to do it with my newborn baby on my boob.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah, you know?

Teri Miller:

I just put the baby down and you talked about this, I love that you talked about it in your book that I guess it was maybe it was one of the stories. I loved how you had advice and then you had stories from couples. I think it was one of the stories and it was this revelation that the mom was not able to let baby cry to take a poop, and that the dad was like, “It’s not going to kill him to cry for three minutes, maybe five,” while I poop. Like, “This is okay. It’s more important that my digestive tract has a chance to function.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Right.

Teri Miller:

I thought that was so good that we as moms, we think, “Yeah, the baby can’t have a moment of discomfort.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Right.

Teri Miller:

So that we’re not miserable.

Catherine O’Brien:

Right. Well, I think we do, I think so often I hear this, we suffer so that other people are okay, and we can’t do that. That’s not a sustainable way. What do you need? What is the care that you need for yourself? What does that look like today? It’s not always these like… I love to get a pedicure and get my hair done, but like, clearly I’m not going to do that every day, that’s not an option, but what are the small little moments that I’m making sure that I’m taking care of myself so that I’m a better parent when I… I yell less, I’m less snappy at my husband, I’m much more a better person if I’m doing little things for myself throughout the day, whatever that looks like.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. Yeah. So I can remember, my master’s degree is in early childhood, so I had these lofty visions of how I was going to raise my children.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore:

They, of course, were not going to be exposed to television before they were five, right? Because I was going to do all of the entertaining and all of the developmental interactions, and so I realized very quickly that videos, baby videos, were my friend. If I wanted a shower, if I wanted to go to the bathroom, if I needed to cook lunch. So that super saucer became like my best friend. “Okay, you’re going in a super saucer. I’m putting on the baby Einstein video, because mommy needs to do A, B or C.” I felt this enormous amount of guilt at first, doing that, because my kids were not going to watch TV before they were five, but then you think you have to survive and so you have to manage your expectations of what that’s going to look like. I think you talk about managing expectations in your book as well.

Catherine O’Brien:

Well, I think so many parents are doing it by themselves. They don’t have that extra help where that used to be the case where we lived in these communities where people were coming over and helping you out and watching. So they wouldn’t have to watch TV. But now you’re trying to do it by yourself all day. I mean, entertaining a baby all day is an exhausting task. I don’t find it super enjoyable. I love little moments here and there, but constant entertainment and feeling like we have to perform for them, they don’t need us to perform for them anyway. So it’s like, yeah, some kids can go longer periods of time, babies can go longer periods of time without, but it’s like you move them around, kind of incorporate them into your day, but we don’t have to cater to their needs like constantly. They do okay. Making sure they’re safe and comfortable, and then go to the bathroom so that your stomach’s not cramping up.

Teri Miller:

Right. That making lunch can be the entertainment. Instead of it be like, “Peekaboo, peekaboo.” Over and over that it can be like, “Here’s the broccoli, broccoli’s going into the pot.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes.

Teri Miller:

“Mr. Spaghetti.”

Dr. Amy Moore:

You narrate what you were just saying.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah. Exactly.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. Yeah.

Catherine O’Brien:

I read a study too. I think I even put it in the book, but that it is better for them to incorporate them into our lives and what we are doing than us stopping and having to put the, “Let’s go to this class for them, the swim class, the gymnastics class, the music class.” And those are great, I think, but as for babies, I think they’re better for parents to meet other parents than it’s necessary for a child to be in a music class at six months. You can put on music at home and do all those things. But I tell parents all the time, “If you want to go and meet people, then go take one of those classes. But it’s not essential that if they don’t get this now, they’re not getting into preschool or like going to graduate high school,” or something like. “They will be fine without those classes, but if you want to meet and connect with people, then go for it.”

Teri Miller:

Yeah. I loved your, I know Amy we’re skipping around a little bit, but I’m just going to go with it, okay? I loved your section. Goodness, I don’t remember which exact chapter it was, but the title of the little section was, “I can do this. Wait. No, I can’t.” I love even that phrase because that’s so true. I mean every morning, sometimes I would wake up and think I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this, and I mean, I would get halfway through the day and be in tears. I’m like, “I can’t, I haven’t even done the first thing on the list I need to do. I just needed to pay whatever bill.” And the day gets away from it. I can do this. No, wait. I can’t. Then you created that list. You talked about your… What is it? The customizable spreadsheet task.

