Many couples believe that a new baby will bring them closer together so they embark upon the journey of parenthood with daydreams filled with baby giggles and that fresh powdery baby smell. As the new mommy’s belly begins to grow, they find themselves romanticizing what it’s going to be like once the little one has joined their family. They picture themselves gazing at this new little life they’ve created while their partner looks on lovingly with stars in their eyes. They may even have plans laid out of who is going to take on what responsibilities for the baby.
“Oh I don’t mind the diapers. I’ll change them.
“Bath time is my thing. I’ve got it.”
“I just love folding those tiny clothes!”
Optimism is an important part of life as it’s how we get through the rough parts, but this idealized view of what this new life will be like for you as a couple is a load of crap. If anything, a new baby challenges a couple in ways that they haven’t even fathomed. In the throes of sleepless nights, muddy baby butts and other responsibilities that don’t ease up just because you’re busy with a new baby, even the most solid couple will get testy with each other. Many times conversations will be more akin to the following:
“I’ve been working all day and I can’t even rest a moment before you hand me the baby?!?! Don’t you sleep when the baby sleeps?”
“Who has time to sleep while the baby sleeps? I may be on maternity leave but I do get tired too!”
“All you have to do is take care of the baby! I work!”
“Say that again… I’ll cut you.”
Mom is left feeling that Dad doesn’t consider her and all the effort that goes into caring for a new baby. She feels he is disconnected from the reality of her day. As her exhaustion increases so does her frustrations. She may feel devalued; the exact opposite of how she expected to feel. She dwells on it in the middle of the night as she struggles to keep the baby quiet so her husband’s sleep is not disturbed. Taking care of the baby is “all she has to do” and she feels inadequate now. She suppresses it because he doesn’t understand anyway. He doesn’t see how hard her days can be. He doesn’t see HER anymore.
Dad feels like he’s second in line rather than an equal parent. She constantly tells him he’s doing it wrong. TV shows and movies have taught us that dads are incompetent goofs who need moms to fix the messes they make in child rearing so she treats him accordingly. He’s exhausted too. He rises with the sun to provide for his family and needs to be able to bring his “A Game” no matter how much sleep he did or didn’t get because his job doesn’t consider the role of the father when deadlines approach and requests are made. He doesn’t want to talk about it because he doesn’t feel like arguing with her. She doesn’t see that he tries to help, but her death stares when he does it differently from her has made him apprehensive. She doesn’t see HIM anymore.
They are happy parents. But maybe not very happy spouses at the moment. Unfortunately, this is the norm. We see it over and over and over. Circumstances may be a little different but it all boils down to the same feelings. If a couple isn’t strong to begin with, that beautiful bundle of joy will shake up their relationship and highlight everything that is wrong. They will make it through but SOMETHING in that relationship will be broken and forever changed.
Even a strong couple will have to weather this storm. He feels like he’s on lockdown and needs a break. She feels 10 years older and her nipples are chapped beyond belief. They both feel like the other doesn’t get it. I have no solutions for avoiding this period in the life cycle of a couple. That’s not what I do here, unless wine to calm your nerves and angry sex to reconnect is your idea of sound advice. I just want you to know you’re not alone. Your relationship can recover. If my conversations with friends and family and countless posts on online mommy boards are to be believed, this is downright to be expected. It’s just a phase. Find comfort in the fact that if you are in this phase, millions of other couples are also there or have been there, white-knuckling it through, all hoping that they emerge stronger or at least able to glue back together the parts that broke.