After your first baby is born, what’s really going to change? I can answer that question in one word: everything! And the changes start as soon as you either decide you are ready to have children or find out that you are pregnant.
Your communication skills will be put to the test in this stage. Your skills will prove essential in your adjustment and continued feelings of closeness and satisfaction.
Not only will you have brand-new things to discuss, but you will also have more conflicts to resolve. Work together to openly discuss changing needs, emotional reactions, and newly identified expectations. This will help reduce the conflicts that will likely arise if these things are not discussed.
Roller Coaster Feelings
Once the baby arrives, you may ask, “Whatever happened to sleeping in, spontaneity, late-night movies, and holding hands?” Baby happened, that’s what. No matter how much you each wanted this new little bundle of joy, you need to be prepared for rough waters ahead.
The changes that occur at the birth of your first child are immeasurable. At some point you will realize that life will never be the same again. This stage includes an emotional roller coaster such as you could never have imagined. You go from the joy of seeing your new creation for the first time to the fear of being inadequate as a parent. You also feel the pride of watching your child develop and learn each new skill to the loneliness of feeling disconnected from your spouse. And on and on the roller coaster goes.
This new stage of your relationship requires that you change certain expectations of how much energy you will have at the end of the day for conversation or housework. How you define closeness and intimacy may need to be changed as well.
Be aware of changes in your personal emotional needs. Mom often begins to develop an emotional need for family commitment that was not there before. She may need to see her husband actively participating in the parenting. She will feel close to him as she watches him in his role as a father.
On the other hand, dad often develops an increased need to feel he is providing adequately for his new family. The responsibilities of finances and job may increase his need for admiration from his wife for the role he is performing. As these emotional needs change, it is essential that you identify them and then talk to your spouse. I have yet to meet the spouse who is a flawless mind reader. If you want your spouse to know that your needs are changing, then say so.
The new stresses that flood into new parents’ lives seem unending. You are now dealing with identifying your new roles as mom and dad. This happens at a time when you most likely had barely gotten the hang of being husband and wife. You are also learning the new skills of infant care and parenting. And you are physically drained by the never-ending need for attention from your little one. All this is mixed with increased conflicts with your spouse over role responsibilities. You may feel a lack of emotional and physical support, and changes in your sexual relationship.
Top that all off with increased financial demands, and you have the perfect formula for a major drop in marital satisfaction. Actually, research shows that there is a significant drop in perceived marital satisfaction. There is an increase in marital conflicts after the birth of the first child. This drop in satisfaction is usually greater for the wife and is still present at the end of the first year.
Why might this be?
There are two major threats to the marital bond, and they begin in the first quarter of parenting. What are they? Lack of time and lack of energy. There are feelings of grief at a loss of couple time, and feelings of disconnectedness from your spouse. There are also feelings of jealousy about the amount of time and attention baby is receiving, and the loss of energy all cause a great shift in the intimacy pattern. If the couple does not recognize these threats and deal with them openly, they may begin to feel even more isolated from each other.
The most changed aspect of the new parents’ lives is the aspect of time. The time available for sleeping, eating, watching television, talking, sex, and even bathroom time seems to have just disappeared. Eating and napping schedules make parents more aware than ever of the clock. This constant awareness tends to make the new parents feel as though time is always running out. You can no longer take things for granted, and what used to come easily now takes more effort than you feel able to give.
Lack of Time
Not only is a couple’s perception of time changing, but the actual amount of time that they can choose what to do with decreases tremendously. A couple will have only about one-third as much discretionary time after the baby is born as they had before their first child. With the overwhelming demands of caring for a new baby added to all the requirements of daily living already present, something is going to have to give. And unfortunately, that “something” is usually the marriage, and more specifically —the spouse. After all, isn’t he or she big enough to take care of himself or herself?
It is easy to let the other supposedly independent adult in the house take a backseat to the crying baby and just about everything else. The dishes are not going to wash themselves, and the laundry isn’t going to fold itself, but we convince ourselves that the marriage is going to grow itself. Of course, this is not true. We must work on reestablishing priorities to make sure that the marital relationship ranks higher than dirty diapers and dishes.
Below are a few suggestions to help try to make the most of the time you do have available.
- Be selective about what outside commitments you make. Be willing to say no to friends, family, work events, and so forth. Your time as a couple is so limited that you must first take into account the amount of time the two of you have together before planning outside engagements. Avoid over-committing, and set priorities for your time. There are only so many hours in a day or week. You cannot expect to keep doing everything you have always done once you start adding children to the list of daily requirements.
- Take advantage of nap time or early morning time. While the baby is still asleep, enjoy a cup of coffee together and chat about your day. You may want to read the paper together and share your thoughts or simply hold hands and snuggle while you watch the news or a favorite television program.
- Turn the television off. Television is not evil, but if no limited, it can eat up a lot of precious time. If you are in the habit of having the television on even when you have no intention of watching it, you probably have realized how easy it is to get drawn into something that you would never have chosen to watch. Plan ahead by being selective about which television programs you want to watch. When the program is over, turn the television set off.
