Once the miracle of birth has given way to the harsh reality of sleep deprivation and projectile vomit, marital bliss almost always takes a nosedive. Studies show that the decline in relationship satisfaction at time goes by is twice as steep for couples with kids as it is for child-free couples. So while you’re baby-proofing your house, be sure to baby-proof your marriage! Here are some tips to help you stay strong as a couple so you can raise well-adjusted children.
Agree on sleeping arrangements. Some parents believe in “co-sleeping” – letting your child sleep in your bed with you – while others believe in “Ferberizing” – a sleep technique developed by physician Richard Ferber in which you train your infant to sleep in his crib starting at around four months of age. Sleep training is hotly debated in the parenting community: co-sleeping advocates believe it’s cruel to let a baby “cry it out,” while Ferberizers believe that babies will never learn to self-soothe if they’re allowed to sleep in their parents’ bed. While it’s unclear which technique is better for infants, this much is certain: deciding what strategy to use before your baby is born will help decrease the potential for conflict afterwards.
Agree on parenting philosophies. Fifty years ago, couples didn’t sit around and deconstruct child-rearing. Now, diverse parenting philosophies abound, creating the potential for parental discord. If you’re a proponent of Attachment Parenting and your spouse believes in raising independent children, how will you handle discipline? Will you talk things out or send your kid directly to the time-out chair? How will you teach your kids’ age-appropriate tasks? With sticker charts or by finding methods of instilling intrinsic motivation? How will you and your spouse negotiate your differences? It’s rare that couples agree on all aspects of parenting, but if you’re not basically on the same page, your kids will end up splitting the two of you and will cause conflict in your marriage – and anarchy in the house.
Coordinate household tasks. Having kids increases grunt work exponentially. Who will be doing the laundry? Who’s in charge of grocery shopping and dinner? If one person is a stay-at-home parent, does that person handle all the housework or is the breadwinner expected to pitch in as well? If your spouse is a slob and you’re a neat freak, your different approaches to housework and organization will clash far more than they did pre-baby because kids complicate daily life. Try to coordinate efforts so one person doesn’t end up wrangling all the drudgery while the other parent gets to be The Fun One.
Schedule time without the kids. It’s easy to become so emotionally consumed with your baby – especially if you’re a stay-at-home parent – that you don’t have a lot of psychological energy left over for your spouse. But if you don’t nourish your relationship, you risk becoming one of those couples that splits up when their children leave home. You need to share interests besides the kids and carve out couple time. Have dinner with friends (without their children!). Exercise together. Go to a movie. If you can arrange childcare, take a weekend away. Whatever you do, take time to really be present with your partner and talk about subjects that have nothing to do with babies.
Keep having sex. Fluctuating hormones, sleep deprivation, and the physical demands of child-rearing can drain the libido of new mothers. Sometimes, fathers withdraw sexually from their wives because they see them as mothers and not lovers. And there is just less opportunity for spontaneous sex – especially if you co-sleep. Having a robust sex life is a crucial part of most marriages, and now that you’re parents, you’ll need to make an effort to maintain it. Try having sex during baby’s naptime or as soon as your infant goes down at night. Just be sure to use appropriate planning methods if you aren’t ready for another pregnancy. Even very shortly after birth, and while breastfeeding, your body may be more than ready to do it all over again.
Parenthood challenges us to grow as individuals and as couples. With consistent communication and effort, you and your spouse can navigate this major life transition and keep your family together for the long haul.
Adopting? Using a surrogate or donor sperm? What are your parental rights if you and your partner are not married? For all your legal questions related to welcoming a new baby or child into your family, we can help. To speak with a family attorney, please contact us to schedule your consultation.
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