My husband and I aren’t exactly strangers when it comes to relationship challenges. We have been together for 14 years and married for eight, so we’ve definitely gone through some growing pains as we navigated a long-distance relationship in college and our first year living together as a married couple.
But nothing has challenged our relationship quite like our first year as parents.
Before you have your first child, you have these grand ideas of what it will be like. There’s more sleep, less hormones, and a lot more magical bliss than the reality. I’ll admit, I was guilty of these delusions myself. I knew it would be difficult, but I figured once that “mom instinct” kicked in, I would be golden. Thus, I spent my pregnancy in a state of ignorant bliss, with little thought about what this was all going to mean for my most important relationship: my marriage.
Then my baby arrived and with her came the realization that life as I knew it, for better and for worse, had come to a screeching halt.
I realized that I knew absolutely NOTHING about being a parent and even less about how to be a wife in the midst of it. I was stepping into this new role that didn’t seem to fit, while also dealing with a whirlwind of postpartum emotions and serious sleep deprivation. I cried almost every day and spent a good chunk of my waking hours feeling bitter and resentful toward my husband regarding my unmet (unexpressed) expectations.
There were so many great moments sprinkled throughout that first year of my daughter’s life, but plenty of hard moments, too. Finally, right around her first birthday, I found my stride. I remember telling my husband that I finally felt “normal” again.
That first year certainly was a doozy. But looking back, I’m able to see things that helped us get through it as well as things we could have done better.
1. Communicate your needs — early and often.
This is the biggest and most important survival tip I can share with new parents. Many of the relationship challenges between my husband and I during that first year of parenthood were the result of one or both of us feeling resentful over unmet expectations. The problem was, we hadn’t really discussed what those expectations were. This will look different for every family, but it might be something like “I really need you to be in charge of bedtime routines” or “I would really like 10 minutes to decompress when I get home from work by myself, before I jump in and tackle baby duties.”
Everyone’s needs are different, but being open about them can alleviate some of the stress in your relationship. Once I started expressing my needs and my husband started helping me meet them, I was able to let go of my bitterness. Because really, how fair is it to harbor resentment toward someone for something they don’t even realize they’re doing (or not doing)?
2. Let go of expectations.
One of the hardest parts of new parenthood is the slew of expectations that we go in with. We all have an idea of what parenting is going to look like and inevitably, it always ends up being different from the reality in some way or another. Here’s the thing: all babies are different with different needs. Same goes for parents. Letting go of the expectations you have for your baby and your partner and being open to something different, but probably just as effective, can help your relationship so much.
My husband may tackle bedtime or playtime in a much differently than I do, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Parenting is a team effort, and everyone on a team brings their own unique skill set. Embrace it, and try to go with the flow as much as possible — which as a Type-A person myself, I realize may seem like a lot to ask, but you can do it!
3. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
Sometimes parents (moms especially) feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. I remember feeling like I had to do everything perfectly all the time. I was exhausted and frustrated and thus, a real bear to be around. Once I started delegating things to other people and letting my husband (as well as friends and family) take things off my plate, I was a much happier mama, wife, and person in general.
4. Schedule in “me time,” “you time,” and “together time.”
It’s really easy to become completely wrapped up in your beautiful baby, but it’s equally important to devote time for yourself and your relationship. It can be something as simple as asking your partner to take over nap duty so you can run out for a quick coffee or even just take a shower — and be sure to extend the same courtesy back to them.
I think this was hard for me because I was home with our daughter all day while my husband was at work, so I often found myself feeling like he had already had a break all day at work. But just because his tasks were different than mine didn’t mean he didn’t get tired and worn down, too. We both needed breaks apart and together.
Some people like to schedule weekly, bi-weekly, or even just monthly date nights. If that’s not feasible, just getting out of the house and doing something fun together with your little one can change things up and keep your relationship fun. Head out apple picking together and plop the baby in a carrier. Try out a new restaurant during baby’s nap-on-the-go. These set-aside times can make a huge difference for your relationship.
5. Express gratitude.
A little thank you goes a long way toward making partners feel loved and valued. As a new mom, I often felt overworked and unappreciated in the hundreds of tiny tasks I completed each day. The act of my husband simply saying, “Thank you for taking such good care of our daughter every day. I appreciate you.” made all the difference in the world for my hormonal, new-mom psyche.
And moms, don’t forget to appreciate your partner as well! I know it went a long way with my husband when I would thank him for working hard at the office for us all day.
6. Check in regularly.
Communicate, communicate, communicate! Just because you discussed your needs with your partner once, doesn’t mean that’s the end of it. Checking in regularly to let each other know your needs and what challenges you are experiencing is really important for a healthy relationship, not to mention a parenting partnership.
7. Laugh about it.
Laughter really is the best medicine. Sometimes parenting is just going to feel a little bit ridiculous, and that’s OK, normal even. Laugh about it together and remember that tomorrow is always a new day.More On