Couples are always thrilled at the arrival of a new bundle of joy, but when it is your first child the adjustment to becoming parents can often be very stressful. You have become accustomed to the dynamic in your relationship when it was just the two of you. Now suddenly there is a third person and it changes everything. It changes the way you view yourself and it may even change the way you view your partner. This new person puts new demands and new pressures on the couple and the whole role of parenting places a new type of strain on the relationship.
You have different roles to play
The early stages of having a new family member can be very stressful as both partners begin to adjust to the new demands placed on them. Baby seems to need mom all the time for feeding, for changing and sometimes just for comfort. In many cases, dad may begin to feel a little left out and, on occasion, may even begin to feel jealous of all the time that baby gets to spend with mom. This becomes even more difficult since many new moms have lower desire for sex. The partner may feel that suddenly his wife is no longer available emotionally or physically in the same way she used to be and this is a massive adjustment for both partners.
You are more tired and have less time for everything
Having a new born in the house means waking up every three hours for a feed, a nappy change and generally seeing to the baby. Sleep deprivation is hard on new parents and can be a source of stress within the relationship. The little bit of free time that you do get you may find yourself prioritizing getting some sleep instead of wanting to spend time with each other and this can lead to a feeling of distance within the relationship. Sleep deprivation usually make people feel more iritated or “on edge” and then simple converstaions can be misinterpreted and lead to arguments. Therefore, couples at this stage need to be particularily careful about their communication.
You have different ideas about discipline and boundary setting
As the little one grows older and she begins to test her boundaries (and her parents’ patience) the couple begins to implement parenting skills and differing ideas around discipline may begin to surface. This is understandable when one takes into account that each partner comes from a different background where different family rules and dynamics existed. Suddenly you have one partner wanting to be a little ‘softer’ while the other believes in parenting with firmer rules. This often leads to new conflict around how to parent and discipline the new child.
You have different dreams and goals for your new family
Creating a family involves creating family rituals and routines. Some families enjoy eating dinner around a table, while others do not view this as important. Other families make birthdays, mother’s day and father’s day big occasions, while others prefer not to focus on these. Depending on your own family background, you will find that each partner has a particular idea of how they would like their family to function. This is a potential source of conflict when both partners do not value the same things, or agree about the same rituals.
Being aware of the difficulties that new parents face makes the adjustment period easier. It is important to realise that these issues are normal and common to new parents and talking to your partner about what is happening is essential. While there are many tips for new parents (link to article) and ways in which you can maintain a healthy relationship (link to article), the following will help to make the adjustment period smoother:
1. Realize that the early stages of parenting have different demands on each partner. In other words, the role of being a mother in the early stages is very different from the role of being a father. It is useful to acknowledge the different demands placed on each of you and to discuss your expectations of one another so that you remain connected throughout the process. Plan some quality time if you begin to feel like you are losing touch with one another, but be patient as this period of parenting can be emotionally taxing.
2. Play tag to get some sleep. The early stages of parenting is difficult on both partners so the sooner you can get into a routine of sharing the load where possible the better for both of you. Try alternating wake ups with your baby so that one of you gets a turn to rest while the other takes the responsibility for a little while. You may find that doing this allows you to feel a little more refreshed and will help both partners feel like equal contributors to the family situation. Having a little more time to sleep also leaves some free time for the two of you to have quality time together.
3. Discuss your needs and expectations around parenting as and when they arise. It is really important to form a ‘united front’ when parenting so make sure that you discuss your ideas around boundaries, rules and ways of disciplining your child. It may be useful to discuss these issues before you are faced with them so try making time where you can have a conversation around these issues and understand each other’s perspectives.
4. Have a conversation about your hopes and dreams for your family. You both come from different family backgrounds with different values, routines and family rituals. It is important that your new family incorporates the specific routines and rituals that are important to you. Make sure that you and your partner have discussed issues such as how and when you will have dinner, what you will do for birthdays and Christmas and any other important values you would like to uphold in your new family.
Remember that becoming a parent includes an entirely different dynamic to your relationship and the adjustment period is often stressful for most parents. It is natural to feel overwhelmed at times, but it is important to remain connected to your partner as you navigate your way through this new territory.