Stuart: Hi there, and welcome to The Couples Expert Podcast. Today is February 21, and what’s sort of exciting for me is it is the birthday of my daughter, who’s turning 19. My mother also has a birthday today, so I get to sing Happy Birthday twice, and we get to have a competition between: who do I call first and how do I be with both of them today? And guess what? Both of them are not available today, so I don’t have to decide, which is pretty cool.
Anyway, when we talk about attachments, what’s more struggling than wanting to be close to both people who are so important in your life, and knowing that the two of them have a birthday that’s sort of special, that they get to celebrate on the same day, and I need to try to figure out how I’m going to split myself between my mother, who just turned 85, and my daughter who’s turned 19? So, I get to try to figure that one out, but it’s okay because, typically, what we do is, we all celebrate together. But, my mother today is in Sedona at the Sedona Film Festival, which is a really cool event in Sedona, Arizona, if some of you don’t know it. And my daughter, who’s an ASU student, who also works, is busy working. So, I’m going to have to find other days and other times to celebrate their birthdays.
Well, today we’re going to talk a little bit about kids and parenting, but in a much different way. We’re going to talk about how to stay close and connected, and how to maintain a really happy, close relationship when you have a newborn. And it is a difficult thing, and most people would not necessarily say the first part of their life with their child is very happy, it’s more of a struggle. But, we’re bringing on Catherine O’Brien and her husband, Rick Heyer, to talk about how the two of them have worked this out.
Catherine is a therapist out of Sacramento, who I’ve known for a while, who’s going to be sharing with us lots of insights and specific ways that she and her husband have found to do that, and she has shared this with countless couples in her practice who have been able to be happy with baby.
Before we get to that, though, I wanted to remind everyone that my show notes will be on my website and you will be able to get all the essential information, resources, links. There’s also an announcement on my couples’ weekend retreat, Two Days, Seven Conversations, that I’m going to be doing on March 5th and 6th, that if you want to sign up for that, it’s there as well. And, Catherine is also going to be giving to us, a free video to help all of us with our parenting.
So, what can I tell you about Catherine? Catherine O’Brien is a relationship therapist who specializes in helping families really prepare for the transition from pregnancy to parenthood. And what she does in order to accomplish that, is helps parents manage that feeling of being so overwhelmed, and creating a real, deepening connection between the two of you as a couple. She’s the founder of the website, and I love the website that she’s come up with and the name, it’s HappyWithBaby.com. And what she provides is some counseling services, but what she also does is provide some coaching for new, and not only the new parents, but when couples first find out that they’re expecting a baby, and all the feelings and emotions that come with that. So, she helps both the new parents and also the expecting parents.
And one of the things that I love that she does is, she does this course on managing expectations, because I think it’s the expectations of parenting that really gets in the way sometimes. If some of you who’ve been listening on my show for a while remember Elly Taylor, and Elly, out of Australia, talked a lot about this, so I’m going to be really interested to see the difference between Elly’s approach and what Catherine provides.
Now, what can I tell you about her husband? Rick is a partner, he’s an attorney, and together, they really have found a way to make this work for them. And they have two kids, they have a six-year-old and a two-year-old, and they do this parenting together, and they also do this workshop together that I was talking about earlier. So, what they have found is that if they work together, that feeling of being overwhelmed, and exhaustion, and just your doubts of yourself and how competent you are, it goes away because you’re not doing it alone.
So, I really am excited, Catherine, to have you on the show, so welcome to The Couples Expert Podcast.
Catherine: Thank you, Stuart. We’re really excited to be here.
Stuart: Oh, actually I take that back because I don’t want to slight your husband! I apologize from the very beginning, here. Us guys need a presence in this, don’t we, Rick?
Rick: Hi, Stuart.
Stuart: So, welcome, Rick Heyer, to The Couples Expert, as well as Catherine.
Catherine: Thank you.
Rick: Thank you.
Stuart: So, I guess one of the questions I’d like to start with is really for you, Catherine. And actually, before I even begin, I want to just sort of share that I’m a newbie at this because this is really the first time I’ve ever done a podcast with two people at the same time. So, it’s pretty interesting, and it’s an exciting thing to have both of you here because it’s not typical and I want to really have both of you participate equally today in talking about what, Catherine, you’re doing with your practice, and also the program that the two of you are involved with.
