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Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood

June 2, 2015

By Ana and Mario Vela

Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood | Mario and Ana Vela talk about the best and most difficult parts of the first year of parenthood. | Mario, Ana, and Mariana Vela take a photo outside in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

In the Couple Chat series, we pose a few topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s responses and the couple discusses their individual thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion with us in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked Ana and Mario Vela, whose daughter Mariana will turn one year old next week, about surviving the first year of parenthood. Here’s what they said.

What’s the best survival tip you’ve learned in this first year?

Ana: My best survival tip is to trust your instincts. I have been so surprised to discover how well I know my own child, and how my instincts have helped me find solutions to comfort her, make her happy, and keep her safe. I think this is the hardest concept to grasp, but when you are in it you will know exactly what it means.

Mario: The attachment and care your child needs will offer you a drive you might not be aware you had. The new moments and experiences you gain will allow you to offer the care necessary to your child. Also, if your family and friends offer support, accept it. We’ve been very fortunate that our mothers have decided to take turns in living with us.

What was the hardest thing about the first year of parenthood?

Ana: The hardest thing about the first year of parenthood is trying to juggle everything. You lose sleep, your priorities change, it´s difficult to find time to spend with your partner—much less friends—keeping up with work, and finding time just for yourself. I´m most surprised about the strain it has caused on our marriage because we prioritized everything else and took our relationship for granted. It has taken me many months to start getting to a place where I feel I can start “handling my personal load” again, and I have had to make some major life decisions in order to achieve a good sense of balance. And that´s okay. After all, this new child is absolutely worth it!

Mario: Adjusting my priorities. I’ve been driven by my career and educational goals, and I had to adjust that amount of time since I now want to be with my daughter and support my partner. I previously attended several networking events per week, and now I have reduced to a few events a month. I’m also now involved in non-profit boards that require less time in the community, but make a bigger impact. I’ve even had to reduce the time we spend with our friends, which they understand. Now that Mariana is closer to a year old, we’ve been able to spend time with our friends again by having her join us at some Chicago summer festivals.

What was the best thing about the first year?

Ana: The best thing about this first year has been having fun! I never knew how much fun spending time with my daughter would be. Every new thing she learns is fascinating. Making her laugh is the best! And taking her out to the world and seeing her enjoy new experiences is so fulfilling. I am always looking forward to doing ¨the next thing” with her because everything is new to her. I couldn´t have ever imagined this feeling.

Mario: Seeing Mariana mature, socialize, and develop her own personality. I see myself in her.

What did you learn about your partner that you never knew in this first year?

Ana: The most surprising thing I learned about my husband has been seeing his inner child come out. It´s interesting to see how he sees the world through her eyes, and how he wants to make everything fun and memorable for her. I always knew he would be a good father, but didn´t realize how fun and attentive he would be to her development.

Mario: The type of love and care she offers our daughter. Ana wanted to have children, but I was surprised by how naturally it came to her. I was also surprised to see her moments of doubt. I believe she now feels capable and confident, but with new stages forthcoming. She also makes me a better father.

Ana: When reading our answers to each other, we got very emotional. The first year has been demanding, and yet so wonderful. It’s the oddest thing. But we survived, and we both agree that we are so proud of where Mariana is in her development. We both contributed different things to shape her in to the person she is right now.

It’s interesting how we don’t want to waste any time in life anymore. Every moment is about her – giving her everything she needs and spending time with her and making it memorable. We’re looking forward to her first birthday party—having our family fly in from Texas, surrounded by our friends, and celebrating that we will have completed our first year as parents!

We can help you through not only your first year of parenthood, but through high school graduation and beyond. Check out our holistic approach to parenting in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


Couple Chat: Parenting Expectations Vs. Reality

October 23, 2014

By Mario and Ana Vela

Couple Chat: Parenting Expectations Vs. Reality | Ana and Mario Vela kiss their baby daughter.

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked new parents Ana and Mario Vela about parenting expectations versus reality. Here’s what they said.

