After a 40 week (more or less) wait, it has finally happened: your baby is home! Congratulations! And, hopefully, you're fortunate enough to have maternity leave and your partner has been given similar time off. Chances are, though, that's not the case. In fact, there's a better than average possibility that your partner will be back to work long before you. So I'd like to talk about the fights every couple has on maternity leave, specifically when one is on maternity leave and the other isn't, because they're just going to happen.
My husband and I don't really fight, generally speaking, but maternity leave (as well as the first few postpartum months) was tremendously challenging and really tested the strength of our relationship at every turn. And, of course, there were a lot of disagreements as we navigated new parenthood together, made all the more difficult by the fact that we were each hanging on by a thread at times. Yes, we tried to be mindful of expressing our feelings in a constructive way and using "I statements" and paying attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues, but there's only so much you can manage to do that when you're focusing all your energy on doing basically the same thing for your baby (who sucks at "I statements" by the way). So something's gotta give.
Hopefully your fights will be more "disagreements" than verbal brawls, but the truth of the matter is that just about every couple is going to have to reckon with the following:
The "Who Should Get Up With The Baby" Fight
This one usually boils down to, "I'm with the baby all day, you can handle nights/early mornings," and, "You're home all day, while I have to be at work and awake."
Both arguments have valid points and, IMHO, it's kind of crap if one person is doing all the wake ups. But the precise balance of who needs to get up when and the calculus of who needs to sleep in differs from couple to couple and day to day.
The "How Clean The House Should Be" Fight
Working partner: Well, it's not like you don't have the opportunity to tidy up. I mean, if you're home all day shouldn't it be clean?
Umm... dude. I'm home all day with an infant! So not only is the house continuously occupied and therefore "lived in" kind of messy, but I'm just a little bit busy with our child. So sorry if there's laundry everywhere and dishes in the sink. I've been a little preoccupied.
The "Who Should Cook" Fight
This is just another extension of the previous question, only replace "cleaning the house" with "cooking." But unlike the previous question, this can get into a sub-fight of, "Well where should we order from? ... Ugh, really? I'm so over Thai."
Or, the worst possible argument all couples have:
"What do you want?"
"I don't know. Whatever. You pick."
"Ugh. Not that."
The "Do You Know What Kind Of Day I've Had?" Fight
This one is tough, because everyone is entitled to their own pain and it's not a contest. However, one must tread very carefully on both sides of this equation, because "You have no idea how hard my day has been" can very easily be taken as: "...because your days are so not hard." (Especially when you consider that everyone involved is on edge and probably sleep deprived.)
In actuality, the person speaking is just venting, which is absolutely necessary for a stressed out person. The important thing to remember is that the other person is stressed out too and, if you're venting, you should afford them the space (and sympathy) to do the same.
The "Who Knows What's Best For Baby" Fight
Spoilers: no one knows what's best for baby 100 percent of the time during maternity leave, not even the baby. That's because you're all still getting to know each other (and, if this is your first child, figuring out how the hell they even work half the time). As such, this can be a deeply insecure time. So on the rare occasion you really feel like you know what you're talking about, you dig your heels in and don't accept your partner's thoughts or advice (and vice versa). If you're lucky, your areas of expertise will complement each other, but sometimes they're going to overlap and that can be a fight.
The "Who Has It Easier" Fight
This conversation will never go well and should not be willingly attempted!
This is usually what happens when the "Do you have any idea what kind of day I've had?" question goes horribly awry. Avoid this direct contest at all cost. There are no winners.
The "To Go Out Or Not To Go Out" Fight
This is very much a person to person thing, but even more introverted personalities can feel cooped up during maternity leave. As a super-extroverted person, I was basically climbing the walls at the end of the day (which is a feat when you have a C-section incision or vaginal tearing). On days when you're feeling particularly antsy, you kind of have to hope your partner is feeling up to an outing, too. Of course, given that they are out and about all the time and come home to a baby, they may well not be feeling so much as a stroll around the neighborhood.
Look, there's a lot going on with everyone, physically and emotionally, and it can be almost impossible, sometimes, to ensure that everyone's needs are being met simultaneously. This is tough to navigate and can very well lead to some kind of argument.
The "What The Other Person Would Do If They Were In Their Partner's Position" Fight
Remember before you had kids, and you had all these very definitive rules about raising your imaginary baby that always worked out and were super easy? This ("If I were you, here's how I would spend my day") is the new version of that. And, like your imaginary baby, your imaginary work/life balance, stay-at-home schedule, etc. is unrealistic and never goes according to plan.
Avoid this if you can. At best, the other person is going to laugh at your naiveté. At worst, there will be tears and yelling.
The "You Don't Let Me Help" Or "You're Helping Wrong" Fight
Personally, I think this is the worst aspect of "maternity leave" as opposed to "parental leave." As it stands here in the United States, if she's lucky, mom gets maternity leave and her partner's, if her partner gets any leave at all, it's almost certainly less time. As a result, mom spends more time with the baby during this crucial period, and they're the only ones learning how to do everything. Then when her partner comes home and wants to help, even though they don't have the benefit of the experience that maternity leave afforded mom. The working partner tries and fail (totally reasonable), and after a while what does mom say? "Here, let me."
Meaning the parent with little or no leave never learns. Meaning mom gets a disproportionate amount of the childcare work on her shoulders. Meaning fights ensue.
Moms: I know it's really hard, because you just want the crying to stop after an entire day of crying, but you've gotta let your partner flounder through this one and not get judgy or annoyed.
Partners? You've got to struggle through the crying even though you know your partner could probably make it stop.
The "What Was That...?" Fight
"What was what?"
"Did you hear that?"
"No, go back to sleep."
"OK, I definitely heard something, though. I'm going to go check on her."
"If you go check she's going to wake up. Don't check."
"But what if something happened?"
"What could have happened?!"
"Don't do it!"
"I'm going in..."
"We're getting a monitor."
"We don't need a monitor."
"Clearly we've found an occasion when a monitor would be useful!"
The "Who's More Tired" Fight
Stop right there. You're both tired. This is not a point to fight over, but to bond and commiserate over.