Catherine O’Brien:

Oh, okay.

Teri Miller:

Task list. Yeah. So the task list to help us understand what things we need to get done, and this is what I really loved, to be able to know what things we can ask other people to do or let them do when they ask to help. Tell us more about that.

Catherine O’Brien:

Okay. So, especially when you have a new baby, usually people come over and they’re like, they’ll ask like, “Is there anything you need to do?” And I was always like, “No, no.” I’ll lose whatever, like I’m not going to impose on it, but talking more and more with parents, and the second time around, I was like, “Yeah, here’s what I need you to do.” But, talking to parents is like feeling bad for giving them something.

Catherine O’Brien:

But people, when I go and see my friends after… I generally want, “What can I do to make something a little bit easier for you?” I think people generally want to like support us. So I said like come up with a list, and I think I got this idea from a friend of mine, like write down the list of things that you’re like, “Okay, this is what I would be comfortable having people do when they do ask.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Like maybe I don’t want them folding my laundry or those kind of things. But, “Can you wipe down the bathroom sink? Can you put the dishes in the dishwasher for me?” Like, what are the things? Or like, “Sweep the kitchen floor,” or whatever that is, maybe run a vacuum or put the laundry into the wash, but whatever it is you’re comfortable having people do, it’s like create that list and be like, “Okay, well, this is my to-do list. If there’s anything on here you wouldn’t mind helping me do, that would be great.”

Catherine O’Brien:

I’ve found that people are like, “Yeah,” that this been like so helpful to them because then it takes away from like, “Yes, do this exactly.” Like some people are really great at that, but I know a lot of us have really struggle to say, to ask for help and then even to accept it. But if here’s a little assistance to help get it going. Then I think it’s also helpful for you and your partner to have figure out what needs to get done, what are the priorities, and sometimes they can even see what you are, everything that you are trying to accomplish during the day and that you’re struggling with and just kind of see things a little bit better from your perspective too.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. Amy and I were talking about that that list has got to be different for every person, because I know for some of us, it would be like, “Oh, would you come in and help me clean my house?” And then for another person, it might be like, “No, I would literally fall on the floor and die of embarrassment,” [crosstalk 00:15:31] and tried to clean my house. No. So it’s different for everyone. We were talking about like think about when you have a new baby or maybe a toddler and a new baby.

Catherine O’Brien:

Oh yeah.

Teri Miller:

Think about getting your car detailed, like that they don’t have to come in your house, but, “Can you come and pick up my car and just get my car cleaned?” You need not pay for it, here’s the money, [crosstalk 00:15:53] can get it clean, get the inside cleaned. And Amy, you have to tell the funny story of…

Dr. Amy Moore:

So we were a military family. My husband was a fighter pilot, and after 9/11 hit, the security at the gate for the bases was really beefed up. So they had bomb dogs and drug dogs that would search your car before they would let you on the base in those early days, after 9/11. I had a minivan, a two year old, and a baby. So every time I’d get to the gate at the base, these bomb dogs and drug dogs would search the van, but they would start eating the raisins and the Cheerios and everything in it. All in the floor and then the seats, and then of course the dogs would get in trouble.

Catherine O’Brien:

I always thought you were going there and I’m like, “Dude, I thought they were a little bit more controlled than that.”

Dr. Amy Moore:

Right. They’re trained not to. So I’m standing there on the road, just completely mortified that my kids have dropped all these snacks, and the drug dogs are eating them.

Catherine O’Brien:

That is so funny.

