No-one wants to say it, but everyone knows its true: having babies and looking after children can be pretty tough on a relationship. But help is at hand – Babyproofing your Marriage reveals both sides of the post-baby relationship divide, and helps mums and dads understand each other after they have kids. Here, authors Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O’Neill and Julia Stone (who between them have 7 children under the age of 5) share their advice for new parents, based on what they learnt the hard way…
1) Don’t panic!
Parenthood can change us, and our spouses, in some unexpected and occasionally incomprehensible ways. So your once perfect and ever-so-helpful husband now seems to stalk around the house with a permanent scowl on his face. You, meanwhile, become obsessed with the baby, and irritated by your partner’s demands. But even though you might be arguing more, the chances are that your relationship is not in crisis. It’s actually completely normal. Do yourselves a favour during these early baby days, and chalk up your irritability and downright unreasonableness to hormones and sleep deprivation.
2) Get some help
Sell your jewellery, take out a second mortgage or rely on the kindness of friends…do whatever you can to get a break. You can’t be a good mum or dad if you’re running on empty, or expect to have energy or enthusiasm for each other either. If you can’t afford a babysitter, turn to your friends. Share a babysitter with a friend or neighbour. Or trade keeping the kids for a night with another couple. Help is not a luxury – it’s a necessity.
3) Preserve your coupledom
Try to put a little distance between the two of you and the baby once in a while. Start with an evening out at a restaurant and work your way up to a weekend away. And when you do get away, talk about something other than the kids. You know, friends, films, books, the weather…anything other than teething and how gorgeous the baby looks in her new hat. Try not to let your relationship be defined by being parents. Your relationship is the linchpin of the family and if you and your partner are happy together, your kids will be too. So don’t feel guilty about occasionally leaving them with a babysitter!
4) Don’t forget about sex
Most women’s libidos go AWOL for a bit after babies arrive. You may be so exhausted that sex can start to feel like another task on your ‘to do’ list. And if you’re breastfeeding, having a feeder and a fondler can be just too much to bear.
But while your enthusiasm for sex may wane, our partners still want it – and the emotional connection it brings – just as much as they always have, baby or no baby. Sex matters more to your husband and your marriage then you might imagine so try to reacquaint yourself with that girl you used to be. It can be a little bit like going to the gym: it takes major effort to get yourself geared up to do it, but once you get there you really quite enjoy it!
5) Avoid midnight battles
You know – that late-night battle of the wills where each of you pretends to sleep blissfully through the baby’s screaming. Instead, divide up who will get up at night (you will deal with the baby between 9pm and 1am and he’s on until 6am, for example, or vice versa). That way there’s no after hours shenanigans and no arguing in the morning.
6) Stop keeping score
When you have a baby, the workload explodes – so it’s not surprising that you start arguing about who has it tougher and who most deserves a lie on a Saturday morning. But no-one will win the endless war over who’s working harder. Life has changed for both of you. Take a practical approach. Make a list of everything that must be done, from bath duty to cooking that night’s tea to paying the mortgage and divvy it up between the two of you.
7) Good enough is good enough
Try not to lose your temper because your partner bought the wrong brand of nappies, forgot to heat the bottle and didn’t use any powder after the baby’s bath. Let go, and let him do it his way. If we want our husbands to take on parenting responsibility, we need to get out the way. They won’t act like partners if we treat them like assistants. And sometimes it feels really good to sat, “Who the hell cares if the baby is dressed in pyjamas?!”
8) Try a training weekend
If, in spite of all your best efforts to educate your partner, he just doesn’t seem to understand how much work is involved in caring for a baby, it might be time for a training weekend. Leave your man to look after your little one for whole 48 hours (he can ring his mum if he wants!). It might sound extreme, but he’ll gain a new respect for all that you have to do. Chances are he’ll bond with his baby too. Plus, you’ll realise that the baby will be just fine when you let go of the reins, making it much easier for you to relax a little.