No one can deny the excitement of welcoming a new baby into your household. But when a family suddenly grows from two to three members, it's your relationship with your partner that inevitably takes a backseat—and that's never a good thing.
Before you completely lose yourself amidst all that diaper changing and late-night feedings, experts share their advice on how couples can still enjoy each other's company as they juggle new parenthood.
Ask any seasoned parent if their marriage changed after their first child was born, and you're sure to hear no shortage of responses. "While a new baby is a life milestone and a joyful event, a couple's idealized bliss of bringing baby home can clash with the reality of an infant being up all night…and a myriad of disruptions to daily life," says Cynthia Rebholz, a family and marriage therapist with Creative Solutions Counseling (www.creativecounseling.vpweb.com). "Making room in the relationship for baby can result in one or both parents feeling they are no longer a priority."
To ease these feelings, she advises being open with your partner from the get-go. "Simply hear your partner without offering advice, judging or dismissing his or her comments," she explains. "It's not unusual for a new dad to say, 'I feel left out because you are always holding the baby," or a new mom might say, 'I feel like I am just a mom; I need to feel like an adult.'" Feeling safe while articulating your thoughts isn't always easy, but sometimes it's the reassurance alone that helps new parents feel more confident in sharing.
Being overwhelmed by this new set of responsibilities is also common among first-time parents, but experts say it's OK to admit to your partner that you don't have all the answers. "It is helpful for spouses to acknowledge feelings of uncertainty and anxiety about the new child in their lives," says Ernest Quansah, a relationship expert (www.relationshipadviceforsuccess.com). "New mothers need to be communicative about the care of the baby, including indicating when she needs a break and when she needs help from her spouse."
While you may be feeling stressed, sleep-deprived or both, keeping your partner at arm's length won't make you feel any less tired. But there are plenty of creative ways to bond over your baby together. Quansah suggests making some time to bath, dress and feed your child when both parents are home. "When the newborn begins to laugh, it will be an enjoyable experience for the couple," he says.
Taking a walk with your baby safely tucked in her stroller is another way to enjoy your time as family, while also incorporating some exercise into your routine—something you may have originally done as couple without kids. "I see jogging couples at the park all the time…they can do some while taking turns pushing the stroller," he adds.
Just as important as spending time together as a family is taking moments for just the two of you—and you need not break the bank while doing it. For newbie parents suffering from cabin fever, Rebholz suggests creating an indoor picnic with some prepared specialty foods and reminiscing over photos from when you were first dating. While your child is napping, Quansah suggests activities in installments like playing a board game, taking turns giving each other a foot massage or back rub or catching up on a favorite TV show.
Adjusting to being a mom or dad takes time, but eventually you develop a rhythm and routine to your days, enabling your life to get back on track. "Realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel," says Rebholz. "Your baby will eventually sleep through the night, and you will have more time together."
Moving forward, it helps to remember that a few simple words are just as important as ever. "Don't forget to say 'I love you,'" adds Rebholz. "It sounds simple but we all need to hear it."