Adapted from a recent online discussion.
New mom needs time, praise to get through getting dumped
California: My daughter had a baby, and a month later her fiance left her. She just confided to me that she has never felt so undesirable and that she believes her changed body plus being a young mom have permanently ruined her chances of finding a partner. I feel terrible about this and would love to help her, but I don't know the right thing to say.
Carolyn: Please encourage her to see that the answers to any questions she has about herself lie in the immediate needs of her new baby, and in her own need to take care of herself. Her baby needs love, care, nutrition and patience from her — and a new mom needs all of those things from herself, too. That's more than enough to occupy her for now.
And in doing these things well, she will see her value to the world grow, her body recover, her capacity for love expand beyond what she thought was possible. That, someday, will be the woman any potential partners see in her — at least, any partners worth a second look. I realize "someday" may seem anything from remote to inconceivable right now, but that's the same thing just about every new parent feels, when faced with a baby's minute-by-minute needs. Next month is hard to imagine, much less next year or next decade.
Being a new parent is really, really hard, and so is being dumped, so she's not going to acquire a beatific maternal glow by next Friday. On the contrary — she's at high risk for postpartum depression, so make sure you know the symptoms and urge her to talk to her obstetrician if you see anything that's even suspiciously like PPD. Also watch for her blaming the baby for her current ills.
Otherwise, though, be sure to counsel patience, and, more important, give her genuine praise for rising to this challenge. That can mean noting something small she does well for the baby, or giving her a general reminder not to be so hard on herself — because what she's doing is physically draining, and child-rearing is a delayed-gratification enterprise if there ever was one.
It also means not questioning her methods or rushing in to correct her, unless it's a genuine emergency. Every parent starts out as rookie, and showing respect is often the most treasured gift new parents can get — especially from their own parents.
After four years, know this: What you see is what you get
Washington: After more than four years of living together — with fantastic highs and dismal lows — my partner still claims to be "bad at cohabitation." At what point do I take this to mean that he stays not-so-great at it because he just doesn't want it?
Carolyn: What does it matter? Whether his behavior is involuntary or a deliberate choice, living with him means you'll have fantastic highs and dismal lows. That's what he's offering. Either take it or leave it, but don't you dare talk yourself into believing that if it's a choice, it might change. You have four years telling you that what you see is what you get. Actually, they're not telling you, it's more like that scene in Airplane! when the passengers line up to get a woman to calm down and get a hold of herself.