Teri Miller:

It’s incessant when you have babies. The dogs are going to be licking the biter biscuit off the side of the car, that gets weird there. I mean, that’s just how it is. So to know to have prepared list, “These are the things I couldn’t handle you helping with, but yeah you could bring me a meal or you could… I’ve put in my grocery order, can you just go pick it up at the grocery store and bring it to me?” Things like that,

Catherine O’Brien:

Right. Yes, exactly. Exactly. Like all of those things. Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Right. So the second question that you say all new parents should ask themselves is what will you do to support and connect with your partner? So talk to us about that.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes. So, I mean, that was the challenge my husband and I had is like we were doing all the things like, he took about a week and a half off and then he kind of spread out his time after our first so that I think then he would get… I would only be home a couple days a week by myself. I’d be like terrified to be home alone with the baby all day. I was like I had no idea what I was doing, I can’t believe they just send you home with like no experience taking care of an infant.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And that’s so true. Talk about not giving you a manual. You buy a new lawnmower, you get a user manual, you buy a car, you get a user manual. They don’t have a user manual when you bring the baby home. Yeah.

Teri Miller:

Yeah and the first to learn to drive.

Catherine O’Brien:

I know the first time he left, we had gotten home from the hospital. I think it was the next day, and he had to go because our son was early. So something he had to do that he hadn’t been able to get out of. So he left me for two hours and I literally sat in the chair that we had, the special baby chair that we got, just like rocking him, hoping that he did not need anything while my husband was gone, because I was like, “I don’t know that I can help you if daddy doesn’t get home. I don’t know that I’m qualified.”

Catherine O’Brien:

But anyways, so we were doing all the things. Like he was working, I felt like I was like feeding the baby all day long, I felt like our son never stopped. It just long enough for me to go to the bathroom and grab something to drink or whatever. I felt like I didn’t even have time to eat. My husband was doing other things and I felt like I was… I remember missing him so much in those early days. As I sat there breastfeeding our son, and it was hard and breastfeeding was really hard. I was really emotional and really struggling and just feeling like my husband was trying to help, but it wasn’t really helpful to me.

Catherine O’Brien:

Then as time progressed, he was back at work more full time. I was doing my stuff and just feeling like everything we each did would irritate each other. We talked about this, it’s given in the book about like in the middle of the night when our son would wake up and feeling like whose turn is it to get him, and both feeling like it’s the other person’s turn to change the diaper or whatever, and just being like so annoying. I remember he used to say this to me all the time, “Do you want me to get him?” And I’d be like, “Well, you’re setting me up to fail on this. Of course I want you to get him,” but I feel like if I say this, then you’re going to be annoyed with me. It was like, that’s a bad question to ask. So just really, really we’re struggling and I remember one day we had gotten into an argument, and to this day I could not tell you what it was, but I had to go to work.

Catherine O’Brien:

I was going to work on Saturdays for a period of time, because we were just kind of alternating. I would work a few hours during the week and on the weekends and I was falling on my way to work because I was like, “What is wrong with my husband? Why do we fight about everything?” I called my girlfriend and she was like… And to this day I’m like, “Oh I’m so glad you answered that day.” Because I think if she hadn’t, I’m not really sure that I would’ve been able to help anybody else, any of my clients. She was like, “Okay.” She’s like, “Listen to me.” And I’m like, I don’t know what I said to her, but her first question to me was like, “When was the last time you went on a date?”

Catherine O’Brien:

I was like, “We have a four month old. We did go on a date for 45 minutes on our first anniversary because our son was three weeks old and we had left the house together for 45 minutes.” I remember it felt like forever, but I’m like, “We haven’t been on a date.” So I remember that night my mom was in town and so we went, she watched our son for us for like an hour or two, and we went out and had dessert and just had a conversation and I was like, “Oh yeah, I like him, and he still seems to like me.” It was just this refreshing, like, “Okay, we’re good, we’re good. But how do we do this? How do we make sure we have time?”

Catherine O’Brien:

Like going on a date everyday is not a possibility, but how can we make sure that we’re connecting on a regular basis and just talking and checking in, like, “How are you doing? What’s going on?” And being able to hear like the challenges, his perspective of what was going on for him going back to work and how being back at work felt different now with a baby at home than it had previously, and just feeling all these different things. It was so good to hear and just being able to have this conversation.