So, let me start with you, Catherine, and just sort of ask, what prompted you to even decide to become a therapist?
Catherine: Oh, wow, that’s a good question. I’ve known I wanted to be a therapist or somewhere in this field since I was little, like elementary school. And so, I graduated high school, I knew I was going to major in psychology and I did, and then I went and got my Master’s in psychology, but I think, beyond that, I didn’t really know what I wanted my focus to be. I like working with adolescents, I like working with young adults, but then, I found my true passion after we had our first child.
Stuart: So you knew you wanted to be a therapist from the time you were in elementary school? Did I hear that right?
Stuart: So are you one of these little kids that would go around and try to help everybody? In class, when someone got in trouble, you’d go up and say, “Aw, it’s going to be okay.” Were you counseling little kids then?
Catherine: Right, yeah, I think on some level I always did like helping. Like if somebody needed notes taken, I would be like, “Yeah, I’ll copy my notes for you.” You know, just things like that. If they had a program at school, you know, like co… What do you call that? I can’t even think of the name now, but like co-peer relation stuff, I always wanted to do that. I liked going to the younger grades and helping out. I was just always, yeah, that’s always been who I was.
Stuart: That’s great. So, it really was a calling for you.
Catherine: Yes. I think so, yeah.
Stuart: And Rick, you’re an attorney, as I mentioned in the introduction. How about for you? What led you to decide to go into law?
Rick: Well, I was in the service in my 20s and when I got out I wasn’t ready to be an adult yet, so I figured the best way to delay that was to keep going to school, and law school seemed like a logical choice, so here I am.
Stuart: So are you implying that most lawyers are immature? And that’s why you decided you’d stay out of the real world and be a lawyer, right?
Rick: I can’t speak for most lawyers, I can only speak for myself, but that was basically the thought process for me.
Stuart: That sort of fits, I think, for most of us that have been in school for so long and then decide, “Hey, maybe it’s time to really start doing something with our life.”
Rick: Yeah, yeah.
The Transition to Parenthood Isn’t Easy for Anyone
Stuart: So, for you Catherine, you’re saying that you really got this passion when you had your first child.
Stuart: And so, talk a little bit about that and what it was that sort of led you to decide to specialize in the sort of prenatal, early childhood development.
Catherine: Well, so I, as a new mom, had no clue as to anything about having a baby. I didn’t have much experience with babies, and so I’d have to say I was honestly petrified. I remember the first time Rick had to go to work and left me at home by myself, and I remember sitting in the rocking chair holding my son, thinking, “I hope he doesn’t need anything beyond me feeding him or changing a diaper because I’m not sure I can do this.”
But, I did, definitely with encouragement and support from Rick, and then also my mother and my mother-in-law, but just going to different mom’s groups and listening to stories from other moms and struggles that they were having, that were either similar to the ones that I was having or even having a much more difficult time.
You know, Rick and I, we had been married a couple months when we got pregnant with our son, so we celebrated our first anniversary with a three-week-old. And we had a really good relationship, and I thought a really strong relationship, and for whatever reason (and it’s kind of embarrassing to say this), as a couples therapist, it didn’t dawn on me how truly difficult it was going to be on our relationship, having this tiny newborn that needed so much from us. And so, yeah, we had challenges, and would argue and get irritated with each other, and it just made me feel isolated and lonely, and it was like, “Why is this even happening?” This is not something I was used to experiencing with Rick.
Stuart: That feeling of loneliness, you’re talking about.
Catherine: Yeah, yeah.
Stuart: And for you, Rick, what was that like for you?
Rick: The transition to parenthood?
Rick: Very similar to what it was for Catherine in a lot of ways. I had had a little bit more experience with babies and toddlers than she had, so it didn’t petrify me to be alone with him, but it was the first time I’d ever been responsible for a baby day in/day out. You know, you think you know what’s going to happen, but until you’re in the trenches with it, it’s really eye-opening. And so, I think that we both went through periods of being frustrated with each other and not really understanding why.
And I just remember thinking, when our son was about a year old, that I wished somebody had sat us down and really told us what it was going to be like, and not the platitudes that everyone is told about how it’s going to be the happiest time of their life because it certainly can be that, but then it has a lot of challenges. And I think what we’ve tried to do is be, in our course, be as honest as possible about addressing those challenges so that people don’t have the same trials that we went through.
