Five ways to survive new parenthood
When I worked as an Agony Aunt I would receive letters from new mothers struggling in their relationships with their partners. One woman with a nine-month-old daughter wrote, "I feel I am losing sight of the man I married. My husband doesn't offer to help and when he does he makes a mess of it. It makes me frustrated and it ends up either with me in a huff or with a fight."
The arrival of a baby can cause the cracks in a struggling relationship to become chasms but it can also put pressure on even the most secure marriage. Why? Because not only are you adjusting to this little person making huge demands on you but you are also experiencing the transition from being a couple to becoming co-parents.
So, what can you do to make sure that your relationship not just survives the transition but actually thrives? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Mums: involve Dad from the start. I know from experience that controlling behaviour is not the answer. The more you nag, take over or tell him he's getting it all wrong the less inclined he will be to give it a go.
If you want your partner involved it helps to let go and start trusting him. I remember when our son Jed was about six weeks old leaving him with my husband David for a day. When I came back at 3.30 in the afternoon the house looked like a wreck and they were both still in their pyjamas, but they were alive and having a laugh together which was what really counted.
2. Parent as a team. Most of us have our thoughts as to how children should be parented. These will have been shaped by our own childhoods and from what we observed in other families. Sometimes it is only when we become parents ourselves that we realise that our partner's idea of "normal" might not be quite the same as ours.
Becoming a family means you have the chance to form you own version of "normal" together. Which values and ways of doing things would you like to replicate from either of your own upbringings and which would you like to be different?
3. Retain your sanity. The smallest thing can lead to an argument when you are tired or overwhelmed. That's why it is important to communicate your needs to each other. Don't expect your partner to mind read – tell them how you are and what you need.
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Getting sleep, whenever and wherever you can, will help. And maintaining your sense of humour is also a great antidote to stress. Try writing down all the funny things that happen with the baby. You'll be able to laugh at them as a family in the years to come.
4. Pray with and for each other. When Jed was a baby I often asked David to pray the same daily prayer for me: for more sleep and more patience. Prayers don't need to be long but they can be a great encouragement and can also help lift your eyes above the immediate focus of nappies, sleep-deprivation, washing and feeding.
5. Keep the spark alive. Carving out time to be together won't be easy but it is vital if you are going to keep connected.
Little and often is the easiest way to make time together happen – a walk, a coffee, or a meal together. Take up any offers of babysitting so that you can have an hour or so to talk and have fun together.
Sex might not be on the agenda for a few weeks or months but small things such as a hug, a massage (men take note), or an appreciative comment will hopefully build intimacy until you are ready to make love again.
And don't feel guilty taking time for yourselves. Investing in your relationship is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children.
Sarah Abell is the author of Inside Out – how to have authentic relationships with everyone in your life (Hodder and Stougton). Follow her on Twitter at @nakedhedgehogs