Before you had your baby, what did you think your biggest challenge would be as a parent? What did you think would come easiest to you?

Ana: Before having our baby, I thought the biggest challenge as a parent would be feeling overwhelmed and lonely. Having all our family 1200 miles away. I kept imagining that I would be holding a crying baby, not knowing what to do, with no one close by to help. The thought of wanting to take a break from the baby, but not having family around to help really scared me. Fortunately, my mother stayed with us for three months after our daughter, Mariana, was born, and taught me how to care for her. My confidence increased. After my mother left, I didn’t feel scared anymore. I know advice is a phone call away.

On the other hand, I thought the easiest thing would be returning to work after maternity leave. For some reason, I always imagined easily managing having a baby and a career without any feelings of guilt for working.

Mario: I thought the biggest challenge would simply be being a father. I don’t have a traditional father figure, and I relied on a collection of influences to help me define the person I am. I truly questioned my ability to be a father for my child, and questioned the value I could offer a child.

I felt comfortable providing the basic care Mariana would require, as I’m the oldest in my family. I cared for my younger siblings and relied on my experience in caring for them including feedings, diaper changes, etc. I even showed Ana how to change a diaper. However, both Ana and my mother-in-law have specific ways of caring for Mariana, and don’t always agree with how I handle her. I don’t let that discourage me, as I know we all want what is best for her. I just have a different way of caring for her.

Now that you’re parents to a 4-month-old, what is your current biggest challenge as a parent? What is the easiest thing about being a parent?

Ana: My biggest challenge so far has been maintaining a work/life balance. What I thought before would be easiest is really the most difficult. I feel guilty when I am away from Mariana, or when I’m not paying attention to her because I am working at home. It gets more challenging when both my husband and I need to put in extra hours at the same time—whose work is more important? One of us has to take care of the baby. We’ve even had to compromise how many work events and late nights we can put in a month to make things fair between us. It has definitely caused some friction, and I anticipate it will continue to.

The easiest thing about being a parent is loving her. Everyday I am amazed at the love that flows out of me for this little person. Before, I really thought I would want to constantly take breaks from her, but I’ve been surprised at how easy and enjoyable it is to spend time with her. Sometimes I just stare at her, and even cry because she makes me so happy.

Mario: Now the biggest challenge is my fear that something might happen to her. I never wanted to be overprotective, but now that I hold her in my arms and see her potential, I’m afraid that something might happen to her. All her care now is our responsibility, and I want to make the best decisions for her, but I feel that these decisions shouldn’t be based out of fear. I need to learn to manage and understand it, and let go when appropriate.

I was nervous if I was capable of offering a father’s love. But from the first moment I saw her and experienced that I was responsible for her, I realized that all those questions I had didn’t matter. I had to move on from all the hesitation I felt, which I did immediately when she was born. I understand now that I will make every effort to make the best decisions for her and our family.

Ana: I am surprised that Mario said he was so comfortable with the thought of caring for Mariana. I know he helped take care of his younger siblings, but I still thought he would be nervous with our baby. I hadn’t taken care of babies—and yes, I didn’t even know how to change a diaper! I realize now that I shouldn’t have been so scared to not have my family close by when Mario was perfectly capable of helping me out.

Now that he’s putting it out there, I feel guilty about criticizing how Mario cares for Mariana. Although I may not always agree with how he handles her, I am happy that he likes spending time with her and will always make sure she is safe.

Mario and I had always planned to put Mariana in a daycare. Seeing the quality of care my mother provided her made him realize that he didn’t want to expose her to anything other than one-on-one care. Accommodating this change in plan for Mario has completely changed our plans, which was very stressful. My mother-in-law has decided to move in with us and care for Mariana. It was very interesting to see how differently Mario and I felt about her care.

We both agree that Mariana has completely changed our lives. We are both so in love with her. We talk about her all the time and enjoy seeing how she develops every day.


Couple Chat: Waiting to Have Children

May 19, 2014

By Ana and Mario Vela

Mario and Ana Vela smile from the back of a car.