Stuart: It really is the expectations that get in the way, and I think it starts, really, obviously the media does a bunch of stuff with that, but even if you start thinking about, you know, when someone is pregnant, and people walk up to them and say, “Oh, you look like you’re glowing! This is so good. You look better than I’ve ever seen you and you look happier than I’ve ever seen you.” So I think that sort of carries with a bit to where, when you have this new life then, and maybe you have some other types of feelings that come up, how you sort of begin to process that within yourself.
Rick: And I agree with that.
Stuart: Like, “Shouldn’t I be happier?” kind of thing.
Rick: Right, and I think that’s the thing, is that not only do you have these feelings, but there’s guilt for having those feelings.
Catherine: Right. Well, and I think now, too, especially with social media and stuff, you know, you see people posting these pictures and a lot of it’s always about how happy they are, and these perfect pregnancy pictures and these perfect newborn pictures, and stuff like that, and what you don’t know, what is really happening sometimes behind those pictures and the struggles. But, I’ve talked to several moms and they’ll see that and they’ll be like, “I don’t feel that. Like, I can’t even get it together to get pictures taken.” So, “I’m a bad mom because I’m not doing the ‘every month taking a picture’, and I don’t have my baby book finished,” and, you know, all those comparisons that they go through, and just feeling inadequate, as well.
Stuart: Right, you just feel like, “I’ll be lucky if I can get out of bed, let alone to look like…and put myself together to have a picture taken.”
You Are Not Alone!
Stuart: You know what was interesting is, I have a daughter, and I think I mentioned my daughter’s birthday is today, but her sister who is now 21, was born with a tremendous amount of medical problems, and we learned about it prenatally. And one of the things that we learned through this process, is how unusual it is to have a baby that’s born healthy, and that the statistics actually work against you to have a normal child with no problems and just a smooth delivery. And that sort of leads, to me, with what you’re saying, is this whole concept of, “Here I am and I have this struggle, and I think that it’s a problem,” when for most people, I think, it’s more the norm, isn’t it?
Rick: I think that’s certainly been our experience, talking to couples that are postpartum and, you know, when you have honest conversations with family members, you get to that point where, yeah, it’s hard for everyone. And so, what we try to do, not only is to make people aware of what’s going to be coming, but that the things that they’re going to go through are very common, very universal, and they’re not by themselves or even unique in having these feelings and these issues.
Stuart: Right. And one of the things that I specialize in is a couples counseling that’s related to attachments, and I know, Catherine, you too are very much involved with that whole concept of, it’s really the attachments that you want to focus on as a couple. And when you have this other life here, and the last thing you feel is close to your partner because of so many things, the impact of that is just so tremendous, because you mentioned that whole feeling of feeling lonely.
Stuart: I wonder a little bit how the two of you dealt with that feeling of being alone.
Catherine: You know, honestly, I tell this story on my website, as well, but there was a specific time I worked on Saturdays for a while. So, we had managed my schedule, being in private practice, in a way that we optimized our time at home with our son. So, I worked Saturdays for a while, and on my way to work one day, Rick and I had gotten into, I’m sure, some kind of disagreement or whatever, and I left the house crying and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to go help other couples and I’m crying on my way to work because I’m not connecting even with my own husband? How am I supposed to help other people?”
And I called one of my girlfriends who’s also a therapist, and her kids are older, a little bit older than mine, which I’m like, “Thank goodness!” so I had her wisdom, but she said, “Well, when was the last time you guys were on a date?” And I was like, “We haven’t been on a date! We have a new baby. What? What are you talking about?” And so, I went home that evening and it was just better, talking to her. Her validating how I was feeling was normal just put me in a much better space, and I went home, and my mother was visiting at that time, so she watched our son for us, and we just went out and I think had a drink or went out for dessert or something, and just sat and talked. And just having that time together, you know, just really, I found it was really important for us.
And I joke about this, but I always gauge how I know we need to spend more time together on how little things about him irritate me. Like if he doesn’t wipe down the sink after shaving or something, if that irritates me, then I’m like, “Oh shoot, we need to up our game here and go out for a date or something.” You know, because usually that kind of stuff doesn’t bother me.
Stuart: So he needs to come up with lots of triggers that bother you, then, so that you feel you can go on lots of dates, it sounds like.
