Caring For Your Relationship When You have a New Baby
Congratulations – you are going to have a baby! Most expectant parents have probably spent months preparing for the arrival of their baby. By the time they bring their little one home, they’ve taken classes, read the books, and bought enough clothes and baby equipment to fill an average sized room! Now it’s time to “wear the tee shirt”!.
No matter how much preparation you do, the reality of caring for your new baby can overwhelm you. There is so much more to do! When your household grows from two to three, your relationship with your partner is bound to change. You no longer have as much time as you used to, you have to the responsibility of caring for a baby and you no longer have as much of your partner’s full and exclusive attention at home.
This is a huge change – before baby, you were a couple. Now, you’re parents. How will your day-to-day life change? To start with the obvious, you probably won’t get enough sleep in the early months of your baby’s life. At first, your newborn may only sleep for a few hours at a time, and when your tiny bundle is awake, you are also awake. The resulting lack of sleep can make you irritable and turn everyday tasks and household chores into ordeals because you have less energy and can’t concentrate. You’ll also have less time for work, for yourself, and for your partner. So what can you do to help to make this transition easier?
Being a new parent is wonderful, but at times it can be really difficult and stressful, too. This can generate feelings of guilt for a Mum or Dad who isn’t enjoying every second of being a new parent. Don’t feel guilty! It is important to remember that it’s OK to want — and to take — a break from the baby every once in a while.
A baby can also stir up surprising feelings of jealousy. Sometimes new dads get jealous because the baby takes up so much of the new mum’s time and vice versa. Dad may feel left out, or even a bit jealous that he doesn’t get to spend as much time with the baby or do as much of the parenting. These feelings are completely normal! Remember, the structure of your family and household has changed completely and will take some time to adjust to!
The new mums have their own challenges to confront. Pregnancy takes over your body and you don’t have the body that you used to have. You will most likely be carrying an extra few pounds, still have a bit of a ‘baby belly’ and larger breasts. This can sometimes make you feel self-conscious and less attractive to your partner. You will also be feeling tired from the extra workload of caring for your baby and broken sleep for night feeds. All of this can make it difficult for you to feel in the mood for intimacy. Be patient with yourself and explain if you feel this way to your partner. By understanding what is going on for you, it will be easier for your partner to be patient and supportive with you.
Your family and friends can, unwittingly, add to your workload! They are interested in ‘how you are getting on’ and love to spend time with your new baby. This is a very lovely and supportive environment but it can be a bit overwhelming. Making tea/coffee, lunch and even having visitors stay for dinner adds to your workload. So how do you get a good balance? Think about how you will solve this problem if it happens with you. You may decide to have a ‘visitor free’ time each day or even ‘visitor free’ days. You also should think about which visitors could be of help to you. Perhaps a friend or relative would be great support to you and help with caring for the baby or even with some housework? If you have someone like this, then tell them that you appreciate their support and don’t be afraid to ask for that support when you need it.
Be careful also of all the stories and advice you will hear! This ‘advice’ can be useful but sometimes it can annoy you if you feel that the person is interfering or disagreeing with your way of caring for your baby. Close relatives want to be connected and supportive in your family and their intentions are good so if you have to deal with ‘too much’ advice, how do you stop this but also keep the balance so that the connection is maintained. You and your partner should discuss and support each other, If you need to talk to someone who is giving ‘too’ much advice, then start with the positives! For example, if you need to talk to either your or your partner’s Mum start by saying how much you appreciate the support she is offering you and that you are glad she wants to be an attentive grandmother. You can say then specifically what you want to be different in how you care for your baby. You could say that you want to establish a particular routine, do things in a way that you have decided on and how ideas for parenting and newborn care have changed over the years. Be gentle and keep the connection – you will appreciate being able to let that person care for your baby sometime when you need it!
Even without all the outside parenting advice, you and your partner may realise you have different approaches to parenting — one of you might be more inclined to pick up the baby whenever he or she cries while the other lets your little one cry for a while, for instance. Also, as the workload has increased in the household due to caring for the baby, this could also lead to arguments or resentment about who does more work around the house and so on. These minor issues can get worse if new parents don’t sit down and talk about what’s bothering them. Communication is the best tool to sort out issues before it gets to a stage of feelings of anger and arguments. Often, new parents are so busy caring for the baby that they forget to take time to talk to each other. You should place importance on making sure that you keep talking and communicating with one another – even just acknowledging how things have changed and how you both feel can make a difference. Try to set some time aside just for the two of you to spend time together and keep your connection. If you can get a family member or friend that you are happy to leave your baby with for a while, then try to ask them to babysit sometimes so that you get to go out together to do something you enjoy together. Even though your baby has made you a family of three, the two of you still need time together as a couple to keep that relationship strong. You also each need time to be an individual so try to support each other in having some ‘me’ time.
As your lives are busier now so it is important that you plan for your time together. Try to make a regular “date” — schedule a sitter and head out to dinner, cinema or whatever you both enjoy. If you don’t want to leave the baby with a sitter just yet, make a special dinner at home after you put the baby to bed. Be creative in finding ways to have time together to connect. Maybe when the baby goes asleep in the evening, you could chat over a cup of tea or even chat while you do some household chores together. If the weather is good, take the opportunity to go out with the baby in the pram or buggy and you two can chat while you walk.
Small annoyances grow when you don’t get them out in the open, so it’s important to make time to communicate. If something is bothering you, tell your partner, but make sure you do it at the right time. Starting a discussion about who left the dirty dishes in the sink when the baby is screaming to be fed will solve nothing. Instead, plan a time to sit down together after the baby is asleep. Be honest with each other, but try to maintain a sense of humor. Listen to your partner’s concerns and don’t criticise them. Also keep in mind that sleep deprivation and stress can make you both feel more irritable, so it may take extra effort to curb any tendency to be snappy.
Once you’ve both said what’s on your mind, work on solving the issues together by coming up with solutions you both can accept. Be willing to compromise. For example, if one person can’t get home early on Wednesdays because of a staff meeting, the other can get the baby ready for bed on those nights. In exchange, the partner who gets home late on Wednesdays can take over on Thursdays.
This is also the time to “assign” baby care and household duties, like cooking, washing, and early-morning feedings. When both partners know what’s expected of them, the household will run more smoothly.
As you enter this new stage of life as a family, staying focused on what really matters will help you through the rough spots, especially in the first few months. You may have always had a very neat and clean house, beds made, clean windows, ironing completed and so on. With the arrival of your new baby, you may not get time to do these things. Try to remember that the most important thing is caring for your baby, yourselves and your relationship. If the ‘standards’ have dropped for a while, so what? Don’t let it bother you as it is not the most important thing and you will get to it when you can. If you find that not getting to do all of the household chores is bothering you then think about how you could possibly get some help with these household jobs. For example, can you do your grocery shopping on-line? Can you send you ironing out? Can you afford to get someone in for a few hours a week to do the basic house cleaning? The more creative and flexible you can be about what gets done when, then the more relaxed and in control you’ll feel.
Try to agree who will do what in terms of household chores. For some tasks, for example, night feeding, you may agree to take turns. By agreeing this, each of you will know what you should do and so neither partner should feel resentful that they are doing most of the work. Also, be aware of when your partner needs some extra support. For example, if one partner has had a very hard or stressful day, the other partner could take over the chores and baby care and let them go and have a nice bath or something to relax them.
We hope that you have found these tips useful and that they will hope you on your first few months after your new arrival. Remember, your baby will grow so quickly and each day will bring new challenges but also, new joys as you watch your baby develop! This is a magnificent time for you both so make sure that, above all, you both enjoy this wonderful time together!