Have you noticed the kind of pressure new parents face these days? Magazines, advertising, blogs and even friends’ social media pages abound with images of blissful couples and their infants in picture-perfect nurseries. Both parents look enraptured with their new baby and each other, making it all seem so easy.
That sets up some unrealistic expectations about the transition to parenthood. Now don’t get me wrong: Adding a child to your family is a time of great joy and can deepen the bond you have with your partner. But it can also be a time of great stress, messiness and strain on your marriage. We know from the research that marital satisfaction often takes the biggest nosedive after the addition of the first child.
Becoming parents means changes in practically every area of your life. And for most people, change equals stress. You may go on leave from your familiar world at your job. You can’t just dash out for an errand or meetup with friends so easily anymore. Going for a quick walk or even getting a hair cut can be hard to do when you’re responsible for a little one 24/7. All that can leave you feeling isolated and trapped.
The stress doesn’t stop there. Kids can also strain our wallets (hospital or adoption bills, daycare and on and on …) and our schedules. There’s simply less time for everything else, from work to self-care (especially sleep!) to couple time to housework.
And speaking of housework: Not only do you have less time to do it, you have more to do when you add a child to the family. Keeping up with it can seem overwhelming. And if your husband doesn’t have the same threshold for noticing that things need to be done, you could find yourself in a pattern where you complain and accuse and he gets defensive.
If the upcoming Mother’s Day is your first as a mom or expectant mom, I want to give you some down-to-earth advice that will help you navigate the transition to parenthood while also caring for your marriage.
Tips for New (or Soon-to-be) Parents
- If you don’t have kids yet, build up goodwill. Use this time to practice being the best partner you can be. Be especially thoughtful, appreciative, and kind. Have fun together, and build up good memories. Perhaps go off on a spontaneous trip, or try something new together. Take advantage of the time you have to hang out with dear friends and loved ones. Strengthening your bond now will pay off in those intense early days of parenthood.
- Get the stress level down! If you have the financial or family resources, get some outside help, such as housekeeping, meal delivery, or child care. Children are very physically dependent for the first few years and need constant supervision. This can be absolutely exhausting! Hand the baby off to your spouse or someone else for a while, and take a break. Otherwise, you’ll be likely to get upset with your husband just because you’re stressed.
- Prioritize sleep and rest. Try to go to bed early, shift your schedule, or nap when the baby does to minimize fatigue. Taking turns being the one responsible for the baby at night can give each of you the unbroken sleep you need to refuel. Some people benefit from having a relative help out or hiring a night nanny for a while.
- Work together. If your goal is to fully share in parenthood with your husband, be very intentional about giving him time and space to also bond and take care of the baby. Believe that both you can be equally competent as parents, and don’t make the mistake of micromanaging your spouse. Each one of you will have you own unique way of caring for baby. So, play to each of your strengths and divide responsibilities in a way that lifts the stress off both of you.
- Be polite and respectful. Remember the basic gestures that show respect and acknowledge each other’s humanity, like greeting each other warmly or saying “please” and “thank you.” Little things like this go a long way toward maintaining respect in your marriage, and, as I’ve written before, mutual respect can sustain your relationship until you have time to rekindle romance and passion.
- Love your baby, but keep your bond alive too. The parent-child bond can be very intense, and that’s a good thing. But it’s important to remember that you need to spend time together as a couple, not just as parents. Don’t lose yourself to motherhood. When you have a newborn, time may be limited to a short conversation with your husband or cuddling together while you’re exhausted. Brief moments of connection can be good enough during the very busy first few weeks of parenthood, but make sure you work toward reengaging each other more deeply and regularly over the long run.
- And check out this wonderful, down-to-earth advice from seasoned parents:
If you’re about to begin, or just beginning, the journey of parenthood, realize that change and stress are inevitable, but that a weakening of your marriage is not. You’ll find more advice about keeping a thriving relationship even as you balance family, work and other demands in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.