Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Preparing for Pregnancy/Parenthood as a Couple

QUESTION: My husband and I are trying to get pregnant, and parenting issues have already surfaced. Other than taking expensive classes, what can we do to insure we are ready to face these issues? Are there any particular books you recommend? Issues to discuss? I don't feel comfortable letting my "natural instincts" handle this.

ANSWER: The psychological work of pregnancy includes clarifying the kind of parents you want to be. We all begin with blueprints from our childhood experience. Sorting through the ways you felt your own mother and father parented will leave you with things you want to incorporate into your parenting and things you do not. The following exercise is one that can help you begin this exploration.


Role-play your mother while answering the following questions about you as a child. Have your partner ask these questions of you. Fill your own name in the blank. Repeat the exercise role-playing your father. Do the same exercise with your spouse role-playing his father and mother while you ask the questions of him. Take time in between each set of questions to discuss the feelings, thoughts and reflections that arise from answering these questions about your mother and father. You may also want to take time following each set of questions to discuss together how each of you were parented, and what you want to repeat and incorporate in your own parenting and what you do not.

  1. What was the experience of being a mother (father) like for you?
  2. What did you like most about raising _______?
  3. What was most difficult for you in raising ______?
  4. If you had it to do over again, is there anything you would change or do differently?
  5. What are your feelings about _____ having a baby now?

Topics that are important to you will naturally come forth for examination. Continue discussing these topics during the course of the pregnancy. Ask yourself what kind of mother or father you want to be. Also, ask your partner what kind of parent he thinks you will be. Share with him the kind of father you think he will be. Include the positive and the negative. The questions below can serve as a guide for this discussion:

  1. What kind of mother/father do you want to be? What kind of parent do you think your partner will be? Identify strengths and weaknesses.

  2. How do you see needing help from your partner? What is important to you in this parenting partnership?

  3. What kind of birth do you want to plan? What is important to you in the childbirth experience?

  4. How will you share parenting/caretaking responsibilities in the first year of your child's life? By age five?

  5. How will you make space for a children your lives? What will you compromise? What will you gain?

  6. How will you both continue to nourish and care for the marriage? yourself?

Working together as a team to address these issues is the beginning of your parenting partnership! Remember that it is your job to criticize the last generation, in order to make improvements in the next. Criticizing how your parents raised you does not mean that you don't love them dearly. It means you are simply doing your job in determining from the vantage point of the present how well their leadership worked and where it failed. And remember that it is not possible or necessary to be a "perfect" parent. There are none! But it is feasible to be what the famous British pediatrician and child psychiatrist D.W.Winnecott was fond of calling "the good enough" parent.


Very helpful information on becoming parents, including exploring new roles and expectations for mothers and fathers in our generation can be found in the third chapter of psychiatrists' Karen Johnson's book, "Trusting Ourselves" (Atlantic Monthly Press) as well as my articles on the family on the parentsplace.com web site. My book "An Easier Childbirth" (Shadow and Light Publications) also assists couples in preparing for the psychological aspects of pregnancy and becoming family together. New and expectant parents groups may also be available in your community. New fathers groups can be particularly helpful to men during this transition. Talking with other men about fatherhood provides important camaraderie that a wife cannot offer -- as do mothering groups assist women in finding their own voice as new mothers. Dr. Bruce Linton's articles on fatherhood also available on this web site are a great resource for new dads. Use them!

And remember that you will adjust and adapt to your child over time. Meeting your baby for the first time will be an event of great magnitude in both your and your husband's lives. But getting to know who your child is, what she or he responds to, what makes her or him happy, sad, glad or mad is a lifetime endeavor. You will learn and grow as you go! And you are not alone, you have one another to lean on.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com