There is a stigma associated with how kids change a marriage, and we see it represented across all media in our culture. We've heard it all: after kids there's no more intimacy, after kids there's no time to spend alone, and on and on. But aren't we in control of that? I firmly believe we are. And mutual communication about the vision for the relationship before a new baby comes into the home makes us more intentional.
In the last trimester of pregnancy, it's important to discuss how you want your marriage to function when there's a new, needy little person who depends on you both for everything. Even families with children can benefit from taking time to assess their relationship satisfaction as they prepare for more kids. Both spouses have different expectations and needs, and communicating those early on promises a much smoother transition after baby's birth.
The first two weeks are the hardest. Recovering from birth is an entire process on its own. Couple that with disrupted sleep schedules, learning how to take care of a baby as a couple, navigating visitors, and trying to keep your home in order, and it's easy to see why so many parents wonder if they are up to the task. The good news is a new normal emerges! But it does take a decent amount of communication, sacrifice, and an open mind.
CHANGES TO EXPECT
1. Roles of cooking and managing the home will be different. If Mama usually cooks and cleans, it might be Daddy's turn to take over. If this is already his role in the house, all the easier for the adjustment. I had a difficult time holding a fork while breastfeeding, so Stephen had to feed me dinner for the first week of our daughter's life. Humbling is not the word to describe what it's like to be fed a whole meal by your husband, but it showed his dedication to me big time. If cooking is really neither of your "thing" then TakeThemAMeal.com, InstaCart for grocery delivery, or even a meal service like Paleo On The Go could be great options to discuss because the family has to eat! There's nothing worse than being hangry, so get a plan together for meals.
Stephen was happy to keep the house clean as much as he could, but after he went back to school (he was a full-time student at the time) I relied heavily on my mom and sister to stop by a few times a week to help with some things around the house. Luckily now there are so many Groupons for home cleaning services that you don't have to have family close by to have help.
2. You may communicate differently than you did before baby. We often found ourselves whispering a lot, especially because our baby's colic meant she had a hard time staying asleep. If one spouse makes a noise that wakes baby up, it can be a point of contention if you let it, but it's helpful to be conscious that unintentional mistakes are not the end of the world.
One thing that was difficult for me was to explain the emotions I was feeling. I didn't want my husband to think I was weak, a complainer, or not up to the task, so I kept a lot of my emotional rollercoaster to myself, and then began to resent him not being sensitive to me. He was completely unaware of what I was going through, and I was at fault for not expressing it.
No one is a mind-reader. Making a plan beforehand about what times of day are best for your spouse to speak about important things is a game-changer. For us, mornings (after coffee) are when we get most of our deepest thoughts expressed to each other because that is when we are both able to listen well and communicate clearly. Nighttime chats quickly turned into minor altercations, mostly because we were too tired to really hear each other and make any sensible resolutions. It's important to check in every day, so find a time that works best for you both.
3. With a baby comes the distinctive change from couple to family. Families have much different freedoms and commitments than couples do. For a while, we tried to still be that couple that said yes to every social event, let guests come by anytime, and let spontaneity plan our weekends. But after baby, it was clear that we had to make some adjustments.
We very firmly decided before baby that we would still prioritize our lifestyle, and let the baby adapt to that. But what we didn't expect was that we had to change the context of some of our favorite activities. For example, nighttime dates were too hard for us. We couldn't get a handle on her bedtime and nursing, combined with the complication of a sitter. Stephen then suggested day dates, and what a game-changer! During the day our baby would nap for long stretches, and it was a bit strange to get used to the idea for me (no high heels or cocktail bars?) but we still needed the time alone to connect and laugh a little. Coffee shops and brunch spots were the new normal for us.
More than anything, we had to choose which outings would bring us most joy. We could no longer say yes to everything, and time of day or length of the drive to get there started to dictate our plans. There were plenty of events we were happy to bring the baby out for, and we would juggle feeding, diapering, and caring for the baby while also spending quality time with our friends and family.
4. You may have to change your personal hobbies, at least temporarily. During the whole fourth trimester (the first three months of baby's life) it's important for the family to be fully present to each other in order to adapt well, but time alone is just as important . This looks different for every family. I really enjoyed a quick trip to the grocery store alone and Stephen was very committed to his Crossfit workouts. The longer our baby would nap on her own, meant the longer we could sneak out for time alone.
But we definitely failed a few times too. The first time I went out to the store on my own, I fed our baby and thought she would sleep at least an hour so I could go and come back without rushing. 15 minutes into my shopping, Stephen called me and I could barely hear him over the screaming baby. Another time, Stephen finished his workout at the Crossfit gym and stayed after a little too long to socialize with his phone tucked in his gym bag. I couldn't reach him, I needed help, and let's say I wasn't too happy when he finally did get home.
5. Staying home with baby vs. going back to work is a big decision to make as a couple. Many couples do make this decision before baby comes, but I've found from talking to other women that one of the best things to do is leave some leeway with the final choice until after you've had some time to adapt. Making that clear to your spouse is vital.
Sometimes you can plan to finish out maternity leave and then go right back to work, when your heart is tugging at you to stay home. Many couples struggle with changing a decision that was "already made" and end up with heavy resentment. Other times, women plan to stay home with their baby, and after a time, find themselves wishing they had meaningful work outside of their mothering duties. Many of these moms, like myself, start their own businesses where they can work from home, or freelance, while some still prefer to work outside the home.
I chose to stay home (read more on that here), and it did not come without sacrifices or things we go without. My desire to create is fulfilled through this platform where I can use my talents and share in a community with all of you. When I have had to take breaks from blogging, I do feel the void. It fuels me, and provides the satisfaction of completing personal goals.
The key here is to have a safe space to express your fear and doubt, with your spouse's commitment to support what works best for everyone involved. Like a system of checks and balances, one option will have pros and cons that another option will not. We've gone without vacations for a few years, but our home life is exactly how we want it to be. Set your vision, and leave wiggle room until you're really ready to decide.
6. Managing finances and spending categories is not the same as before. With babies comes more expenses, there's no way around it. Feeding, clothing, diapering, and medical care of another person has a cost. Discuss with your spouse ways to scale back certain categories to allow for others. For example, our dining out budget was slashed down to make room for diapers and clothing. We also found ways to eliminate unnecessary subscription services, so we cancelled Netflix and Hulu, but kept Amazon Prime so we could still have access to music, movies, and 2 day shipping. Part of parenting is giving up things so our children can have more, and in every household that looks different.
Many families find ways to meet their budget constraints and still provide what they need, but it does not come without a few of those thorny money conversations. If you plan a few outlines before baby comes, there shouldn't be too many surprises.