New Parents Who Focus On Self-Care Tend To Argue More Often

There has been a lot of talk of self-care lately and how important it is for parents, both men, and women, to take time to ensure that they are healthy both physically and mentally. It’s often hard to balance the responsibilities of being a parent and a partner with self-care, but studies have shown how important it is to make time for yourself as well as your family. However, new research is showing that self-care can often result in resentment and that new parents who focus on their own self-care tend to argue more often.

The study, conducted by Penn State researchers and published in the Monographs of the Society for Research In Child Development that looks into the lives of new parents found that how self-care is received often differs depending on whether it’s the mother or father who is practicing it. The study found that mothers who slept more on average reported a greater sense of well-being, while fathers who slept more reported less closeness with their partner and child and a lower sense of well-being. The study also found that when mothers exercised more than usual, which is often something women will do to practice self-care, the couple would argue more.

Mark Feinberg, the research professor who led the study said this could be the result of fathers feeling resentful for mothers actually taking some time for themselves, Eureka Alert reports.

"Fathers may resist or feel resentful when mothers spend more time than usual on their own needs such as exercise, leaving fathers to pick up more responsibility for childcare -- leading to arguments," Feinberg said. "But, it's also possible that the extra time spent with the child is stressful for fathers, leading fathers to be more irritable on such days and leading to more arguments with the partner."

Father checking on his newborn baby boy at night as his wife stays asleep in bed.
Credit: iStock

Not surprisingly, the days when fathers were able to exercise more meant there were fewer arguments. To collect their data researchers interviewed 143 mothers and 140 fathers of 10-month-olds separately for eight days consecutively. They were each asked questions about the day prior including how much sleep they got, how much time they spent at work, whether they were able to spend any time doing any physical activity and what their daily chores looked like. They were also asked to comment on their personal relationships in the home and their stress levels.

"Some parents are happier or sleep better overall than others, but most parents experience some difficult days and some good days," Feinberg said. "Most parents already have a good place to start from at least on some days, so it's a matter of figuring out what works on those days and then doing more of that. This would be an easier and maybe more effective approach than thinking that we have to help someone completely change their routines and emotional patterns."

Feinberg also suggested that new parents use their smartphones to help them effectively practice more self-care.

"Studying daily fluctuation is a very rich way to understand the complex unfolding of individual and family life," Feinberg said. "There are many apps and devices that are available for recording daily experiences such as sleep and physical activity. With a little bit more added functionality -- being able to look at patterns across different experiences, and even across family members -- these tools could provide even more benefit."

It’s not surprising that couples argue when one person seems to be able to take more ‘me time’ than the other. Being a new parent is stressful on both partners but this study seems to show that as supportive as they are trying to be, there’s still an underlying sense of resentment when one partner takes time for themselves. Trying to create a situation where both partners have some time each day to focus on self-care may help prevent resentment from either parent.

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