Being a parent to your child is one of the most difficult things I think anyone can ever do. But even harder than that, I think, is being a parent alongside another parent. Doing both at the same time is an exercise in ambidexterity, patience, and varsity-level communication. As you can imagine, it is unfortunately very easy for things to go awry between you and your partner. So here are some rules for parenting your newborn with your partner that will keep you from eventually hate each other.
I think the overarching themes in all of these points are communication, cooperation, and understanding... all of which can be in short supply with a newborn present because, guys, I don't know if you know this, but babies are demanding AF. Moreover, babies lack effective communication, cooperation, and understanding. It's easy to think of them as inconsiderate little jerks until you realize that they don't know they have toes yet, much less that you have feelings and needs. Nevertheless, this will try your patience, both with them and your partner who, whether you acknowledge it or not, you rely on to pick up your baby's slack (and vice versa).
I can't promise that these pointers are going to help you avoid all discord in the newborn period with your partner. But hopefully they can help maintain perspective and put together a strategy so that you can get through it all, more harmoniously, together.
Make A Plan
It doesn't have to be a hyper-detailed plan, but come together to decide basically what needs to happen (and what you want to happen) during your time together. Does the baby need to be fed? Bathed? Does someone need to do the dishes? Who is going to do what? What will the other person be doing in that time? How are you going to work together to make your household run smoothly? Don't just assume that the other person will know or tell you — be proactive and involved.
Be OK Deviating From The Plan Sometimes
My partner is fond of quoting Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke the Elder: "No plan survives contact with the enemy." I'm not saying you should view your newborn as an adversary but the point remains — a slew of unknowns and uncertainties usually get in the way of the best laid plans, necessitating some minor modifications and major shake-ups. Try not to let this basic fact of life throw you off your game. Try to roll with the punches and preserve what important aspects of your plan that you can. If it turns out to be unsalvageable, don't be too hard on yourself (or your partner).
Talk About Something Other Than Parenting
It's easy to let this tiny little dictator rule over everything in your life, including your conversations with your partner. But you had a life before them, and you will have a life that is less revolved around them as they get older, so maintaining a relationship apart from the in the time in between is going to be clutch.
Talk about work, something you heard on NPR, books, the news, hell, talk about The Bachelor. Point is you should not let the art of conversation get rusty. This can certainly be challenging, especially during the times when you are so preoccupied and/or tired that you can only muster enough energy to communicate in a series of grunts and hand gestures, but, in the long-run, it is well worth the effort.
Talk About Parenting
This goes along with "make a plan," but takes a bit of a longer view. Because it's not just the day to day stuff that should be discussed, but your overall ideas about how you want to raise your child, what values you want to instill in them, and what aspects of child-rearing you feel passionately about. This not only allows you to establish key tenets of your parenting philosophy together, but it gives you the space to figure out how you feel by talking through ideas and informs the smaller decisions by providing a general big picture.
Learn How To Do Everything
Too often, there are tasks that only one parent knows how to do. So if a baby needs to be changed, comforted, bathed, fed, etc. they're handed off. This places undue and unfair burden on the parent in the know, and denies the other parent the opportunity to, well, parent. So learn how to do everything your baby will need.
And, yes, I recognize that in the case of breastfeeding, for example, this is usually going to necessarily fall to one parent. But think about how you can support your partner in the things only they can do in those instances. Can you get them water when they're trapped under an infant? Do they pump? Can you assemble and clean the various pump parts? Store the milk in the freezer? See! This can still be a team effort! Race car drivers run laps on their own, but they're nothing without their pit crew.
In all things. Switch off who gets up with the baby, who does bath time, and who changes the diapers. Very often we get stuck in our parenting tasks, however unofficially. And, certainly, everyone is going to have their specialty, but mix it up from time to time so everyone can keep all their skills sharp.
Ask What Your Partner Needs
Don't wait for someone to ask, because in these newborn days it's often hard to notice when you do need something until someone asks. If you're feeling like you've got a handle on things for the moment, ask your partner if they're doing OK. They should do the same for you.
Say Thank You
I swear to God, this is, like, the secret to happiness in any relationship. It's nice to feel acknowledged and appreciated. It's a great way to show that you're paying attention. So just say it, because it takes no time and it can make all the difference in the world on the days when you're feeling like a human burp cloth.
We're all going to screw up. Every single one of us are going to do something wrong or forget to burp the baby or we're going to get snippy with our partner or any number of other crappy happenstances. That's OK. We're human and, moreover, we're in the midst of a very trying time as new parents. So just acknowledge your own shortcomings and apologize for them and try to avoid them moving forward. The more we can acknowledge the fact that we screw up sometimes, the less those mistakes will loom over our relationships.
Recognize Your Partner's Parenting Style & Strategy
In other words, they're not going to do things the exact same way you do and that's OK. Respect what works for them and try not to get bent out of shape if they're not going about it the same way you do. Babies will learn to respond to a lot of different things, so let your partner figure out what works for them without interrupting them with the "right way" to do it.
Recognize An Honest Effort
Sometimes your partner's attempts to do something helpful will miss the mark completely. (Don't look so smug, either, because yours will, too, from time to time!) It can be easy, in those moments, to get pissed off and wonder why they didn't just listen to you and do things your way in the first place? Or bemusedly reel over the fact that they could be so clueless. Hold back on your desire to say so, though. After all, they're tired and they tried. None of us are born knowing how to parent (or how to be the world's greatest partner while parenting.) If they tried, attempt to appreciate the effort. That's not to say you can't expect them to learn from the experience or try harder next time, but reinforcing positive behavior goes farther than punishing negative behavior.
Allow For Alone Time
Because you love your baby, you love each other, but good God, sometimes you just need three minutes to rub together so you can collect yourself enough to face the world another day.
Maintain A Sense Of Humor
Because this is all hard... but it's also pretty funny if you can take an outsiders view. You're both exhausted, often bumbling, and covered in body fluids. It may be a bit slapstick, but it's still funny. Take your smiles where you can, when you can: they'll buoy you in the times when there are none to be found.