Catherine O’Brien:

I know it’s not always, we don’t always have the possibility to go out on a date, but like, “How can we make time to do something even if we’re at home and maybe the baby’s taking a nap or they’re down for the night? And can we do something together in the house or sitting out on our patio,” or whatever, without our phones on, without other distractions and just connect and enjoy doing something together that we haven’t done. So what are some fun things you can do at home. Can you make dinner together? Maybe you’re usually like… But like if the baby’s asleep or whatever, or play a game or something that you enjoy doing, but just making sure that you’re, on a daily basis, checking in, but also making time to have a date, whether it’s you do get to go out or it’s a date in at least once a week, ideally.

Teri Miller:

That’s so good. Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. I love how you say in the book that if you don’t take the time to nurture the relationship while your children are at home, when they’re grown and gone, you’re going to look over and say, “Who is this stranger?” And dial 911.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve heard this from a couple, like I clearly remember this dad telling me, he said, “Well, when the baby’s a year old and things are easier, then it’ll be better.” And I’m like, “Well, at some level it will be better,” because the baby’s sleeping longer and all, you might get a little bit more time together, but the resentment that you have towards your partner, because you haven’t been connecting and having that for a whole year is going to be like you’re going to have to tear that wall down first before you even can see each other again. So what are the things we can do to avoid some of that resentment from growing and making a bigger divide between us?

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. You talk about keeping track, but not keeping score.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

In terms of division of labor and things like that, so that you can reduce some of that resentment. What does that look like?

Teri Miller:

Like that middle of the night.

Catherine O’Brien:

So I don’t know about you, but there’s times like, my husband talked about this, where he would keep track of all the things he was doing. He was convinced that he was doing way more than I was doing, but isn’t possible to keep. I mean, I’m just keeping score too, because like I said, this kid, he breastfed like feel like 20-30 hours a day and was never satisfied. I was like, “What is wrong with this kid?” But anyways, so I was like, “That’s got to be like those are like millions of points that can never be met.”

Catherine O’Brien:

But there’s no way to keep score because how do you, there’s no accurate way, but keeping track, and I’ll have couples and they’ll be like, “I’m so tired.” Well, I’m tired too. Well, it’s no competition. You’re both exhausted. But feeling like, “Well, I’ve been doing this.” Well, I’m doing this. It’s like, “Now you’re both doing…” Sorry, I’m losing my…

Teri Miller:

Oh, that’s okay.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah. You’re both doing a lot. So is it too much? Like you need to get some extra help? That if, once, let’s put something on the list that somebody else can help you do, can you delegate something for a brief period of time, but check in about that because you are both probably doing a lot and in different places. Maybe one of you’s back at work already, maybe not. Or now you’re both back at work, and still all these things have to get done and make sure that you can support each other to do that because we… Yeah, keep track about what is happening so that you know if you need extra help.

Catherine O’Brien:

Like what will happen, and I see this happen is, one parent goes back to work fairly quickly and then the other one is home, and then they go back to work, whether it’s full-time or part-time, but then they’re still doing all the things they did when they were home all day with the baby, and they’re like, “I can’t do this.” So it’s like, “Yes, you can’t sustainably.” You could probably do it at the sacrifice of yourself, right? So, it’s like, “Yeah.” It’s like, “Okay, having those check-ins with each other so you can be like, ‘I cannot continue to get the bottles ready, have the snacks, order laundry, order groceries, do all the laundry. I need help doing these things and I need you, I need us to work, figure out how we’re going to work together to make sure that we can have the life that we want in a way, clean laundry every day or whatever.'” So, yeah.

Teri Miller:

I remember when mine were really little at that stage where they’re up like three times a night, four times a night, whatever, but maybe not breastfeeding.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes.

Teri Miller:

Or either I would pump, I gradually learned, with my first I didn’t do this, but I gradually learned that it’s helpful to pump when I can so that I can just get a little more sleep.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes.

Teri Miller:

My partner can give a bottle in the night and somewhere along the way we learned that it was much more effective to trade off nights, instead of trade off times in the night, because if you’re trading off times in the night, like, “I get up at 3:00, you get up at 5:00.” Or, “You do midnight, I do 4:00.” Whatever. Then you’re both exhausted.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes.

Teri Miller:

Instead of if you trade off nights, one of you is sane the next day.

