GUYS. If you missed it, I’ve started a brand new place to ask completely anonymous questions on my website called Ask Ashley. I plan on answering my favorites every week or so, and right off the bat I got this dynamite question I couldn’t wait a whole week to answer! So read on below, and don’t forget to submit your own completely anonymous questions here at Ask Ashley. This was so much fun!
We are getting ready to welcome our first little one in about a month. We’ve done the baby classes and are ready to tackle parenthood but want to make sure we still make time for each other and our relationship. We’ve watched too many friends drift apart after parenthood and want to be proactive about ‘us’. We know our relationship will change and evolve, we just want to make sure that we don’t lose each other along the way. I’d love to hear your thoughts on things we can do or what this process is like- including where we might struggle with this, things that have worked for you and others you know, and if this is something that is even plausible or if we are just ridiculously optimistic about it.
Dream question for me!! I think I could write a book on this and on my experience and those experiences of my friends, but I will try and pare it down a little for you here. I love this question, and I think you are already in a great spot because you are thinking about it, you care about the health of your relationship, are being proactive and do know your relationship will evolve. The picture above is me before kids and me today, two kids later. I found the left picture a few weeks ago and almost cried, I couldn’t believe how much better I looked back then. I showed my sweet, lying husband and he said he definitely prefers me now. True love, guys. That being said, my number one thought on this topic:
- Manage your expectations.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I used to roam Pinterest for advice (because that was the only place I could think to go) on becoming a parent for the first time. A lot of it was meh, but I found an article from Oprah’s magazine, something along the lines of “The 10 best pieces of advice for new parents”. I’ve searched for it multiple times since finding it that day, but have had no luck since then. Anyway, most of the advice seemed much more solid than a lot of the crap I was reading at that time. For some reason I really connected with the article, and then I saw towards the end of the list, “Number 7: You will hate your partner.” (or something like that. I’m going off memory here).
I was a little thrown off, but because I had connected with so much of the article up to that point, I decided to read with an open mind. The woman writing was trying to convey this point: At some point, no matter how amazing and perfect your relationship is now, you are going to more than likely feel resentment towards your husband/partner. Her reasoning was, as the female, this fundamentally means that you are going to have to deal with things your partner isn’t. (This was written from the female perspective in a heterosexual relationship – if this part doesn’t apply to you, stick with me because we will talk about tips that any couple can implement later).
Rather than trying to say it in a perfectly gender neutral way and sugarcoating it, I’m just going to come out and say it – if you are the woman, more than likely this is going to change your life more than your partners. If you are physically pregnant with your child – you already know this. No matter how much your partner wants to help, they cannot physically be in your body. They can CHOOSE when and how they help – you have no choice. You don’t get to step out for drinks or check out for a night and sleep flat on your stomach or get to experience life physically in the same way as you always have. You are the one birthing this child. No matter how supportive your partner is, a baby is not exiting his body. You alone are the one who will experience the pain and physical drain that labor and delivery cause. You alone will be the one bleeding, stitched up, poked, prodded, leaking, aching, and dealing with a constantly morphing body for the next couple months. If you choose to breastfeed, things will continue to remain unequal as long as you do so. As long as you are the physical source of your child’s nutrition and sustenance, there is going to be an unequal responsibility on your shoulders. If you are making any changes to your career after the birth, these are typically going to be things only you will be the first-hand experiencer of.
Let me put it this way from someone who has been there (aka ME): its really hard not to become at least a little resentful when you are home alone all day (even if that was your choice) with a brand new baby, not getting a single minute break to drive alone or use the bathroom alone or eat lunch alone or with other adults, when your husband’s outside life has changed zero percent and yours has made a full 180 degree change from where it was pre-baby, when said husband still gets to engage in recreational pursuits (HI, GOLF LEAGUE) but you can’t physically leave the baby for longer than 2 hours because she will only nurse directly from the source. Hold on a sec, I’m having PTSD. No matter how amazing that husband is, no matter how involved and empathetic he is, its still fucking frustrating. I’m sure there are things that irritated and frustrated my husband as well during this time.
So those scenarios may or may not apply to your life. And maybe you will not end up hating or resenting your partner at all, I’m not saying every single couple feels this way. I am saying, however, I don’t know a single real life couple who hasn’t felt this way at some point. I couldn’t imagine resenting my husband before we had a baby. I am so glad I read that article before she came to know that IF I DID, it was ok. The article also reassured the reader that things DO GET BETTER. They do. They really do.
So, number one: you might hate your partner for a little bit. This is normal. You are not doomed. But you have got to talk about it, don’t just let it fester until one day you go out to pick up diapers and decide to never come home again.
Survival mode is OK, but get out when you can.
