I remember the day when my wife and I discovered that we were going to have a child. It was a whirlwind of emotions for us. After all, we had been longing for a baby for such a long time, so when the news came, we almost couldn’t believe it.
The day finally arrived. Baby came, and our lives changed forever.
Before baby arrived, we had our time and space as individuals and as a couple. But once our first child arrived, it seemed to be one amorphous blending of day and night, especially given baby’s erratic feeding cycle, which continued regardless of whether we were awake or asleep.
The arrival of a child is a major change in the life of every couple. There is an exponential increase in the things that need to be done around the house. From preparing for the feeding needs of the child to taking care of clothing and diapering. On top of this, the regular office work and household chores do not decrease. What’s worse is that leaving one area of the household unmanaged could snowball into other areas of life very quickly.
Many couples have highlighted sleeplessness as another major factor affecting their physical and emotional wellbeing during the early weeks. Disrupted sleep leads to tiredness and crankiness between husband and wife, which could increase spousal tension, especially due to differing expectations on how the workload in the home should be shared.
And then there is marital intimacy, or lack thereof. A decreased desire for sex is a common experience, and this could have a negative impact on the closeness felt by both husband and wife.
Disrupted sleep leads to tiredness and crankiness between husband and wife, which could increase spousal tension.
Transitions and change
The arrival of a child is a huge transition. For the marriage to withstand the challenges, you may need to process the transition well.
What does this mean? According to author William Bridges, a transition is an inner psychological process that people go through as they come to terms with the changes they are going through. Bridges highlighted three stages in his transition model – Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings.
Endings is when people come to terms that their situation has been changed forever. This encompasses aspects of grief and loss, and individuals need to accept that the status quo they had been used to is now gone. In the arrival of a baby, both husband and wife need to realise that their situation has changed, and the family now has to incorporate the routines of the child.
The neutral zone, which is the second stage, is an in-between period when there is a need to recalibrate, especially since the old has gone and the new isn’t quite established yet. There is a need to reconsider old ways of doing things and develop new strategies to manage the changes that have occurred.
The third stage of the transition process is one of new beginnings. It involves new understandings, which is associated with a shift in values and attitudes. This in turn sparks a new release of energy, and individuals then operate with fresh perspectives, managing their new roles with more confidence and security.
For the couple with a new baby, this is often accompanied by a new sense of purpose and they are propelled in a direction that they have never experienced before. This stage is also marked by new norms and traditions.
The key to dealing with a newborn is to accept that life as you know it has changed forever.
I remember our first year as parents. We seemed to be always tired, always running around in circles, and feeling like headless chickens, not knowing what we were doing from one moment to the next. There were, however, two things that helped us during that difficult time.
- Embrace the changes
The key to dealing with a newborn is to accept that life as you know it has changed forever. You need to mourn the loss of your childless existence and recalibrate your life as a couple, coming to terms with your new status as parents.
For us, it took acknowledging that we would never be able to go out again without a diaper bag and a whole inventory of baby accessories. This also meant that unless we made prior arrangements, our baby would follow us wherever we went. It also meant adjustments to our social life so that we could allow our child to have an early night.
- Don’t forget your spouse
In the hustle and bustle of a child’s arrival, it is not uncommon to neglect tending to the wellbeing of your spouse. And while it is important to reorientate your life to cater to the needs of your child, it is also crucial to care for your spouse.
For men, this means expressing love to your wife in a way that she would understand, in accordance to her love language. For us, this included taking the early feed before I went to work, so that my wife could sleep in a little later after caring for our child during the various night feeds. It also meant shouldering more of the household chores.
As for women, loving your spouse could mean acknowledging the important role he plays in maintaining the financial integrity of the household. It could also mean showing love to him in his love language, and making the effort to have some regular couple time.
A new normal
The tumultuous days after the arrival of a child will not last forever, but as you continue to love each other, and embrace your new roles as parents, the early days of parenthood while challenging can also strengthen your marriage.
For it’s not how much you do as parents that matters, but it’s how much you choose to love that keeps the family together.