Catherine O’Brien:

Right. Which is essential that one of you is. Yeah.

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Catherine O’Brien:

Well, we tried that in the middle of the night, switching times, and it was always like three o’clock, and I mean, almost consistently, our oldest would wake up at like 2:58. So then it’s like, “Well, it’s not my turn. It’s not [inaudible 00:28:49].” Whose turn is it that… And we both were [crosstalk 00:28:53], I’m like, “Well, if I don’t move, he’ll think I’m still asleep. So I won’t have to get up.”

Teri Miller:

My goodness.

Catherine O’Brien:

Like being able to do that, or like what we realized like the second time is I would go to bed, I would feed our youngest, then I would pump a little bit more and then I’d go to bed early enough so that he would get that first feeding and then I would do it after. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, we felt so much better.” I always tell people, like, “If you can both figure out how you’re going to get at least a five to six hour chunk of sleep in those early months…” Like it’s not ideal, but it’s more, it’s easier to cope than when you’re not, you’re getting anything less than that on an ongoing basis.

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Right. And then I think you also have to say, “Okay, We can make this plan, but inevitably this baby’s routine is going to change three [crosstalk 00:29:47] from now.” And every child is different.

Catherine O’Brien:

Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Dr. Amy Moore:

My oldest was like what you were describing. I mean, he nursed for 45 minutes every hour and a half. We’d just sit there and go, “Again? Really?” So I was psychotically sleep deprived. My second, he slept through the night, the first night I had from the hospital. So nobody had to get up. Then with my third, I was a little bit older, and so my husband would get up and just bring him to me and go back to sleep and I would nurse him. And that was the routine, he’s like, “If I feel like it’s the only thing I can help with, since you’re breastfeeding, so I’m just going to bring him to you and I’ll go back to sleep,” and that worked out.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

As well too, but they were all so different.

Catherine O’Brien:

Right, right.

Teri Miller:

It’s a good point. Yeah you can’t think that you can… You can’t create a plan and think, “We are sticking to this plan till the baby’s a year old.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Nope.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Well, it’s because of the nightmare that happened with our first one, nursing so long, so often, I said, “Okay, the second one, we are putting on a schedule.” So I studied the Growing Kids God’s Way, The BabyWise plan where you put them on a schedule every three hours from the first night. I mean, I was studied, ready, armed with this plan, and he slept all night. The first night, kind of like we had to wake him up to feed him the next morning.

Catherine O’Brien:

That’s so funny.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And so I’m like, “wait a minute. I did all this preparation, and I didn’t even need it.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah. Right. So he knew that he was supposed to sleep.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Exactly.

Catherine O’Brien:

Got it all during the pregnancy.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I can remember the nurse at the hospital bringing him to me that for day, and saying, “Okay, it’s time to feed him.” And I said, “No, it’s not. I’m putting him on a three hour schedule,” and getting in an argument with her and pulling rank and telling her, “I’m a child development specialist and I know that…” I finally checked out the hospital early, because I didn’t want to be bossed around by the nurses who thought they knew what I should be doing with my sleeping baby. But, y’all sorry, I am not advocating for anyone to check out early of the hospital. I’m just saying that we have these expectations and the baby’s going to make the decision for you.

Catherine O’Brien:

Right. Well, I think that’s where it goes back, it’s good that you’re checking in on a regular basis with your partner because it is going to shift and change. It’s like, maybe you are doing the alternate nights, but they’ve got a big meeting or you’ve got a big meeting the next day, and you’re like, “I can’t do it tonight because I’ve got to be prepared.” Like, “We’ve got a shift.” Or, the baby’s schedule keeps changing, it’s like, “Okay, we’ve got to figure something else out because I feel so unrested and the baby seems to be on this every two nights,” or whatever they do, they mix things up all the time and you just have to be adaptable.

