My children are 6 and almost 4, but their first years feel so much longer, comparatively, to the ones that followed. It's sort of like high school, when four years felt like an eternity but the 10 years leading up to your reunion felt like four months. Your formative years loom large, as do your formative parenting years. Some days you're going to be so preoccupied with your baby you'll forget you have a partner entirely. But they are your co-pilot, and there are some things you should ask you your partner before your baby turns 1.
Here's the goal for your child's first year: everyone survives. That alone is noteworthy (and, I'm guessing, why first birthdays are such a big bash for some people). If everyone survives, congratulations, you've done well. Next goal: everyone survives in one piece, physically and emotionally. That's wonderful. Next goal: everyone survives in one piece and enjoys the experience. That is extraordinary and not necessarily impossible, but it takes intention and effort.
One way to exert this effort is through a series of questions to promote ongoing conversations with your partner. You may not always remember to ask, and you may not always be up for a particularly profound discussion (particularly not after three hours of broken sleep while you're covered in spit up with a baby improperly latched onto your boob), but I think it's important to keep asking these questions, because they will allow you to be on the same page with your partner (or at least let them know where you're at).
"How Are You?"
Checking in with your partner is so important, and it's not a one-time thing. Look, even under non-new baby circumstances it's a good idea, but it's crucial when you're going through such a massive life change. Everything is in flux, including your lifestyle, your bodies (yes, even non-gestational parents because a lack of sleep alone will change anyone), your emotional wellbeing, your priorities, and your finances. It's all changing all the time. There's a good chance you're barely hanging on, but try to see how your partner is faring whenever you can. From a sheerly selfish point of view, it opens up the doors for them to ask the same of you.
"How Are We?"
Checking in on an individual level is important, but so is assessing the state of your relationship. Have you had the chance to talk? How's the sex (or lack of sex)? Are you OK with the levels of physical, emotional, and intellectual attention and stimulation that's going on?
Look, you both probably get that you're in survival mode right now and things aren't going to be amazing. Truthfully, devoting time and energy to an ideal relationship is probably at the bottom of your list right now, but don't let it fall off the list entirely.
"This Is *Really* Hard, Right?"
Admit this to each other! Admitting its hard isn't some admission that you're failing! It's hard for everyone! Hearing someone confirm your own experience is so cathartic and constructive and validating! Again, this is something that opens the doors to get into more personal complaints, concerns, and venting.
"What Do You Like Most About Having A Baby?"
There's some real wisdom in the idea that you need to "stop and smell the roses," and, moreover, to exclaim to the person you're strolling in the garden with that, "My, my! These roses smell wonderful, don't you think?" Because just as admitting difficulty is cathartic and gives you valuable perspective, so does taking a more macro view and acknowledging the joy parenting brings you... even if there are days that are completely devoid of joy.
"How Do You Feel About Our Division Of Labor?"
Bad habits start early (often, I'd argue, due to crappy parental leave policies, especially for men and other non-gestational parents), and it's important to continually discuss how to make things as fair as possible in the first year. Who is doing what? Is that sustainable? Is there more someone else can do? Does one person need to go easier on themselves? This is an incredibly important discussion to the ongoing health of a relationship between parents.
"Do You Want To Go Out?"
A lot of parents feel guilty about leaving a new baby to go take time for themselves.
Seriously, your baby is going to be fine. Don't wait more than a year to get some time away. If you just can't get past the idea that you're abandoning your little one, think of it like this: devoting time to enjoying your relationship is good for everyone in the family unit.
"How Has Family Life Affected Our Other Goals?"
You don't have to make any final decisions in the first year. In fact I'd advise against it, personally, because major decisions shouldn't be made in moments of chaos or crisis and, one could argue, the first year of parenthood is exactly that. But see what you're thinking and how your ideas of career, finances, living situation, education, and future family planning looks in the first year.
"Do You Need A Break?"
Don't wait for them to ask: offer. Because sometimes people forget to ask but that doesn't mean they don't need it.
"I Need A Break, So What Time Works For You To Allow For That?"
If they don't ask, speak up. Don't ask permission, just ask what works for them. They'll find some time to mind the home front while you take care of you (just as you'll do when they need some time to themselves). Taking time for yourselves as a couple is great, but you're also individuals and you need time to remind yourselves of this fact. Again, you might not get all the time you'd like, but a little dab'll do ya in early parenthood.
*Knock Knock* "Who's There?"
OK, it's not so much a question, but it's a good way to highlight that finding the absurdity in the first year and keeping a sense of humor will keep you afloat.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.