A guest blog by Jan Mitcheson
Becoming a parent is a tricky time
It is now well established that a strong parental couple relationship provides the emotional bedrock for the healthy development of babies and children and that this is particularly crucial in the early years of life. Yet, for many couples, becoming parents and adapting to family life can be challenging and stressful. Differences in hopes, expectations, and values often emerge and, over time, can become magnified and exaggerated, particularly when parents are worried and exhausted and experience financial and social constraints. It is therefore not surprising that up to two thirds of couples experience a dip in relationship satisfaction, and increased relationship distress and conflict at this time.
It is how parents argue that is important
Conflict in families is normal and it is helpful when children see their parents resolve their disagreements and role model helpful communication. But when conflict is hostile, poorly resolved and involves the children (EIF 2016) then children are more likely to experience anxiety and depression, have physical health problems, do less well in school and have relationship difficulties later in life. Parents who are in distressed and conflicted relationships are less able offer to provide a warm and secure environment or to be emotionally available and attuned to their children – so vital to growth and development.
Health visitors can make a difference.
Health visitors, as specialists in early intervention and family support, are in an ideal position to identify relationship issues and offer help to parents at this time. But they have so much else to do I hear you say, and so little time. That’s true! However, we know this is a significant public health issue and often leads to more complex and serious issues for families later down the line. When there is a focus on parent relationships then we know other parenting interventions are more effective. Health visitors have the skills to be alert to harmful levels of conflict in families, consistently ask the questions about relationship quality and offer support – now they need to be brave and make this a priority in everyday practice.