Photograph by Isaac Joel Torres

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked Ana and Mario Vela, expectant parents, about their decision to wait 10 years after being married to have a child. Here’s what they said.

How long did you wait to have children after you were married? Why did you wait that long?

Ana: Mario and I married young, at 21 years old. We have been married for 10 years, and now decided to finally have children.

Where we grew up, it was very common to have children at a young age. There were lots of teen pregnancies. There were also many young couples that ended up unexpectedly pregnant, and decided to marry afterwards because of that child.

I saw the struggles parents went through, and the regret that they didn't get their education, pursue a career, and enjoy some of the things life had to offer. Unfortunately, a large percentage of these couples ended up separating or divorcing because they got together for the wrong reasons.

Ever since I was in high school, I knew I wanted to enjoy my life before having children. I didn't want to feel like I settled and end up resenting my child, which I saw many people do.

Growing up, my family lived in poverty and struggled financially. Although that shaped who I am, I didn't want my child to experience that, so it was essential for me to get an education and establish a career.

Mario: Ana and I made the decision that we would try to be as successful as possible in our educational attainment and careers before having children. We decided that we would be the first in our families to earn a bachelor’s degree, and then I eventually earned a master’s degree.

We also decided to travel, move to Chicago from San Antonio, and focus on and have fun with our marriage. We thought we would start trying earlier, after about five years, but the move to Chicago made us reevaluate our timing. After recently buying a townhome, we both felt comfortable in our career and financial stability to provide our child the life we wanted.

Did other people question your decision to wait?

Ana: When Mario asked for my hand in marriage, my father gave us permission with the condition that we both graduate from college. After that happened, my parents did question when the grandchildren were arriving. But after working so hard to get our degrees, why would we dive into another time-consuming phase of our life? We wanted to enjoy ourselves, so Mario and I made a list of things we wanted to accomplish before having children. On that list were things like travel, get promotions, make a certain salary, and move to a big city.

Throughout the years, we were constantly hounded by people to have children. My parents stopped though. Actually, I think they were starting to think we were never going to start! It wasn't until this last year that they finally put the pressure again that they wanted grandchildren. Except this time, we were on the same page.

Although marriage is a commitment, having children was an even bigger one to Mario and I. We wanted to be sure we were going to be able to stay together through it. We needed to go through ups and downs, work hard, struggle, fight, and experience successes in order to be fulfilled and ready to bring a life into this world.

Mario: Yes, but nowhere near what Ana experienced. When we would be together, family and friends would be antagonistic and confrontational to Ana on why she would wait that long.

I also noticed higher levels of confrontation with lower levels of socioeconomic status and educational level. Since in our families we’ve far surpassed educational attainment, the questions were frequent. However, with friends of ours who have higher levels of education, questions didn't start until Ana started approaching 30. I believe that in both of our families, no one has waited until they were over 30 to have children.

Ana: Since we have talked about this for 10 years, we weren't surprised that we had similar answers to these questions.

During this exercise we started to think about our family. We don't believe anyone had children after the age of 25. Mario's mother was even 17 when she had him. So deciding to have children at age 31 was very out of the norm, even though biologically it's a very healthy age to do so.

It was funny to me that Mario said I experienced more pressure than he did. I didn't realize that had happened, but it's true. It's based on gender roles. People would ask me when we were having children in front of Mario to add pressure. And it was very awkward. I had completely forgotten about that!

Trying to explain to some people that we valued education, our careers, and our marriage over children was such a challenging concept. Sometimes I felt like people reacted negatively towards our decision to wait.

This is what we felt worked best for our lives. We respect any couple's decision regarding their own family.


Couple Chat: Moving to a New State

April 7, 2014

By Stephen and Karleen West

Karleen, Steve, and Elliott West

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked Stephen and Karleen West, parents to two-year-old Elliott, about their upcoming move to a new state and how it will affect Elliott. Here’s what they said.

What do you think will be the most difficult change for your son when you move?