Catherine: Exactly. But, you know what I mean? I think when we’re not connecting as a couple, the little things bother us. You know, I’ll talk to couples and it’s like, “Oh, well they do ‘this’ to me.” And it’s like, “Well, they’re not doing it to you. It’s not like they’re trying to drive you crazy.” But, I think it’s when you’re not spending that time together, it feels like that. It feels like every little thing kind of brings you apart, kind of divides you more and more. Does that make sense?
Stuart: Yeah, it does, but what’s interesting, and I think as a man, and I guess I want to hear your opinion on this, Rick, is sort of like, who gets to decide that? And I think that’s what gets to become such a huge issue for couples. What I heard is, you know, Catherine sort of talked to her friend, and then came home and said, “You know, maybe we should go out on dates,” but I would guess that for you, you wanted to do that also. And so how, as a couple, do you sort of negotiate whose feelings about it… How do you get to do it as a couple and have both people feel that they’re equally important?
Rick: Well, I think that, you know, Catherine does tell that story, and while I don’t remember the specific day, I do remember feeling like we were not connecting, and after that time, when we’ve had that feeling, she’s had it or I’ve had it, it’s really either one of us can say, “Hey, we need to have a date night, or go out to lunch,” some time where we are able to sit down and talk without the kids, without family, without work, where we can just reconnect. And so, to your question, I think either one of us can ask for it, and we both honor it when the other partner asks and says, “Hey we need to make time for this.”
Stuart: Right, and I guess my point, though, isn’t so much with the two of you because I think that the two of you are sort of fortunate that you have this really connected relationship where you could be vulnerable with one another. What I find more struggling is to have two people who may be thinking some of these types of things, but think that if they bring up, their partner’s going to look at them like, “Are you crazy? What do you mean, we’re going to go out? What about our child here?” And it becomes this really pulling away from one another, as opposed to what it sounds like you do such a good job with, is you pull toward each other.
All for One, and One for All
Rick: Well, what we try to do in our course is, we try to talk about how this is a team effort, that the baby is going to be happiest when the team, i.e., Mom and Dad, or Mom and Mom, Dad and Dad, are working together to have a safe, healthy, happy home. And what we also try to tell our couples that come to our course is that if you are not happy as a couple, you are not being the best parents you can be. So, really, if you view it as working as a team for the betterment, for the health of your child, then it’s not about being vulnerable, it’s about strengthening the team.
Stuart: Right, so it’s really a, and I’m going to sort of call this, we were talking before we started recording, that some of what you guys look at is the whole postpartum piece, and I like to think of it, as a couple you have postpartum depression, the relationship has postpartum depression, and I think everyone has it.
Stuart: So it’s, how do you acknowledge that you already have this thing, and then how do you change it into a different experience?
Stuart: I love that sigh because it is, it does feel so heavy sometimes.
Catherine: You know, yeah, it does, and I’ve talked to moms and I’ve talked to dads, who feel like, “Hey, I’m experiencing ‘this’ and my partner doesn’t seem to get there or they won’t acknowledge it.” And I think that’s always the hardest part, is when your other partner, you feel like they’re not seeing things the same way that you are and on some level makes you feel crazy, or like you’re the one with the issue. So, I mean, I think it’s important to state what you need in your relationship.
We talk about, in our workshop, and I talk about this with couples in my practice, is about developing this postpartum plan, and there’s three key elements to that, I think.
- Number one is, how are you going to make sure that you’re connecting with your partner on a regular basis? What are the things that you’re going to do, either daily, weekly, monthly, to make sure that you’re connecting?
- And then, what are the things that you’re going to do to support your partner, also, in making time for themselves, as well, and what does that look like, again, daily, weekly, monthly?
- And then, of course, there’s that time, how are you going to bond with your child?
And we always say, you know, this is the postpartum plan, but I mean, I think those three things are important at whatever stage your child is at. I mean, when they’re a year old, and when they’re school age, and teenagers, I feel like those kind of three things are what you need to do to look at your relationship to make sure that it’s strong and healthy throughout the being a parent, or in a marriage, really, a relationship.
Stuart: I mean, I love what you just said because it’s simple, but yet, it’s not simple to do.
Stuart: And, it’s clear and I think that’s what I sort of really appreciate about the two of you, is that in this course that you do and in your practice that you help couples, it’s sort of taking a look at, what are the unrealistic expectations that people come in with, and then how do you turn those into something that’s actually doable.