Teri Miller:

Well, so the third question, which we’re kind of already talking about, is connecting with baby. Talk about that.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah. So I didn’t used to ask, well, in the early, very beginning, I didn’t ask that question because I didn’t see it as like that’s a problem that we’re not doing. Like because we are, we’re doing everything for baby typically. But then the problem that I was seeing was maybe one of us, and I won’t say who normally does this, but you can imagine, one of us is doing all these things. Then when our partner comes in and is trying to help, we critique how they do things and we micromanage them and sometimes they feel pushed out. So it’s like, “No, you both need to be having your relationship with the baby.” Whatever it looks like, and that’s going to look different and the baby’s going to have different experiences with the way diapers are changed and the way that you play and the way that you feed and that’s all okay.

Catherine O’Brien:

In fact, it’s really good for the baby to have different parenting styles. But letting each other do it their way, you know? I think there’s a learning curve for each parent and what they’re better at. My husband’s much better at some… Still is, but much better at certain things than I was. Like he could swaddle like… He was in the military too, so he had this type perfect swaddle, mine was always like the baby’s like falling out or whatever, and the way we changed diapers and all that stuff.

Catherine O’Brien:

It’s fine, but letting not hovering over what our partner is doing, because if the baby’s in distress. Like I had a mom tell me that. She said, because they had come to our workshop and she had told me that she remembered like her husband was changing a diaper and she kind of started to swoop in to be like, “Oh, I’ll do it,” because she could hear the baby crying and then finally she’s like, “No.” She heard us telling him like, “Don’t do that,” because let him figure out how he needed to do it.

Catherine O’Brien:

So she’s like, “I stepped back.” She’s like, “I even went for a walk, when I came back, they were laughing and they were playing together.” And she thought it was so sweet and she’s like, “I just remember like, ‘Oh I’m so glad I heard your voices because I think we would’ve ended up in an argument,” or something. Because nobody likes to be told how to do something or that they’re doing it wrong, especially in those moments and when we are trying to figure it out.

Catherine O’Brien:

But then the question… Like my kids are older now, like my oldest just turned 13 last week, which how in the world that happened, I’m not sure I’m still trying to grasp that I have a 13 year old. But I still have to ask those questions. I think these three questions we ask now until like forever. Yeah, I take my kids to soccer and if they need help with homework and I make food, and so I’m doing things for them, but am I like connecting and bonding with them? Like, do I still have a relationship and what is that going to look like as they get older, and making sure that my oldest is in that phase where they’re do more things with friends and kind of like, “Oh mom, back up a little bit.”

Catherine O’Brien:

But there are ways to make that quality time together, even if it’s shorter periods of times, less frequently, but making sure it’s still like, “Hey, he knows I’m here for him and can come to me when he needs me.”

Teri Miller:

Yeah. I think that’s so important. What you’re talking about, having different ways of connecting. Different partners will have different ways of connecting. Yeah, because it’s just going to be different if you’ve got one partner that’s breastfeeding, and another that doesn’t have that close, physical bonding and connection, they’ve got to find their own way to bond. If we have the close connection of breastfeeding, then we’ve got to let them find that way to bond. Like you said, without criticizing. That one parent may be super talkative with baby and talking through making dinner and making that there’s a real verbal connection. I mean, talking to baby is always important, no matter what.

Catherine O’Brien:

Right. Right.

Teri Miller:

But that’s not going to fit every parent and their personality. So yeah, for every parent, every listener to find your way to connect and bond with baby.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah. We don’t have to be good at all the things. I mean, I think that’s where it’s like, “Let us each find the thing that we’re good at.” Like my husband could, I remember him playing with them and he was so good and so creative, on the floor and they’ve set up all these little people things they had and they would do all the… They would do that for ever, like on the weekends and stuff, or even during the week. But I can talk and I can sing songs and make songs out of like anything. My ability to rhyme is pretty amazing. So I will sing the kids a song for almost anything.

Catherine O’Brien:

But it’s like, but yeah, “Please don’t make me sit on the floor and play for any length of time.” Like that just makes me feel like I get bored really easy. Then I’m like, feel like I’m not interested and I feel like they may sense it, and then I’d feel guilty and I would try. But I can talk to them and have them help me in the kitchen or whatever and sing songs, and that’s fine too. So it’s like figure out what it is that you like doing and build on that, but you don’t have to be good or even want to do all of those things.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah, you have this amazing quote in your book. I’m going to read it. On grace and permission. So you say, “You will never be able to do it all, and so you need to let go of that impossible standard. You need help. You need support. Sometimes you just need a break and some days you’ll be better at self-help than others, and that’s okay. Remember, your children, your partner, and your friends, don’t need you to be perfect. They need you to be real.”

