My partner and I never had to question whether or not we wanted kids because, well, we both wanted them. Our folks made it look pretty easy to raise decent human beings, so we didn’t put too much thought into how becoming parents might affect us, either. It was surprising what a huge impact a tiny newborn person can have on a household, though. I wish we had talked to more people about it, actually, as I'm pretty positive the things couples need to hear when they become parents would have made all difference if, you know, we had actually heard them. In the early days of adjustment, when everything about my life, including my relationship, suddenly seemed different — and not always in a great way — I know I could have used some reassurance that all the weird, scary, anxious feelings we were having were totally normal.
When I’d scan parenting forums and new mom message boards during late night nursing sessions, I didn’t come across many parents who were sharing how their partnerships were affected after having a baby. Lots of moms were weighing in on the same jumbled mess of emotions I was experiencing in the wake of birthing a person, but in my attempt to measure up against other new parents, as couples, I was coming up short. Were we doing OK as a team? Were we going to make it as a couple when all we seemed to do was hover around an infant who gave us absolutely no constructive feedback?
I wish there was more discussion about what to expect, as co-parents, when you welcome a baby. We could have really benefited from hearing these things, especially as a couple, after we became parents:
"You Might Not Find Your Groove For A While"
We weren’t shocked to realize we had to adjust to having a baby to take care of, but we were definitely not prepared how much of our life was disrupted now that we were parents. There was nothing we could do — eat, sleep, watch TV — that didn’t also require us to consider our tiny new roommate. My husband ate when I nursed and I ate when he was changing her. And for the entire first year of our daughter’s life, we watched TV with closed captioning, and no sound, for fear of waking her. Rookie mistake.
"It’s OK If You Don’t Do Anything Else But Baby Stuff"
My husband and I were aware of how fleeting our moments with our newborn were. As full-time working parents, the clock was always ticking. My husband took two weeks of leave, and even though I took my full 12 weeks (most of it unpaid) of FMLA leave, I felt the impending end of my days with my daughter. We barely did anything that didn’t have to do with our child, and while some would argue it would have been good for us to do adults only activities, I still see the value of focusing our attention on our child in that very narrow window of time we were home with her during the day.
"You’re Doing Fine…"
While it was a comfort to navigate the new mantle of parenthood with a partner, it didn’t quell all our fears. It would have been nice to hear that we were doing OK, as evidenced by our thriving child.
"… Even If You Feel Like You’re Failing"
Any doubts I might have had about my parenting abilities were compounded when I would catch my husband doubting himself, too. We had to become our biggest cheerleaders. If I felt like I was failing, I had to count on him to tell me things were fine, and vice versa. We were both therapist and patient to each other in those first few sleepless weeks.
"There Will Be Enough Love To Go Around"
I have to admit, I didn’t feel very romantic towards my partner as I was adjusting to my new role as a mother. I began to worry that maybe my heart wasn’t big enough to accommodate a husband and a child. Then I became anxious that he was feeling the same way. Would having a kid cause our marriage to bottom out? I’ve seen it happen. But, over time, it became obvious that my love is not finite; though my husband and I didn’t always have the same amount of time for each other after having kids, we at least wanted whatever time we could get. That was enough.
"Arguing Is Normal"
Arguing is normal in any relationship, but the stakes feel so much greater with a kid in the mix. I would have loved to hear from veteran parents that squabbling over how many layers to dress the kid for a 2-block walk to the supermarket will not define our relationship.
"Ask For Help…"
My husband and I are fiercely independent people. We don’t like to ask for help in general. But it truly takes a village, and having our family living close by meant we could call on them frequently, if only we weren’t bent on stubbornly proving how we could handle things ourselves.
"… And Be Specific"
When we did ask for help, it served us best if we could be specific about it. Identifying an exact day and time we could use someone to watch the baby while we just took a meal break would have been good advice for us. When I had my second child, a friend of mine created a meal train, where neighbors (some of whom I had never even met before) signed up to bring us dinners, on days we specified. That was a huge help for us. Getting over our pride to ask for help was the smartest thing we ever did for our family.
"Don’t Be Heroes"
Not feeling well? Barricade yourself in a room, away from your baby and healthy partner. Even if you’re just really tired, but so tired that you can’t remember where you put your coffee mug two seconds after setting it down, take a break.
I really wish someone would have told my husband and me this. We felt like parenting should be work, 24/7, and that we should be in full-on parent mode whenever we were with the baby. This is exhausting, and counterproductive. During night feedings, when I breastfed the baby, my husband had to sleep so he had the energy during the day while I conked out between nursing sessions. If we didn’t have an opposite sleep schedule, we’d both be consumed by exhaustion and that wouldn’t be good for anybody, especially our newborn.
"You’re Allowed To Feel Judgmental Against Non-Parents…"
I’ll admit, my husband and I occasionally judged some of our childfree friends. Now that we were on the other side of parenthood, we viewed non-parents as self-indulgent. They weren’t selfless, like us, who had just committed to putting the life of a baby before all our individual needs. We were martyrs. We were taking on The Most Important Job of raising the next generation of humans. We were assholes.
"… And Totally Jealous Of Them"
We were jerks because we envied the freedom of our childfree friends. There are still times when I long to just be untethered to my children’s lives. I don’t want to have to schedule meetings with my husband to talk about the after-school schedules, the division of laundry and lunch-making duties, and how we’re carving up our precious weekends to supervise soccer games, birthday parties, and flute practice. It sucks. Sometimes.
But not for a second do I regret creating our children with my husband. I look at our daughter and our son in awe: we made them. And they hold a mirror up to my husband and me, challenging us to be the dedicated, engaged, loving parents we signed on to be almost a decade ago when we committed to having our first baby. Our goals for parenthood have not changed.