Lansinoh Moms' Club
7 Questions To Help Baby-Proof Your Relationship
As a mama-to-be, you may know to expect some big changes after having a baby. Your home, your schedule, and your lifestyle may never be the same! But new parenthood can bring about more subtle changes, too—especially when it comes to relationship dynamics.
Maria, a mother of two, had been warned to expect changes with her partner. “People definitely scare you and say ‘Kids are going to ruin your marriage’ and ‘Things aren’t going to be the same for you anymore,’” she attests.
Maria’s marriage did change in significant ways after having kids. But in the end, she felt her relationship with her husband moved in a positive direction. “For us it was almost better [afterward],” Maria claims.
Relationship struggles are common for new parents. These changes can extend beyond romantic relationships, and can include friendships, family relationships, your relationship with yourself, and more. Here’s a look at why this happens and how you can keep your relationships strong after having a baby.
Becoming a parent changes your sense of identity. The same goes for your partner*, even if they weren’t the one giving birth. Put two and two together, and it can be a formula for relationship turbulence.
In fact, researchers studying first-time parents found that approximately 67% reported dissatisfaction in their relationships. (Gottman & Gottman, 2007.) These couples noted more conflict, resentment, lacking intimacy, and feeling unsupported.
There are many reasons why couples can feel dissatisfied with their relationship once they add another family member, shares Ashurina Ream, PsyD, PMH-C, a licensed clinical psychologist and perinatal mental health specialist. These include:
- You’re both exhausted—and perhaps sleep deprived.
- You have a harder time managing your emotions.
- You can be experiencing financial stress.
- One or both of you hasn’t been practicing enough self-care.
- Your individual goals may have changed.
- You’re spending your time differently.
- You have different parenting styles.
- There might be an unequal division of responsibilities that didn’t exist before baby was born, or that you didn’t expect.
- You or your partner could be experiencing decreased intimacy.
Relationship conflicts can be as unique as the relationships themselves. “Maybe one parent went from being career-focused to being less interested in their career. Perhaps one person has dedicated their time to self-improvement and this is causing division or conflict,” Dr. Ream elaborates.
You and your partner also bring your personal histories to the parenting experience, Dr. Ream points out. “We all come from different places. What one partner learned about parenting can be different than what the other learned.”
Learn more in this video with Dr. Ream:
It’s easy to envision postpartum conflicts happening in a romantic relationship. But they can also apply to friendships, family relationships, even your relationship with yourself. Such was the case for Stephanie after she gave birth to her first child and resumed working full-time. She grew closer with those who understood her busy life as a new mom and the stress that came with it.
“You have a broad circle of friends before pregnancy. After that, your circle of friends just becomes the people who are really, really closest to you,” Stephanie shares. “My relationships have grown closer with the people that purposely make time to speak to me.”
7 Questions To Baby-Proof Your Relationship
All relationships have their ups and downs, but there are ways to get ahead of the common obstacles that accompany new parenthood. It all starts with communication.
“When working with pregnant couples, I always encourage open dialogue and having some honest conversations before bringing home baby,” says Dr. Ream.
Here are seven questions you should cover with your partner—preferably ahead of time.
- How will we divide the responsibilities? This includes diaper changes, feedings, nighttime wakings, bath time, and bedtime. Also think about everyday household chores like cooking meals and taking out the trash.
- How will we prepare for our finances to change? Reexamine your budget, especially if one of you plans to stay home in the short-term or long-term.
- Who will care for our child when we are unable to? Will you have a nanny or enroll in a daycare center? Are any family members or friends available to help?
- What parenting practices will we follow? Talk about your preferences for sleep practices, discipline, and so on.
- What values do we hope to pass on to our child? Think about the legacy you want your child to inherit and the lessons you hope they will learn from you.
- How will we manage others? Parenting often comes with unsolicited advice from others. How will you handle people who overstep boundaries?
- How will we be sure to not neglect us? This is perhaps the most important question! You might need to schedule intentional time together to connect as a couple.
For Stephanie and her husband, one of the greatest challenges was managing their household. Before baby, she took care of things like paying bills and making appointments. While she didn’t mind before, things had to change once their baby was born. The more Stephanie’s husband became involved, the smoother their days became. “After four months, we learned how to work better together,” Stephanie says.
As they both work full-time on opposite schedules, Maria and her husband found success in trading off. That goes for parenting and childcare as well as household duties like laundry and mowing the lawn. “It helped to make us a better team,” she shares. “There are times when it’s difficult for us and we’re both pretty burnt out, but maintaining that team mindset is key.”
For the Long Haul
Baby-proofing a relationship isn’t quite as straightforward as baby-proofing the kitchen cabinets or the basement stairs. But answering these questions will give you a running start as you embark on this new journey together.
“It’s not a magical fix,” Dr. Ream stresses. “It requires you to continue having conversations and bringing up topics, especially as you grow as parents and change your mind and philosophies.”
You’ll be parenting together for many years—and a strong relationship will give you a solid foundation. Says Maria: “The birth of our children brought me and my husband closer together, which I know isn’t always the case. We’re really thankful for that.”
* The word “partner” is used in this article, but please know that many of the communication dynamics and strategies apply to a support system outside of a romantic relationship as well. Clear communication with your support system can be beneficial and is worth exploring as you navigate new and different roles.
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