Bringing home your new bundle of joy can be an exciting time, but it is also the beginning of a changed dynamic in the household. The transition from couple to family can challenge even the strongest relationship—what can you do to weather this transformation? Here are some questions, answers, and topics for discussion to help you plan for this remarkable change.
What Unique Feelings Might a New Mom Experience?
It’s important to remember that giving birth is a physically strenuous and emotionally charged experience. Take someone who’s been through this kind of exhilarating-yet-exhausting experience, throw in some postpartum pain, hand her a fragile new life that she must now learn to take care of on very little sleep, and then wallop her with a major hormone shift—and you’ve got a new mother.
What Unique Feelings Might a New Dad Experience?
Although the physical and hormonal aspects of having given birth are not part of the equation for the new dad, the emotional aspects can be very powerful. He, too, must adjust to new responsibility. He’s probably also just witnessed the baby’s birth, and watched his partner bear great pain in her efforts to deliver their child.
Fathers may see how difficult it can be to watch the woman they love experience the pain and work of childbirth, with little ability to relieve her pain or help share the extraordinary effort of labor and delivery. Furthermore, mothers often become understandably wrapped up in the tiny being they’ve been carrying for the previous 40 weeks, leaving the father to feel like the proverbial “third wheel,” jealous of the baby’s demands on the mother’s attention.
How Will Life Be Different?
More accurately—how won’t it be different? Caring for a new baby means 24-hour vigilance to the needs of a tiny but vocal being. Even if you have had a demanding job in the past, you probably didn’t have to be on-call for your boss 24-7, literally. With a new baby in the house, you are on duty around the clock. This can be truly exhausting, both physically and emotionally.
Some couples quickly find a way to tag-team each other, taking turns with night shifts, and helping each other find times to nap when possible during the day. Unfortunately, other couples find themselves in competition with each other for “time-off.”
So What’s a New Parent To Do?
Plan for these feelings in advance. First of all, start talking about these things before your baby arrives. As much as you can, brainstorm the kinds of challenges that you may be faced with as a couple. Talk about how you will have new responsibilities, new worries, new emotions, and less time alone together to nurture your relationship as a couple.
Discuss how to divvy up the baby duties and other household responsibilities in an equal fashion, so that neither of you has to shoulder too much of the burden. If you begin this conversation before the baby arrives (that is, before you are both sleep-deprived and cranky), you may be able to make a plan that will help you support each other through this period of interrupted sleep.
Problem-solve ways that you can support each other. Instead of being competitive with each other or with the baby for each other’s time and attention, try to think up ways to block off time for each of the new family units—father-baby time, mother-baby time, family time, and couple time.
Each of you needs to have private time with the baby to bond and develop your own relationship with your new child. This also gives the other parent a breather, time to recharge through a nap, tackle a hobby or project, or enjoy a much-needed lunch with friends. You also need time together as a threesome to learn how to create history, have fun, and support each other as a family unit. And you still need time together as a duo (without baby) to maintain your special connection with each other, and to continue to grow as a couple.
This last (couple time) is probably the most challenging to schedule. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have family, close friends, or a reliable sitter nearby who can come over and care for your baby for an hour or two so you can go out for a walk, grab a cup of tea together, or even have a quiet dinner out. If this isn’t possible, consider picking up a carry-out dinner or renting a video to enjoy together after the baby’s tucked in.
Other Thorny Issues
Couples with a new baby may encounter a variety of thorny issues that will require their attention, including:
- Feelings of incompetence in caring for the new baby—Depending on how much time either of you has spent with babies, you may feel adrift on a strange new sea when confronted with such a tiny, helpless being. Be kind to each other as you each learn how to bathe, dress, feed, and play with the baby.
- Sexuality—Some couples notice that their energy and interest in sex is different after the baby has arrived. Finding time to connect sexually may be more challenging with the baby on the scene. Remember to express your affection for each other verbally and physically, and be patient as you work together to reconnect sexually.
- Work and career plans—Some new parents notice that their commitment and interest in their careers feels different after the arrival of a new baby. Even though you may have discussed these feelings before the baby’s arrival, you may be surprised by new feelings that surface once that baby is in your arms. Be ready to have a dialogue with your partner to re-evaluate your prior decisions.
- Family-of-origin issues—Depending on how your own childhood relationships unfolded, you or your partner may notice that old issues from relationships within your families-of-origin may crop up. Now that you’re parents, you may remember things from your childhoods that trouble you. You may even catch yourselves doing or saying things your parents did that you absolutely promised yourselves you’d never do! Be ready to ask your partner for support with these kinds of issues as they appear.
- Changes in relationships with friends (especially those who don’t have children yet)—Having a new baby can have an effect on all of your relationships. Friends who don’t have a family yet may not understand that you and your partner can’t drop everything and head out to the matinee or the bar anymore. Help each other find new ways to connect with your old friends.
The most important thing to remember in all of this is to give each other mutual support. While you and your partner navigate a new course together as parents, mutual support, patience, and kindness towards each other will be the best ways to insure a stronger relationship, and a healthy and happy home for your new baby.