After our first baby was born, my husband and I were in survival mode for at least the first 9-10 months. THAT’S OK. New babies are tough, man. I remember reading another brilliant (HEAVY SARCASM HERE) Pinterest article on how important it is to continue to please your husband sexually during the 6 weeks post-partum when you are not allowed to have sex. For FUCKS SAKE. By all means, if this is something you genuinely think sounds lovely and amazing then go for it, sister. If not, and let me assure you, you will probably NOT be nodding in solidarity with this article in the days following your child’s birth, please ignore it. Because I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if your relationship can’t survive a 6 week sex break when you are the most physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted you’ve ever been in your entire life, I have to say that relationship probably isn’t super strong to begin with.
So things might be tough in the beginning. I feel like the added pressure/paranoia to ensure your relationship is as important as ever and must be nurtured doesn’t help at this point. We know. We know our relationship is super important. But also, there is only so many things you can make a priority in life, only so many hours in a day. Ensuring your child’s survival is probably going to top dinner and a movie on the priority list for a while. THINGS WILL NOT ALWAYS BE THIS WAY. REPEAT AFTER ME: THINGS WILL NOT ALWAYS BE THIS WAY.
We did occasional date nights, but around 9-10 months (once my daughter who refused to take a bottle was eating real food and could be away from me for longer than 2 hours without starving) we started having weekly date nights, no matter what. Even when we didn’t feel like it. I recognize that this is very unrealistic for many couples, but we had two sets of willing and begging grandparents eager to scoop up their one and only grandchild for a few hours every weekend. This was huge for us and our marriage. If you can’t do this, I think post-bedtime home dates are great too. Put the baby to bed, stay up together and play games, have a drink, eat a late dinner, have a real conversation. We also did a lot of drives, if your baby is into that (our oldest totally was). That gave us a lot of time to listen to music, chat, and enjoy the wind in our hair. Since my daughter was born 4 years ago, we’ve only ever left town together alone for one night. So, we aren’t taking extravagant getaways or anything super romantic. We have gotten really good about finding and carving moments together when we can. Date night at Target is actually pretty fun (I mean maybe that’s not a great example – everything is amazing at Target). Running errands together can be fun.
I would honestly say that after our first baby, our marriage didn’t change very much at all. We very much felt like we were in it together, we were like teammates, we were experiencing all our daughters moments side by side, we still had regular date nights, and of course there is the added bonus of seeing your partner as a parent, which is freaking amazing. Its not all bad. There will definitely, with zero doubt, be more challenges to your relationship after becoming parents, but there is also lots of opportunity for your relationship to grow and get stronger and deeper.
- Think long and hard about adding more 😉 (or thinking you are an expert on anything kid/parent/relationship related. Ok, just stay humble y’all)
Now. After two kids, its safe to say our world was rocked. Babysitting is a whole new story with two. People aren’t so anxious to take double the kids. Especially if your first is the easiest baby on the planet and your second is, well, … not. Exhaustion hits a new high (or low?). You are no longer doing everything together with your partner, the ratio is no longer 2 adults to 1 child. Its at best 1:1 and at worst 1:2. So its often divide and conquer rather than family of 3 bonding. Again, I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom because there are definitely beautiful perks to having more than one child, and it does bring a certain joy to your relationship. Watching our kids play together? Watching them love eachother unprovoked by us? Its freaking magic. Its unlike anything else. But also, it fucking sucks sometimes. There have legitimately been moments where I feel like my husband is a complete stranger because even though we are here together every night, we aren’t really. We are dividing and conquering, we are constantly putting out fires, constantly diverting our attention to the next disaster, crying child, sudden emergency. Our kids have been extremely sick for three full months. A quarter of the year. A full season. Its draining, and especially important to have time together. Well, as I said earlier, sometimes that just isn’t going to happen, no matter how hard you try. It’s a season of life where your relationship might get a little neglected if we are being honest. A friend warned me about going from one to two kids and the toll it takes on a relationship and I listened politely but was secretly thinking, no way, not us. One kid didn’t even phase us, I’m sure it will just be easier the second time around. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. BIG FAT WRONG. Next lesson: NEVER SAY “Oh, that won’t ever be me/us”. Kiss of death.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband and my children and wouldn’t change a thing (except like an extra 13 hours in the day and unlimited money and health but that’s literally it, God, if you are listening). I remain convinced I have possibly the best husband and father to my babies that exists. I love him so much more than I did four years ago when we were child free, and I didn’t even think that was possible. He is still the person who comforts me, is my cheerleader, makes me feel loved and special and strong. He is the only one who really gets what our life is like right now, the only one who fully understands me and loves me anyway. We are side by side in the trenches, man. It is such a gift to be able to raise children with someone like that. These for sure are trying, exhausting, maddening times. They are not “the easy years”. They are the “story years” and I promise you, you will get the best story material during this time and it does seem sweet and funny when you look back on it all, and there is nothing quite as bonding as a shared story.
Occasionally you will meet someone who just glows and glows about parenthood and how amazing their relationship is after kids. This is amazing. Also, I find these people likely have selective memory. There will be hard moments, I promise you. There will be amazing moments, I promise that too. Take lots of pictures. Remember why you fell in love. Give yourselves a break. Steal moments when you can. Drink up the moments watching your kids grow up (or, alcohol).
Cheers to parenthood!