Stuart: And that’s what those three things are because you’re right, if you connect on a regular basis as a couple, you’re going to feel closer and more like a team.
Stuart: If you’re nurturing yourself, you’re going to feel better. And then, if you’re bonding and having the attachments in your life, you know, it just makes everything easier to contend with, doesn’t it?
Through Dad’s Eyes
Stuart: And Rick, sort of from your perspective, and some of the sort of… And I think one of the, as we’ve been talking about, one of the biggest problems are those unrealistic expectations and that people don’t talk about that. What do you think, from a male perspective or from a man’s point of view, what do you feel like some of the unrealistic expectations that you went into this with, or we all go into this, that you’ve learned really is not something that is reality?
Rick: I certainly felt this myself, and I heard it expressed from dads that have been in our course, the idea that, “Oh, I can do it all. I can go to work, I can come home, and I can stay up all night if necessary, and I can spot my wife whenever she needs help. And I will do it and I will not be upset about doing it, and I will do it with a smile.” We try to talk a lot about that, about being realistic about our abilities and our need to work together.
One of the things that we talk about is, we have a scenario that we throw out to the group: It’s 3:00 a.m., the baby’s crying, (let’s take breastfeeding out of the equation), it’s 3:00 a.m, somebody needs to go get that baby. You, Dad, have heard the baby crying and you’re pretty sure Mom has too. What are you going to do? And we use that as a jumping off point. You know, invariably the Dad will always say, “Well, I’ll get it. I’ll get up.”
But then, we throw on a next step: Well, let’s just say you feel like you got the baby the last time the baby cried at 3:00 a.m. What are you going to do then? And the point, really, isn’t so much what are you going to do, but to think about how you’re going to address that, both now, before the baby comes, talking about having a plan for what we’re going to do at night, but also to try to get people thinking about, “I’m not going to keep score. I’m not going to be keeping a score about how much I’ve done compared to my partner. We’re going to work through that before we even get to that score-keeping stage.”
So, for me, it was learning how to communicate when I felt like I’ve taken more than my share, which, you know, who knows how based in reality it was, but that was the feeling that I had. And learning how to express that to Catherine, and vice versa, I think was very important for us.
Stuart: So, you’re really talking about sort of setting your own personal limits with yourself and being able to share those with your partner.
Rick: Yes, absolutely.
Stuart: You know, I love sort of the scenario you gave, but I would have added one more: And you have a 7:00 a.m. meeting in the morning.
Catherine: Right, there you go! There you go.
Stuart: So, then what? Or, we could twist it even further and go: You have a 7:00 a.m. meeting in the morning and your wife has done it every time over the last week. Now what do you do?
Stuart: So that there isn’t a struggle between the two of you, and what it really goes to is, you’d better talk about this before you get there.
Catherine: Right, right.
Stuart: Not at 3:00 in the morning.
Catherine: It never goes well at 3:00 in the morning.
Stuart: Right, right. And then, I think the classic one for me is as a man, it’s always about feeling less important, and how do you deal with that feeling of, you watch, you know, the comfort that eventually, hopefully, happens with Mom and the child, in terms of childhood care and all those things, and then the child, universally, asks for Mom and you want them to ask for you.
Rick: Right. We do try to talk about that, and I think one of the ways that you work through that is the dad has to jump in there. It can’t always be Mom comforting a crying baby. Dad has to have time where that crying baby is going to have to rely on Dad as well. And you’re right, babies are going to cry for Mom, but they’re not going to be so upset if Dad shows up if Dad has shown up before.
Rick: And I think that’s important for the dads to hear, but I also think that’s important for the moms to hear, that they have to allow their partner that opportunity to fail, to not have an absolute success the first time they go in there, but to work it out and try to establish that rapport and that ability to handle the baby.
Catherine: You know, and I talk to moms a lot about this because it’s usually, probably 99% of time in my experience with moms, where they feel like the baby cries and Dad’s trying to soothe the baby, and they feel like they have to jump in because the baby’s crying longer than they’re comfortable with. And so, I talk to them about, you know, “It’s a learning curve for all of us.” It’s like, yeah, we might be able to do it faster because we can feed the baby, especially if you’re breastfeeding, and we’re Mom and the baby’s been with us for nine-plus months already, so it’s easier for us to soothe the baby.
