Welcoming a child, particularly your first, is a life changing event. You brace yourself for the sleepless nights, for the nappies, for the seemingly endless feeding and the sheer mind-bending realisation that you, yes you, are now responsible for another human life. Yet how many of us truly factor in the effect it might have on our relationship with our partner. This is something we can overlook, or worse, take for granted. Having a child triangulates your relationship, it’s no longer just the two of you anymore. It’s good to be mindful of this – and each other.
First of all, congrats. You got through labour, brought your baby safely into the world and those first few days when you bring your baby home are incredibly special. You are a team and a tremendous source of support for each other, a time you’ll look back upon and cherish, as though you existed in your own universe. And then either one of you might have to return to work and slowly reality bites throwing up tensions that may not have been there before.
Perhaps if you’re night feeding you’re sleeping in separate beds and feeling that little more distant from each other. Or you’re finding days alone with a baby quite isolating and craving adult company. These are all normal feelings to have. A baby brings a new dynamic to your relationship, sparking a constant ebb and flow of thoughts about what you feel is equitable and who gets to do what. Do you feel you’re doing more than your partner? If so, why?
The solution to this mental wrangling is terribly simple, but it also requires effort. You must never stop communicating. Talk to each other. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations. Maybe your partner returns home from work, exhausted, slumps on the sofa and turns on the TV, meanwhile, you’ve spent all day with a baby and you’re desperate for a conversation – for news of the outside world! Or the baby cries at night and you find you’re always the one who is waking up and getting out of bed. You feel annoyed, resentful even. Don’t suffer in silence. Burying these feelings of resentment will only lead to more tension.
Partners are not mind readers and as best you can, you need to voice how you are feeling – the positive along with the negative. If the other person in your relationship is unaware of how you feel, how can they change their behaviour accordingly? Quite often, partners who are not the primary carer can feel left out, envious almost of the attention a new baby demands. You may find you both have feelings that need to be addressed.
Making more time for each other is easier said than done when you have an infant that consumes ninety percent of your day. But the thoughtfulness of a simple gesture can go a long way. A cup of tea brought to you in bed, a five minute catch up with each other over said tea, or a delicious home prepared meal, the ease of a takeaway, the escapism of a boxset you’re both obsessed with. Find the little things that matter and make space for them in your lives.
And when you’re able, never underestimate the life changing magic of a babysitter and the opportunity to leave the house to dine out with your beau, a deux. Yes, it can be a wrench to leave the baby, and always, it’s easier to stay in, but investing time in each other will only make your relationship stronger. Like anything left untended, if you don’t, it will deteriorate.
Physical intimacy can be difficult after giving birth and suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, patience and understanding may be required here, particularly if it was a difficult birth. Your partner may be feeling low self-esteem. Be compassionate to each of your needs. Any time you feel a hint of resentfulness you must consider why and what you can do to rid yourself of it. Parenting should not be a daily tug of war. There is always a better way of doing things.
You might also find that other relationships are affected; perhaps those with your own parents and friends, where expectations may need to be managed. Again, no-one is a mind reader. Don’t be afraid to talk. Honest communication is how you grow into parenthood and cement strong relationships with all of your loved ones.
Single parents, we see you.
Of course, not all parenting is done in a relationship and if you’re a single parent either by choice or circumstance, a new baby will no lesser effect your relationships with friends, family and exes. Above all, the individuals within these relationships need to recognise that things are different now for you, that your priorities have changed; your child comes first. You may relish this or you may feel the immense pressure that comes with this responsibility, but take heart from the many studies that have shown the incredible bond forged between a single parent and child. A small study comparing single mothers to couples reported ‘closer, warmer relationships between the single mother and child.’
To say that single parenting is intense seems to be the understatement of the century, but it’s important to remember, according to a prominent developmental psychologist, that ‘attachment is not a zero-sum game. If you’re securely attached to one adult, it doesn’t leave less security for you to invest in another,’ which is important for both you and your child to take forward into new relationships you might make.
As one mother wrote in a New York Times article, penned to celebrate the incredible relationship she enjoyed as a single parent with her son and musing whether single parents have stronger bonds with their children, ‘Solo caregivers have it so tough, it seems only fair they at least get this small mercy.’
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