Having a baby is like throwing a grenade into your relationship
Someone once described having a baby to me as ‘like throwing a grenade into your relationship’. At the time I was mildly affronted by this negative view convinced, like many expectant parents I’m sure, that the addition of a baby would make my little family ‘complete’. However, in retrospect (isn’t hindsight a glorious thing?) the grenade analogy was a pretty accurate description. In fact I’ve often described the year my son was born as both the best and the worst year of my life all at the same time – the best because he was brought into my life and the worst because it was when my marriage broke down. Having my son was by no means the ’cause’ of my marital breakdown but it was probably the straw (or log) that broke the camel’s back.
I think perhaps nothing can prepare you for how difficult new parenthood is, the first time round in particular, and how it affects practically everything – including your relationship. Under the stress and tiredness of it all, basic things like ‘being nice to your partner’ can go out of the window and before you know it you’re taking them for granted and resenting the very person you initially loved enough to even want to get into this situation with (though admittedly back then you had absolutely no idea what you were signing up to). So it was with interest that I read yesterday;
New parents will be given relationship counselling by health visitors under government plans to instil “basic concepts such as love, compassion and trust” and prevent marriage breakdown, says Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith.
Apparently, next year ministers will announce guidance for all health visitors on how to “recognise and respond to the signs of relationship difficulties”. I’d say a good sign is a baby being present! But, joking aside, although some have criticised the plans as the government ‘micro-managing’ and ‘meddling’ in family life, I actually think families need this support. They at least need someone to reassure them that it is ‘normal’ to feel under pressure in the early days of parenthood but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with your relationship.
I now know that having a baby puts a huge strain on any relationship. Even my friends with the strongest of relationships have admitted to me that they felt particularly tested in the early days and months of new parenthood. So if your relationship already has problems, you can be sure adding a baby into the mix will highlight them all.
If it’s not the sleep deprivation than it’s the constant worry, or the equally irrational guilt, or the fact that no part of you seems to be private or belong to you anymore; not boob, brain or bathroom! You may look at your partner and wonder if you’ll ever want to do the activity with him that got you into this predicament in the first place, ever again.
You may worry if he’ll only ever see you as a ‘mum’ now while you feel decidedly unsexy with your damp breast pads falling out of your ugly nursing bra.
You may look at your days as a series of monotonous chores and routines all to placate the new tiny person who now rules the house before you crawl into bed exhausted at 9.30pm. You may look at your relationship now, grieve for your old life and scream ‘what the hell have we done???’
Will it always be like this? The answer is no. Life may not ever be quite how it was pre children, but it will get better. You will be able to keep your eyes open past 10pm at some point (or at least feel ‘less’ tired than you do in the early days). You will have nights out without the children and you will gain back a sense of yourself and rediscover your partner and your relationship. But, these last points may need a little helping hand.
There is no point putting undue pressure on yourself or your partner to try to recreate your pre baby life too soon. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with the relationship if you are short-tempered at times with each other or less patient than you used to be due to tiredness. This is normal and to be expected! Give each other a break if someone snaps during a particularly stressful baby episode. Just try to remember to apologise when you calm down or feel less tired and then let it go and move on. Don’t keep a tally of each others wrongs. Don’t hold on to things to add even more stress to your already very full brain. Try to be as understanding of each other as you can be and particularly of yourself.
New parenthood is hard but life won’t always be this way.
Use any opportunity you can to reconnect with your partner and regain intimacy in small but significant ways like a cuddle on the sofa or a coffee out somewhere together, and talk. Please talk. Talk about something, anything, other than the baby. Make sure you communicate worries and fears and anxieties – Share them but don’t dwell on them.
Work together as a team. Be honest about the hard bits. Have fun with the silly bits, and never leave the house without a kiss – even if it is through gritted teeth and with baby sick on your shoulder!
Share this with a mum who needs some encouragement and a reminder that she’s still a woman as well as a mum today!