Dealing with Lack of Energy
The second of the two most deadly threats to marital stability and satisfaction has to do with the lack of energy you have available to devote to your relationship. You feel as though you are constantly running on empty during the first few months/years of parenting. Sleep deprivation is a given for any couple with a baby in the house. It is also one of the biggest culprits in stealing our energy.
Here are some suggestions to help couples learn to improve their energy and savor what limited energy they do have available:
Ten Steps to Survive and Thrive through the First Quarter
1. Be flexible and do no expect perfection.
Remember, everything is changing, and it takes time to adjust and find your way through this new maze of responsibilities and roles. Being flexible, both with yourself and your spouse, will reduce tension. There is no “right” way to parent. You will develop a routine that works for the two of you and your baby.
Do not worry if it is not the same as the way some of your friends are doing it. Avoid setting unrealistic expectations for either of you or the baby. Be sure to take time to share with each other if you feel that unrealistic expectations are forming, and then discuss these openly.
2. Find a balance.
For now, the needs and demands of your baby will likely take center stage in this three-ring circus you are calling a marriage. But remember, there are two other rings to attend to as well —you and your spouse. Doing little things to take care of your spouse and yourself can make all the difference in the world. While the baby naps, do something for one or both of you instead of focusing on catching up on household chores. For example, take a nap, call a friend, read a magazine, or chat with your spouse.
3. Talk to each other every day.
Take time every day to check in with each other. Talk about changing expectations and needs, division of labor, disappointments and fears about parenting, whatever you want —just keep talking. Remember that communication involves both talking and listening. You need to be the best listener you can possibly be if you want your spouse to continue to share with you his or her deepest thoughts, feelings, fears, and needs.
4. Get out of the house.
This can be with or without the baby, because both can be fun. Fresh air, fresh faces, and fresh conversation can help you avoid feeling that the world is passing you by. Get out there and be a part of the activities that you and your spouse choose together. This will help contain feelings of loneliness and isolation that many parents of young children experience.
5. Develop a couple-centered, not a child-centered, relationship.
If you make your children your number one priority, their never-ending need for attention will eat up everything you have to give, and the rest of your life will suffer because of it. Love your children, provide for them, and meet their needs. But remember that one of their most important needs is to have parents who really love each other.
6. Become co-parents, not compulsive parents.
One of the major problems I see couples having today has to do with the “super-parent” role so many of us believe we have to take on. Moms and dads alike (usually moms more than dads at this stage) can fall into the trap of believing they are the only person who can adequately care for the baby. Somehow they forget that many a parent has come and gone before them and has learned to care adequately for these helpless little creatures just as they have.
But when it comes to their baby, they are convinced that it has to be done a certain way, and no one can do it as well as they can. This can even apply to the other parent. Becoming a compulsive parent will only isolate you and eventually lead to parenting burnout. Parents need breaks and need to support each other.
7. Redefine romance.
Let’s face it, intimacy and romance as they were once defined become much more difficult once you become a parent. The availability of privacy and time for just the two of you may seem almost nonexistent. And when it is available, you may not have the energy to focus or perform.
During this stage of parenting, find new ways to stay connected physically. You may find yourselves touching more often in nonsexual ways and wanting to cuddle up together at night, even though you may not desire anything more. Be patient with each other in this area, and remind each other that “this too shall pass” and you will be able to regain spontaneous, uninterrupted lovemaking in the future.
8. Establish an outside support network.
This includes friends and family you can call on for help on an especially stressful day or who are there as a sounding board and to offer advice. This also includes anyone you can hire to help out with daily chores such as housecleaning, laundry, meal preparation, and lawn mowing. And don’t forget those moms’ groups, Bible studies, and couples from church that can help fill your need for adult conversation. If someone offers to help out, accept! Don’t try to go it alone.
9. Schedule couple time.
Busy couples do not just find time for each other; they make time for each other. Taking time to connect with your spouse every day is an essential element to keeping a marriage strong. Remember to kiss every day, hug each other as you leave and return home, sit together holding hands while you watch television. These little connection times can make all the difference in the world in helping the two of you feel treasured by each other.
Set aside a large block of time to spend together at least once a week. Hire a babysitter, get away from the house and baby, and remember who you married and why. You did not get married to have children; you got married because you were in love with each other. Now, while you are raising children, keep reminding each other what it is you love about each other. Spending time together, dating, and talking with each other are the best ways to do this.
10. Develop a sense of humor.
When all else fails (and it probably will at least once in a while), it helps to laugh!
The above edited article came from the book, Child-proofing Your Marriage, by Dr Debbie Cherry. It was formerly published by David C. Cook. We say “formerly” because unfortunately, it is no longer being published. You would need to find it at a used book outlet, in order to read more of what Dr Cherry wrote on this subject.
— ALSO —
There are two other articles you may be able to gain insights from reading. They are written by different authors, posted upon different web sites. The first is written by Lee Wilson and is featured on the web site for the ministry of Marriage Helper. And the second is written by Suzanne Hadley Gosselin, posted on the Todayschristianwoman.com web site. For additional help on this issue, please prayerfully glean through and read: