My friend placed her hands on her sides and leaned back, just enough to take the pressure off her giant belly. “Tell me the truth, Caitlin,” she said. “Are my husband and I going to end up hating each other when the baby comes?”
I couldn’t help but laugh – there was definitely a moment with my first baby when I really, truly wanted to kill my husband. My murderous rage surfaced in the middle of the night; I had been rocking a fussy newborn for an hour, my arms sore and my breasts leaking, while my husband slept with a peaceful smile on his face, oblivious to the whole thing. In that moment, I hated him. Hated him!
In the morning, he made me a coffee and omelet, and I decided that he wasn’t so bad after all.
All joking aside, a child can be hard on a marriage, and it’s not just because you’re both sleep-deprived and stressed. Children are challenging because you must figure out how to parent together. I’m blessed with an amazing husband (whose biggest sin is the ability to sleep through a crying baby), but I’ve learned a lot after parenting two children with him.
Know Your Love Language
Read “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” by Gary Chapman before your child is born. Knowing how your partner gives and receives love is transformative for a relationship. It’s a simple concept that you can go back to whenever you’re feeling disconnected from your partner, and it also really improves day-to-day communication.
Know What You’re Getting Into
Much like we focus on the wedding more than the marriage, I do believe we sometimes get wrapped up in the baby stage without considering what it will be like to parent down the road. Read as many books as you can about parenting older children – and encourage your partner to do the same. My favorite is “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber. Then, discuss your thoughts on the book and come to a conclusion of how you’d handle these situations together. It may take some encouragement to get your spouse to read the book, but, trust me, it’s worth it.
Don’t Correct Him on the Little Things
Bite your tongue when your husband makes ‘mistakes’ like putting on the diaper backwards or putting on your kid’s bathing suit over his underwear. Many men already feel nervous about their abilities as a dad; if you swoop in and say he’s doing it all wrong, he may retreat and never feel comfortable taking charge again. Trust me – you don’t want that for numerous reasons. So let him learn without interference.
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Different Parenting Styles May Be Okay
The hard part isn’t keeping your trap shut when your husband puts a diaper on backwards – the hard part is when you realize your core parenting styles differ. For example, what if you believe in firm time-outs and your husband would rather softly talk it out with your toddler? We’ve learned that different parenting styles are just different, and different things work at different times with different kids. I recommend talking out parenting choices with your partner and coming up with a game plan on what to try and when. There may be some firm lines – like no spanking – that would be better discussed with a marriage counselor.
Sit Down Every Week and Go Over Your Schedules
Once a week, my husband and I coordinate calendars. This allows us to smooth out any logistical humps with childcare – “Can you take Henry to daycare so I can make this conference call?” – but it also lets us plan in our solo, child-free time. If you can schedule a time each week for both you and your spouse to do something alone (or with friends), you will both be much happier overall.
Spring for a Babysitter
Complementary to the note above, schedule date nights. Hire a babysitter and go out alone. Do adult things! Eat a leisurely meal! And talk about anything but your child and parenting. I use Care.com to find a trustworthy sitter.
Before You Kill Him, Check to Make Sure You Aren’t Just Tired
If you find that murderous rage building up inside, check yourself and ask, “Am I just really, really tired?” If you have a kid, the answer is probably yes. Shelve the argument, take a nap, and see if it’s still worth fighting about when you can actually think straight.
Don’t Martyr Yourself
I’ve watched some of my friends become incredibly unhappy because they insist on doing everything for the kids and the house – even though their partners are willing to help. It’s okay to delegate tasks and ask for help. Being a super parent doesn’t mean doing it all yourself, especially if that makes you miserable.
Ask “What Would You Rather Do?”
I love it when my husband does this! If I say, “The baby needs a bath but I need to clean the kitchen. Can you help?” he replies, “Which would you rather do? I’ll do the other thing.” It is so nice. Not only am I getting help, but I’m getting help in the way I really want it. I try to ask him the same question whenever possible.
Parenting is a wild ride, but when you’ve got a loving partner in your corner, the experience of raising children can bring you closer together than ever before. Know that it’s normal to have some ups and downs, and it’s okay to ask for help from an outside party if you need it. And don’t forget – check yourself (“Am I sleepy?”) before you wreck yourself (“Why did you install the toilet paper in the wrong direction AGAIN?!”)!
Caitlin Boyle is the blogger behind Healthy Tipping Point. She has two children, Henry and Claire, and is a lover of triathlons.