Wednesday, August 24, 2016

warning: having children can ruin your relationship

This is the stuff no one tells you when you have children and not many people talk about until it's too late.

So today I thought I'd talk about it. Get things out in the open.

I hope you'll join the discussion.

Now that I am through the other side of babies and toddlers of endless sleepless nights, of clothes splattered with baby vomit and mashed pumpkin, of wondering if my husband and I would ever have a moment together where there wasn't a baby or child between us, I feel qualified to speak.

My eyes are wide open to the friends around me who are going through the early season of parenting, who are just starting out on family life trying to find their way with it all and well, feeling like they're failing.

Well here's the newsflash: living with babies and little people is HARD!!

No matter how cute they are, no matter how much your heart feels like it is actually going to break with love every time you look at them, early parenthood stretches our emotions and priorities to the extreme.

I'm writing about this because it is an all too common story of couples splitting up when their children are in this newborn/toddler stage and when I hear about it I can't help but think "if only you'd hung in there!"

Of course this is a massive generalisation that if they'd hung in there longer everything would be ok, perhaps it wouldn't, perhaps they were only hanging in there by a thread before baby arrived but if anything is going to test the strength of that thread a baby will!

For what it's worth, here are my tips for having children and keeping your relationship alive and well.

1. Surrender to and accept the fact that having children changes who you are and your life forever.

Soak that in for a minute.

Its a big one.

So many people keep thinking that their life will 'go back to normal' once the baby sleeps through the night, once the baby is eating solids, once the baby is walking.

This is the new normal, there's no going back, time will never be your own again (except maybe once they move out of home). And none of that's a bad thing. Your attitude is so important.

2. Speak up early.

As soon as you start to feel like you need a break/a nap/a footrub/more support, speak up. And if you aren't heard or understood by your partner ask a friend or family member.

3. Stay ahead of resentment

See tip number 2. If you don't speak up early a couple of things will happen. I call it the volcano effect, the resentment builds and builds until the inevitable explosion. Just as much as you are adjusting to the demands of parenting, so is your partner, don't turn it into a competition of who is doing more, whose job is harder. Work together.

4. Get some sleep

Beg, borrow or steal some sleep. Everything is harder and more emotional when you are sleep deprived. I was never one for day sleeping when my babes were little (probably to my detriment) so I used to force myself to make a cup of tea and actually put my feet up while I drank it. Even this small rest helped. A 10 minute nap while your baby sleeps, and going to bed early can mean the difference between sanity and tears - yours not the baby's!

5. Have some time out

This can feel so hard for some new mums, especially first time mums. "I'm ok, I can keep going" I used to think. "I love my baby I don't want to leave it with anyone else!" I used to think. But if you can, you will feel better for it. Even a walk around the block or a long shower or bath. In Robin Barker's fantastic book Baby Love she makes the point that if we are always around our partner doesn't get the opportunity to be with the baby and learn for themselves how to do things without feeling like they are being watched, leave baby with your partner or another family member or friend and have some time out.

6. Seek older wiser counsel

Once upon a time we lived in the village with grandmothers and aunties who were ahead of us on the path, who could fill us with wise counsel. Unfortunately the village isn't on our doorstep but it is there if you look for it. It might be your maternal and child health nurse, it might be your mum, or your neighbor. I'm blessed with a fairy godmother, aunties, grandmother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law I can call on if not always for babysitting at least for a chat when things get hard or confusing. Talking always puts things back in perspective.

7. If you're looking for your libido

The degree of this varies for everyone but ranks high on the list for causing tension post baby. You're exhausted, you're breastfeeding, your body is recovering from giving birth in every possible way, the only intimacy you want is with your pillow. Like so many aspects of motherhood as a society we can have really unrealistic expectations and ideas about 'what is normal' about when is too soon or not soon enough for your libido to find you again. Natural New Age Mum has put together a great post on this with thoughts and tips on 'what's normal' and what to do about it.

8. Never be too capable

My fairy godmother taught me this one when my first baby was born. This is a hard one especially I think for women of today who have had successful careers they somehow transfer career brain to motherhood and that's not really how it works. If you are too capable you are not allowing your partner to develop their skills and you are putting high expectations on yourself to be able to 'do it all'.

9. Make time for your relationship.

This really is the most important one. Remind yourself of why you fell in love with each other, those qualities are still there even if they're hidden under tiredness and raw emotion. Make date night a priority, it can be as simple and inexpensive as watching a movie together - make it a comedy!

Relationships are precious. They take work. They need nurturing. If you've neglected yours or you're feeling neglected, talk about it. If you find it hard to come up with the words write it down first. And do get some sleep it makes all the difference.

Love to hear your thoughts on this one in the comments.

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