And we might be able to do it faster, but if you always jump in and take over for Dad, that can take a toll on him, as well, in feeling like, “I’m not even competent to do it.” So then, he’s not going to want to step in. And I’ve had moms thank me later and say, “Thank you so much for pointing that out to me because I am, I’m the type that wants to control and do everything, and I’m able to recognize that I need to let my partner figure it out, as well.”
Stuart: And I think it’s not always a control issue, I think some of it is wanting to be helpful and also, and I see this, I think more than the other, which is wanting to not have this child who you care so much about be unhappy.
Catherine: Right, right.
Stuart: And see the pain and the anguish, and the tears and all of that, and getting caught up in that, and I think that’s where the other things that I see a lot of, that is just so dangerous, is moms and dads that then begin to have the child sleeping with them. And then, the impact of that on the intimacy, and I think we’re really beginning to maybe need to talk a little bit about that, and what some of the things you’re saying about, how do you deal with a very young baby and keep your sex life alive, and the intimacy?
Rick: This is usually where I turn the course over to Catherine.
Stuart: So you just quietly are upset, right?
Catherine: Yeah, he quietly steps back, yeah.
Rick: Yeah, I go hide behind the poster board, and then she talks about intimacy. That way I can’t see her get red when she answers.
Stuart: Oh, okay.
Rick: Actually, she does a great job with it, and what she’s going to do right now. Take it away!
Baby is not a Couple’s Only Priority
Catherine: Well, I mean, I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier, is making time. Like for Rick and I, making that time to connect on a regular basis, and making time for dates and scheduling it in. And I think before having a baby, you kind of take for granted being able to go out, and have sex whenever you want, and whatever, but I think after baby, you kind of have to put it on the schedule. You have to like, “This is a priority,” otherwise it’s just not going to happen. We need to put on there, times that we’re going to meet for lunch, or go out to dinner.
A recent thing I’ve been telling couples that I work with, because the excuse is always, “Oh, I couldn’t get a sitter, so we didn’t go,” so now my thing is, have a regular, ideally weekly, babysitter time, whether it’s in the afternoon one day, or if it is in the evening, whatever works for your schedule, but have it set every week, “This is our time,” so then your decision is, “What are we going to do?” and not “We can’t find a sitter.” You know?
So, I think it’s making sex a priority. And, yeah, sometimes we’re going to need to sleep and probably in those early days it does not happen, but I think it’s having that intimacy and spending time together, and closeness and feeling connected, whether you’re just holding hands on the couch, watching a movie, or you’re playing a game together and laughing, or you go for a walk around the neighborhood. Whatever it is, but it’s making sure that you spend time together and that it’s a priority.
Stuart: See, and what I hear quite often is, it’s not so much about whether or not you’re having sex, it’s whether or not you want to have sex. And the arguments that I see with couples is less about, “We do everything we can do to try to get there, but it doesn’t happen because of the kids or whatever,” but, “I miss that,” and letting each other know that you miss that.
Catherine: Right, right.
Stuart: The bigger issue, then, just the act of doing it, and I noticed what happened with you and Rick here, when we brought up the topic, is just the sense of humor that the two of you have with one another is so wonderful because it’s clearly a partnership, and that’s the piece that I think people begin to lose sight of, which is why, when the discussion about scheduling sex… It’s not about scheduling sex, it’s about scheduling time to have sex.
Catherine: Yes. Yeah.
Rick: Yes. Well, and I think that this whole thing that we’re talking about, it’s all holistic, right? When we go back to talking about the idea of a team, if you feel like you’re in a partnership or a team with your spouse, it’s just going to make the intimacy that much more possible to happen, much more likely, versus when one or both partners are feeling estranged from each other because they don’t know what their role is, or are uncomfortable with what their role is, in this new environment that they found themselves in.
How Did the Class Come to Be?
Stuart: You know, we’re getting close to winding down timewise. One of the things I want to make sure we get to is this class that you guys offer, and sort of how you two sort of came about doing this as a couple, as opposed to most people are doing this, one or the other doing it.
Catherine: Yeah, so, it’s kind of interesting how it even came about. So, going to these different moms’ groups, and our own experience, I started compiling a list of ‘these are all the things I wish I would have known’. And, at the time, I was attending a postpartum sculpt class and I would take my son with me, and the woman that ran the program was opening up her own business. And so, she was going to be offering other classes, like childbirth classes, and this and that, and she asked me, we were talking one day, and she’s like, “So, what is it you do?” And I said, “Oh, I’m a marriage and family therapist.” And she’s like, “Oh, you want to teach a class for me?” And I’m like, “Yes, I have the perfect idea for a class!”