Karleen: Our son is a creature of habit, and not by accident – Steve and I have worked hard to provide a stable routine for him each day, especially surrounding naps and bedtime. Because of that, I anticipate the most difficult change will be his ability to fall asleep on his own – and sleep through the night – in our new home. When we travel, our son is reluctant to fall asleep in new places and wakes up frequently, needing to be soothed. I think that it could be a process of a week or more before he trusts the new space enough to fall asleep on his own and stay asleep through the night.

Stephen: I think the adjustment to a new “home” will be the most difficult for Elliott. For the past two years, Karleen and I have traveled A LOT with our son. Because of that, Elliott has become good at dealing with brief changes to his routines.

But traveling does tax him. Elliott misses the familiarity of his house, his dog, his toys, and his crib the longer we’re away, and it shows in his eating and sleeping habits, his loss of patience, and in needing his mom and dad more. He misses his home and all of its comfort and familiarity, and we can see this in the way he runs around chanting “Home! Home!” and laughing giddily when we get home after a trip. Until our new house becomes our “home”—and provides all of the comfort that word represents—I think Elliott might show some of the symptoms of fatigue we see when we’re traveling.

How do you plan to address that change?

Karleen: Our son is two and a half, so he is at an age where he could transition from his crib to a toddler bed. However, with the move, I do not think that we should make that transition anytime soon. In order to make him comfortable in our new home, I would like to try to provide as many consistencies for him as possible. From his nap and bedtime preparation routines, to maintaining familiar objects – including his crib – I want to provide him with the comfort of routine in all aspects of time, activity, and space.

Key to that routine will be a bath and three books before bedtime – activities that we do every single night now, and that we should prioritize when we move. Key objects will be his crib, his blanket, his humidifier (for noise), and his little stuffed monkey that he sleeps with every night.

Stephen: I think it will be crucial to keep as much of Elliott’s routine in tact as we can throughout the moving process, from what kind of food we feed him to when he takes his daily nap. I also think it will be important to quickly establish new comfort zones with familiar items in our new house, like getting his room set up with his bed, books, and toys, and arranging the living room with his chair so he can watch his favorite TV show.

I think the routine that needs to be most consistent is the attention and time we spend with Elliott; we will have plenty to distract us as we build our new home, but as long as we pay close attention to Elliott’s needs and comfort, I think the adjustment will be just fine.

Karleen: Steve and I were happy to see that we were both on the same page about what will be difficult for our son, and how to handle that difficulty. It was interesting to see that we both brought slightly different perspectives to these questions. While Steve focused on the general issue of routine and comfort for our son, I focused more on the specific issue of sleep that I view as the most significant challenge that will arise from the change of routine.

In addition, talking about our responses encouraged us to think more deeply about the move and the effect that it will have on Elliott. In particular, we realized we want to constantly prioritize our son and his needs throughout the entire process of the move. We will have so many tasks and responsibilities during the move – packing, cleaning, fixing, arranging – that it could be easy to get so distracted that we start to compromise our time with Elliott. In fact, we had noticed that we were doing just that during the process of selling our current home and buying our new one. We would both be sitting with our computers open, having conversations over our son’s head, while he acted out more and more regularly to get our attention.

After this Couple Chat, we now both realize that as much as possible, we need to comfort and care for our son in every phase of this transition to our new life. After all, it is the three of us who are going to make our new house a home.


Couple Chat: Gender Roles

March 3, 2014

By Ana and Mario Vela

Ana and Mario Vela

Photography by Jennifer Schaffer Photography

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked expectant parents Ana and Mario Vela about gender roles. Here’s what they said.

What traditional gender roles do you feel are important to honor with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up, gender roles were very prominent. The ones I enjoyed seeing celebrated the strength of the mother of the family. The mother tends to get the family unit together, and all members would respectfully obey their mothers’ wishes.

My daughter will be free to choose to live whatever life she wants, and I want her to feel confident and demand respect wherever she is. Women tend to be seen as a source of knowledge and compassion, and I would like to instill that in my daughter as well. She should learn to be thoughtful in the decisions she makes, and understand how it impacts others.

