“I had no idea how hard this parenting thing was going to be!”
This is a common refrain from so many new parents. I had a conversation just this week with a former student with a 4week old baby. She said that people tell you how hard it is, but you just don’t get it until you are going through it. Yup!
AND NOW THE HARD PART
I do tell my childbirth students that pregnancy is the easiest part of parenting. You know where your kid is all the time. It is a finite period. Yes, you are probably having interrupted sleep during pregnancy. But it’s nothing compared to the sleep deprivation in that postpartum period and on into that first year.
Your partner will feel ignored or deprived of your attention. Initially, this can cause some rifts in the relationship. As a new mom, you might say to yourself, “Are you kidding me? I’m on call 24/7 with no sleep and you want attention and affection too? I have nothing left at the end of the day.”
“I HAVE NO NICE LEFT!”
That is what one friend’s mom used to say occasionally, after a 12hour shift as a nurse to warn her kids they’d better be on their best behavior. That is totally understandable, yet if we want to nurture our relationship, that statement probably won’t have a positive effect on either new parent.
AFTER BABY, EVERYTHING CHANGES – WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?
Your life has been altered, remodeled, and transformed into something you could not have imagined. So, you need to change too. “A new crib and pretty wall paper in the nursery are sweet, but the best gift for your newborn is baby-proofing your [relationship].” Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz.
11 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR RELATIONSHIP HEALTHY AFTER BABY
- SLEEP – pick a bedtime and stick with it, especially when you go back to work. During the day, sleep when your baby sleeps. If you’ve got another child, ask a friend or family member to come over and play with the older child so you can have a mid-afternoon nap in those first few postpartum weeks. Feed your baby after dinner, then go to bed while your partner cares for the baby (and the other child). You’ll be awakened in another 2-3hours to feed the baby. Take advantage of having time to sleep. This early bedtime will be a great opportunity for your partner to bond with your baby and care for your baby. You will cope so much better with life in general if you get a bit more sleep.
- TIME TOGETHER – In addition to all the daily chores and tasks to get done, make sure you schedule time to spend together that is relaxing and enjoyable. Don’t expect to have this time for at least 4-8 weeks but after that, put it in your calendar as though it’s an appointment and treat it as such. Make it a priority.
- SCHEDULE INTIMACY – My students look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them this. But they all get it after their babies arrive. Spontaneity is hard to come by when you’ve got a little one or two in the house. Take your baby to a friend or relative, then go home and relax and enjoy this time together. Or hire a babysitter and go to a hotel. Get creative.
- TAKE PARENTING CLASSES TOGETHER – It is so important to be on the same page when it comes to parenting. Kids learn really fast who is the push-over parent and who is the disciplinarian parent. If one says no and the other says yes, resentment is going to build and build until there is a big explosion. Support each other and be on the same parenting page by taking classes together. Decide what your boundaries are and what your routines are going to be. Then stick with each other!
- SET BOUNDARIES WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS – Immediately postpartum, you may want to show off your baby to everyone, but having lots of visitors who stay too long, can create so much stress. It’s a great ingredient in a recipe for postpartum depression. Kindly and gently let them know they can come over but mainly to cook, clean, do laundry, NOT TO HOLD THE BABY. Babies belong with their moms and the partner, but mostly with mom. This will help you get breastfeeding off to a good start.
- ASK FOR HELP – Don’t hesitate to ask for help. I just saw a new mom’s post on Instagram. It’s been a week since giving birth to her 3rd She posted that it was her first day alone with all 3 kids. Her friends commented how strong and tough she was. Well, my reply was, “Don’t be tough. You’re not supposed to be tough. You’re supposed to get lots of help and ask for it when you need it and when you don’t need it. Reach. Out. Bring Jennifer prepared food. Come over and do some laundry. Send a house cleaner. Come entertain the girls so she can sleep when baby sleeps. She is NOT SUPPOSED TO DO POSTPARTUM ALONE!!!
- LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF EACH OTHER – The drop in marital satisfaction is dramatic after a new baby. Communicate with kindness. Surrender your individual goals and try to work together as a team. It may take some time and practice, but stick with it. Don’t keep your feelings inside. Communicate. Express what’s bothering you and express also what you appreciate about your partner. Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Try to state how you are feeling without placing blame, ie: “I’m feeling overwhelmed and tired and would love it if you could put the baby to bed, or feed the baby, or give the baby a bath, etc.
- COUPLES COUNSELING – Work with a Licensed Family and Marriage Therapist. Shop around. Ask for a referral from your physician or insurance company. Ask friends for a referral. You’d be surprised how many people you know go to therapy. A therapist should be able to help you both communicate effectively. Emotionally Focused Therapy is a great form of therapy that helps couples understand their emotional responses and can learn to respond rather than react. Don’t wait till things get bad. Intervene early so you can avoid the many pitfalls and bad habits that can lead to major relationship problems.
- MAKE YOUR RELATIONSHIP TOP PRIORITY – This means that you don’t want to have a child-centric relationship. Some people focus on their children, or live through them, and forget the importance of the partner. Take a genuine interest in your children’s lives but don’t find your glory or identity through their lives. They will be leaving in a couple of decades and then you’re stuck with your partner. Make sure you’ve got a good working relationship when those kids leave the nest.
- HAVE A RESPONSIBLE FINANCIAL LIFE – 75% of relationships break up over financial differences or financial troubles. Don’t live beyond your means. Communicate with each other about your budget, expenditures and financial boundaries. Take a class like, Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey. My husband and I took this class a few years ago. I highly recommend it.
- PICK YOUR BATTLES – Some things are just not worth fighting over. I used to have a family member who always had to be right, no matter the cost. Eventually, there was a pretty big cost. Do you want to be right? Or do you want to get along? How important is this fight? Is this really a priority?
Tony Robbins said, ““Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” Try to get help before things get to that point.
If you aren’t able to get your partner to go to counseling, go by yourself. Just like going to the gym regularly, or going to the doctor for a check-up, it’s a positive way to maintain a healthy relationship. Keep your relationship healthy, strong and fit. It may take some adjustments and some work. But it is so worth it.