So, her and I sat down, and she’s a childbirth educator, and we laid out an outline and did this curriculum for this class, and the very first time, her and I taught it together. And as I was preparing and practicing for it, I had asked Rick to help me. And he’s a really good teacher, and he really knows how to tie things together. So, as he was helping me, I would say something and he would say it back to me or whatever, and I was like, “Oh, I really wish you could teach this with me.” And he was like, “Yeah, that would be kind of cool.” Or, I don’t know what you said, but something like, “Yeah, I would do that. That sounds cool.”
So, after her and I taught the class, she said to me, “Hey, let’s do this again, but I can’t teach it. Why don’t you teach it by yourself?” And I just said, “What if I taught it with my husband?” And she was definitely onboard for that, and that’s how it started, like that.
Stuart: And what’s so great about that is, because so many men go into these classes thinking they’re the bad guys, and to see a man up there as well, just makes everything okay.
Catherine: Yeah. Well, and I think Rick offers just a realistic dad perspective, what it’s like to be a full-time working father with children and how you balance those things. So, I think he really offers a good, realistic view. And, honestly, I’ll run into either couples, or one of the couples after our class now and again, and they’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, when we were in your class, I remember when you said ‘this, this and that’,” and I’ll be like, “That’s what Rick said!” You know, like, “You remember what he said?” You know, I think they value having both perspectives.
Stuart: And I think what it also does is it shows, with the two of you, because I’m sure, and you could tell me if I’m wrong, Rick, but I think I’m pretty sure what I’m about to say is accurate, you two don’t always agree with each other, and how you deal with that difference is important for people to see.
Rick: Of course we don’t always agree with each other.
Stuart: At least publicly, right?
Rick: Well, that’s actually…
Catherine: It’s actually happened in our class sometimes.
Rick: Right. Yeah, we’ve done this class now quite a few times and I think we have it down pretty well, but there in the beginning, I remember Catherine, I was saying something, I have no idea what I was saying, but Catherine actually said, “What are you saying?” And we glossed over that and then later we had to have a talk. “We can’t do that to each other. We have to be… You can’t undercut what I’m saying and I can’t undercut what you’re saying, and we have to work those problems out before we get in there.”
Catherine: Which is kind of true in dealing with children.
Rick: It’s the exact same thing, that you have to have some kind of plan for how you’re going to handle things before you hit the ground. And that’s really what we try to convey, is that we’re not going to get you through every single situation, but the more you’re prepared for it, and the more you have created a pathway to deal with it, the better you’re going to be.
Stuart: So, if you have a plan on how to stay close, how to make the parenting more realistic or your expectation of the developmental issues even more realistic, then that plan can take you anywhere you want it to take you, and it will keep you close and connected, is what you’re saying.
Rick: Absolutely, and the very first thing that we do when we start off in the class is we have the couple, separately, write down their four or five major concerns about…
Catherine: This transition.
Rick: The transition. And we do that for a variety of reasons. One, so that they can see that they had a lot of commonality, that they’re not unique, but the other reason we do it is so that they have a jumping off point, once they leave our course, to talk about, “Hey, how are we going to address these issues? What are we going to do together to make them not so scary?” And I think that’s probably the best way that we could articulate what the class is about, is to try to make this transition period something that you get through as a couple, together, as a stronger couple, but also with a happy baby, happy, healthy baby, at the end.
Stuart: And that there’s no perfect way.
Rick: No, there’s your way.
Catherine: There’s your way.
Rick: Yeah, there’s your way.
Stuart: And how do you make it unique for you.
Stuart: I mean, one of the things that I do in a course that I do with couples, is I have them, you know, when things get…their cycles that they get, I ask them to name the cycle. I think that you need to have sort of a name for the two of you because we all know and understand sport teams and things like that, so “We’re The Higher Team, and together we’re going to do it the higher way!” you know, that kind of thing. It just becomes something… It doesn’t have to be so serious all the time.
Stuart: You know, the two of you really do quite a service for the community in all the things you’re doing because what you’re really talking about is not just a… I’m sorry, I’m forgetting how long your class is. Is it a weekend or is it a… two hours?