Mario: Before we knew we would be having a girl, we both always thought we would have a boy. One of my concerns was not having a traditional father figure. I created my archetype of a father figure through a collection of influences from role models and family influencers.

Now that we’re having a girl, I need to reflect on what my daughter will need from me as a father. I feel I have to be an even stronger figure for a daughter. I felt content and ready to be an example for a son, but I now have to be even better for my daughter. I need to reformulate my idea of a role model and use both male and female examples. For instance, my grandmother, who fought and led her life the way she wanted, is an example of a strong role model for my daughter.

What traditional gender roles do you want to ignore with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up in the Latino culture, there were several things I disliked about gender roles. My father constantly pushed me away anytime I wanted to spend any quality time with him. Several times I requested to go fishing with him and my brother, asked to help him fix the car, or just sit and watch some of his favorite western movies with him. He refused and would say that I was a girl and that I should be in the kitchen helping my mother.

That’s what I ended up doing—all the activities that were expected of me as a female: cooking, cleaning, playing with dolls, and wearing dresses. I ended up resenting it growing up, which caused friction between my mother and I as I constantly challenged these roles my parents and society were placing me in.

When I found out we were having a girl, I was excited that I had the opportunity to challenge gender roles with my daughter. I do not want her to experience these situations that only caused me heartache and confusion. As an adult, I am very grateful for the life skills my mother taught me. I just wish it had been something I wanted to learn, not a forced expectation of me.

Mario: Many times I’m at a loss for what a woman should strive to be. I always felt my son was going to have a responsibility to be a good man. I still struggle with what it means to be a good woman. Fortunately, I married Ana.
How do you think you can honor and ignore those roles when raising your child?

Ana: I think the best way to honor and ignore these roles with my daughter will be through not pointing them out at all. Modeling positive behavior and not limiting her interactions with either my husband or I should demonstrate to my daughter the best way we’d like her to interact with others and us.

I can’t imagine having any kind of conversation with my daughter in which I tell her that she has to be a certain way because she is a girl and not a boy. Now that my parents are grandparents and are helping raise my two nieces, I can definitely see that they have relaxed a bit regarding gender roles. I’m hoping that by adding another girl to the family, they will focus more on encouraging them to be strong, responsible, smart women, and encourage any interests they may have.

Mario: I want my daughter to learn from the strength and passion of my grandmother. I want her to learn of the irrational success of Ana. How she has become an amazing social climber, regardless of the poverty and abuse she faced, the limitations placed on her, the poor education she received, and the environment she lived in, all while being a woman. Ana is an amazing role model.

I can honor the positive gender roles by providing examples and a strong archetype of both men and women who help society, help their families, and help others. I can also teach her to care for herself and to understand the inherent value she possesses as a person.
I can teach her to understand the limitations of others and to not let them affect her own sense of self, her progress, and her potential to improve this world and the world around her.
Ana: Mario and I always thought that we were going to have a boy. This made Mario very comfortable, and me secretly uncomfortable. Since we found out we were actually having a girl, Mario has been worried about this role and I have felt very secure.

In this exercise, Mario expressed that he needs to be an even better father now that we’re having a daughter. We both agree that we want our daughter to feel strong and confident, and not be confronted with limitations.

I was surprised to discover that we both are worried about some of the interactions our daughter will have with our families, as they still engage in some of the gender roles that we do not want to promote with her. Mario wants to utilize his grandmother and myself as role models for our daughter. On the other hand, he was very surprised with my answer that gender roles do not have to be pointed out to our daughter at all. And he agreed with that concept.

Through this emotional exercise, I finally understand why I wanted to have a daughter – because I now have the opportunity to change the definition of gender roles with her. And now I also understand why Mario wanted a son – because growing up without a father, he wanted to change that experience into a positive one with a son.

Mario and I have both used our anger, frustrations, and struggles growing up to drive us to the successful lives we now live. Although that helped my success, I do not want my daughter’s success to be out of anger. I would rather her success be out of empowerment and through us as positive role models.

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