The arrival of a new bundle of joy in your life will inevitably come with a whole host of challenges as you navigate this new, unfamiliar territory. Turning off that alarm clock on the weekends? Don’t bother. Sleep? Never heard of her. But along with the obvious changes that come with a new baby in the house come perhaps less obvious changes in your relationship with your significant other. Figuring out the new normal as a family rather than a couple can be daunting, stressful, and yes, even wonderful!
The first time I saw my husband, Tom, in a “dad” light rather than a “significant other” light was when I saw those two pink lines on the dollar store pregnancy test I had scrounged up from the back of my closet. His face lit up, and he smiled so wide I thought his cheeks would crack. On the other hand, I had to sit down from the shock. From then on, he was at every doctor’s appointment, rubbing my feet and making sure I was as comfortable as could be.
When our first child was born, I’ll never forget the pride in his voice as he told me, “It’s a boy, babe! It’s Jack!” as he announced our surprise gender baby to the delivery room. I instantly saw what I already knew since our first date. He was going to rock this whole parenting gig. Tom was still my partner, my first phone call for anything good or bad that happened, and my favorite person to lounge on the couch with at night. But now he added a new job description to his life resume—father. And he looked damn good doing it.
Seeing how he dotes on our sons, Jack and Theodore (not to mention me), and how he works tirelessly to ensure they are growing up in an environment filled with love and fun is just incredible to watch. I am so glad I got a front-row seat to see him crush being a husband and being a father on a day-to-day basis. The evolution from partner to parenting partner was a seamless one for him.
The way we communicate is also different. We no longer spend hours and hours texting each other sweet nothings or giggling about funny inside jokes we share. Instead, we are coordinating life. Who is doing drop-off at the grandparents? Who is picking up the chicken for dinner? Oh my goodness, did we pay the mortgage bill this month?! It is truly bittersweet to think of those early days in our dating relationship and to know that they are replaced by mundane details of suburban mom and dad life.
But then I remind myself how lucky we are to have built this life that needs such nurturing and attention. The spontaneity of pre-kids may be gone. But it is replaced by such a sense of peace and comfort. Having a shared goal of maintaining a house and supporting our children and ourselves creates a bond like no other. We have grown closer due to the responsibility, even if the stress of it all overwhelms us regularly.
We also have to make a concerted effort to be very clear about what we need from each other. In the parenting haze of sleep deprivation and stress, it becomes more important than ever to be clear about what we need and not leave anything to be misinterpreted. We are all guilty of expecting our partner to “just know” something so obvious to us. But the reality is, they cannot read our minds. And vice versa. Say what you mean and mean what you say. You will save yourselves from many avoidable arguments.
It can’t be ignored that sleep deprivation plays a significant role in the shift in a relationship. Pre-parenthood, there are seemingly unlimited amounts of free time to sleep, rest, and recharge. Once kids enter the mix, the lack of sleep for both parties can make even the slightest inconvenience seem like World War III.
Sleep deprivation also hinders the ability to make rational decisions or to see a situation reasonably, so you might find yourself snapping at something seemingly inconsequential or unimportant. You might also find yourself snapping at your partner, and the result can lead to frustration and anger for all. Not to mention, the baby is still awake and needs your attention. Try to have grace for each other during these trying sleepless months. They don’t last forever!
You might also find yourself “touched out” at the end of a long day of parenting. You’ve been on autopilot all day long, keeping your tiny human alive, making sure there is dinner on the table, and ensuring the house is still standing. The last thing that might be on your mind is getting cuddly with your partner. This is understandable (don’t forget your hormones are still raging as you navigate postpartum life). But even if it is understandable, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to face that reality with your partner, especially if you had a heavy-on-the-touching relationship pre-kids.
This doesn’t even necessarily have to refer to sex. Feeling touched out can present itself in many ways. Making a conscious effort to regain that connection can go a long way, even if you might not feel entirely in the mood. It shows your partner that while you are the most tired you have ever been in your life, you still value your relationship and want to make time for the other person.
Easier said than done, I know. The idea of feeling romantic when you’ve slept for a cumulative four hours in the past 48 hours, have spit up on your shirt, and haven’t showered in days can be a daunting thought. But start small and remember what made you fall for each other in the early days of dating. Those small doses of togetherness will do wonders for your relationship. And it will help start the next day with a fresh perspective and a renewed sense of teamwork and solidarity.
One of the ways to combat changes in a relationship once kids arrive is to tap into each other’s love languages. Love languages are healthy ways to interact with your partner to know exactly how they like to give and receive love. Knowing this information can save you lots of guesswork, and it helps to be able to tailor your special attention in a way that you know it will be warmly received.
My husband’s love languages are “Quality Time” and “Physical Touch.” Knowing this information helps me figure out how I can brighten his day or remind him that before there was “the family,” there was just “us.” As parents, we now have to make concerted efforts to find time to interact with just the two of us and not focus solely on our kids. Love languages help us hone in on what makes the other tick and help us reconnect after a long day with the work and the kids.
Parenting will inevitably change your relationship. How can it not? You are transforming from a twosome to a family unit. That requires making decisions and conscious coordination of every little thing. But navigating the unknowns together, bonding over the highs and lows, that is parenthood. And sharing in the joy of the little people you have created supersedes anything left in the past.
Yes, of course, we miss our pre-baby days of brunching for hours, sitting on the beach uninterrupted, or making the spur-of-the-moment decision to hit the town. However, nothing tops the joy of seeing our babies smile at us. Of sharing the secret of knowing we have the cutest kids in the world (yes, we do). And of feeling so proud that we are handling everything life is throwing our way. The good, bad, and ugly of parenting is such a rollercoaster, and having a partner through it all makes anything seem manageable. The bond we share continues to strengthen, and I can’t wait to see how each season of life unfolds for us and how our relationship continues to evolve and change for the better.