Teri Miller:

So good.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So I just love that you’re advocating for that authenticity, right? That you’re not going to be the one that feels comfortable playing on the floor, but you are what makes you real and what makes you feel comfortable is that talking and singing with your child. So, perfection isn’t what your child needs. They just need you.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes. And believe me, I don’t have the best singing voice.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And children don’t care.

Catherine O’Brien:

No, they don’t care. They don’t care.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Right? So like I used to teach early childhood teachers. That was one of the biggest fears that they would share is leading songs in a preschool classroom. I would just say, “Children don’t care what your voice sounds like. They just want you to connect.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes. Yes. Yeah. I think that’s the thing about kids. I mean, I can be critical of myself, my kids are way less critical of me than… I mean maybe my 13 year old will tell you another story these days. But when they’re little and stuff like that, like they think that we’re perfect, they love us unconditionally and they just want that connection, that support, and all of those things, and just spend time together. So we don’t have to do all the fancy things for them.

Dr. Amy Moore:

All right. So we need to let Teri read a word from our sponsor. Then when we come back, we’ll wrap up and let you tell us how our listeners can find you.

Catherine O’Brien:

Okay.

Teri Miller: (Reading sponsor ad from LearningRx)

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Dr. Amy Moore:

We’re back talking to marriage and family therapist, Catherine O’Brien about her book and website Happy With Baby. Catherine, is there anything that you haven’t gotten to share today that you want our listeners to hear?

Catherine O’Brien:

I think we covered a lot. Yeah, I think you asked great questions. I don’t think that there’s anything. I guess, maybe to just follow-up a little bit about what we were talking about, is like, I guess if anything, I wish that parents wouldn’t be so hard on themselves. I think we constantly feel like we’re not doing enough. We see what someone else is doing on social media or neighbors are doing next door or whatever, and feeling like, Uh, we’re not doing enough, not doing enough.”

Catherine O’Brien:

Typically, I’ll tell parents, like, “If you’re worried that you’re not doing enough, you’re probably doing way more than you need to be doing.” But what your family needs and what somebody else’s family needs are going to be different. I think, I’m glad I had two kids because I realize like, one, in some ways was easier than other ways, and the second one is like the complete opposite, right? So it’s like they both have taught me so many different things. But what they both need is different. So it’s like we’re constantly having to adjust and adapt, but what my family needs, it’s not the same thing. So just focus on what you guys are doing, do you need help, do you need support, but then also look at and acknowledge all of your strengths and all of the things that you’re doing and just be proud of yourself. Because this is not easy. Being a parent is not for the faint of heart. That’s for sure.

Teri Miller:

Yes. Oh, so good. That’s such a good final word. Let’s all give ourselves grace.

Catherine O’Brien:

Yes. Yes,

Dr. Amy Moore:

Absolutely. So how can listeners find you if they want to learn more about you and your work?

Catherine O’Brien:

Yeah. So my website is happywithbaby.com and you can go on there, you can get a link to the book, and I have lots of like resources and everything on there. Then on social media, all @happywithbaby, because I like to keep it simple for myself, but yeah. So you can find me and I’ll share different things on there as well.

Dr. Amy Moore:

All right, fantastic. So this has been a wonderful conversation. We want to thank you Catherine O’Brien, for being our guest today and for sharing just some fantastic tips and advice with our listeners. If you would like more information about Catherine and her work, like she said, her website is happywithbaby.com. You can find her on social media @happywithbaby. We will put a link to her website, her social media handles and a link to her book in the show notes of Brainy Moms.

So, thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube, and you can find us on every social media platform @thebrainymoms. So look, until next time, we know that you’re busy moms, and we’re busy moms, so we are out.

Teri Miller:

See ya.

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Website: happywithbaby.com

Social Media: @happywithbaby

Link to buy her book: Happy With Baby: Essential Relationship Advice When Partners Become Parents

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