Catherine: It’s a two-hour course.
Stuart: Okay, you’re really talking about not just taking the two hours and saying we’re going to deal with everything there, but it’s really going to be a work in progress to help couples know that this lifelong.
Stuart: This is not just now, but in the future too, and that what’s important, is how you feel about each other and keeping close.
Stuart: So, as I said, we’re pretty much out of time, but I usually like to end the podcast with sort of a particular kind of question, and I’d like both of you to answer it. Through your work together, not so much as a couple in a relationship, but through the things that have sort of transitioned with you doing the class, what surprised you about yourself in the things that you learned and found out just by doing the class?
Rick: I’m going to let you take that one first.
Catherine: Wow, that’s a good question, Stuart. Wow.
Stuart: The things that surprised you.
Catherine: Well, I guess in some ways, anyone who knew me back when I was younger, would never suspect that I would do any sort of public speaking. I was one to quickly cry at the thought of standing up in front of a bunch of people. So, I think, if anything, I’ve learned that not only, can I do this, but I love it. I really get excited every time we have a workshop coming up because I love the couples, I always learn something new, and it just kind of keeps me energized for doing the work that I do and want to keep doing it.
And so, I think that’s the most exciting part about, kind of even going back to your question about how I got into this. I mean, I knew I wanted to be a therapist of some sort, but honestly, I didn’t know what kind, and now I’m like, “Yeah! This is totally, this is what I love doing.” I love going to work. I love seeing the couples and stuff like that, and so I guess, being able to get up and speak, and share the things that we know and, hopefully, help other couples not go through some of the challenges that we did, is fun.
Stuart: So your passion is what, really, you’re talking about, isn’t it, that you’re so passionate, because you are, I could tell. You’re just so passionate about this.
Catherine: Yeah, I do… I love… Yeah. I could go on and on.
Stuart: How about you, Rick?
Rick: Well, I guess the thing that’s been surprising to me is, when I first started this I had some trepidation. I’m not a trained therapist, although I do represent therapists, so I know the lingo, but I had a little bit of nervousness about standing up there in this context. But, I guess what’s been surprising to me is that it’s been great working with Catherine and get with the couples, and just giving our experience and what that’s taught us, and helping them, hopefully, avoid those same pitfalls that we went through.
Stuart: And you’re very eloquent and I think that probably, you know, partly due to being an attorney, but I think what it sounds like you do such a good job with, Rick, is really being able to talk the language, the lingo, and helping people feel normal, especially dads.
Catherine: I think so.
Stuart: I think us dads really need to feel normal and we don’t most of the time.
Catherine: Yes, I agree with that, Stuart.
Stuart: So, I just want to thank you both again for coming on to the podcast and sharing with everybody. And the last thing before we stop is I want you to tell everyone about your classes coming up. You have one, don’t you?
Catherine: Yeah, our next workshop is in April, so we’re excited about that.
Stuart: How can people register?
Catherine: On my website, if you go to HappyWithBaby.com, there’s a tab that says Classes + Events, and there’s a calendar, and you can scroll to April 15th. The next one’s April 15th, but the exciting thing, too, is that we’re getting ready to launch a retreat. So, basically, taking a lot of the concepts from our course and expanding them a bit due to feedback from other parents wanting more of it, and so, making it into a weekend retreat, and calling it A Baby Moon retreat. There’s a lot of couples that go away before the baby comes, and so kind of want to incorporate a place that is relaxing and beautiful, and then also being able to really work and focus on the relationship, and be able to have this postpartum plan for after baby comes.
Stuart: And one of the things I’m going to do just to remind everyone, is I’m going to put information, both about the workshop as well as the course on the show notes. And the other thing, Catherine, that you’re doing to my listeners…well, for my listeners, not doing to them, but for them, is you’re giving something to the listeners, aren’t you? You’ll have a video that you’re going to be offering free and there’ll be information on how to get it, and it’s called Rockin’ with Baby, if I remember right?
Catherine: Yeah, Rockin’ Your Relationship as Baby Comes Home.
Stuart: So if you click on the link in the show notes, Catherine is going to be sending you a video on how to keep your relationship close and connected while dealing with a small life in your home, and staying close in spite of that. So, thank you again, guys, and we’ll see you guys next time.
Catherine: Thanks so much, Stuart.
Rick: All right, thank you, Stuart.