Babies are the worst roommates!
They are clingy, barf all the time, poop through their clothes, pee on you, leave their belongings everywhere, and wake you up throughout the night. You may even have to switch to wearing nursing clothes to accommodate their feeding needs. They interrupt your solitude and alone time with your partner.
My husband likes to say that we got one terrible roommate and then decided to have another one.
I love my two boys fiercely and would fight in hand-to-hand combat with a bear to protect them.
Would I win? Eh... probably not, but I’d go down swinging. I would’ve definitely gotten some good jabs on the way down.
My children have helped me grow in profound ways.
I’m more confident in my strength as a woman. They remind me to slow down and see the joy in the little mundane moments throughout our days together. They also love me fiercely right back.
We are currently in the mommy is the end all be all stage with my toddler, where he only wants to play and hang out with mommy.
I remember hearing a line in a commercial years ago that said, A Baby Changes Everything. Whew, they were right.
My husband and I were together for nine years before I gave birth to our first child. We went out with friends spontaneously, stayed up late, slept in on the weekends, scheduled date nights with ease, and had an abundance of our own alone time.
Things shifted a bit after having kids. Now, if we go out with friends or have a date night, we have to get help from another person and work around their schedule. I also have to pump before we leave so that there's milk for my baby and so that my engorged boobs won’t explode while I'm eating dessert.
Gone are the days of abundant alone time. That too needs to be planned out ahead of time. Even just having extended time alone with my husband is a challenge. If the baby is asleep, we're usually either exhausted from the day and just want to veg out on the couch, clean up from the most recent toddler tornado, or go to sleep.
We soon realized that we had to make a team effort to stay connected to one another and move away from just feeling like roommates trying to survive.
It’s okay if you and your partner feel that way right now. My husband and I have gone through a couple of those seasons in our marriage. It happens to couples with kids. I imagine it's happened more for couples over the past two years as we've all worked to navigate a global pandemic.
But let me tell you, it's hard! It takes a conscious effort to stay connected to each other when there is so much else vying for our attention: kids, jobs, household duties, family, friends. So what do we do about it? Well, we've got to put in the effort to remain connected to our partners. Let's look at how we do that together.
Ways to Maintain Your Relationship
1. Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First
Flight attendants instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before helping someone else. If you pass out in an emergency, then there’s no help for you or the other passengers who may need it.
The same rings true for parenting and relationships. When you invest in taking care of yourself, you’re in turn caring for your relationship and your children.
I’m sure you’ve heard the adage you cannot pour from an empty cup. It may be
overused, but I want you to pause and read that statement again.
You cannot pour from an empty cup.
You can’t give to others if you're bone dry and have nothing left to give. This doesn’t need to be a weekend away by yourself. It can be things like carving out quiet time for yourself most mornings during the week. Planning times for yourself to see your friends without your children or partner. Maybe you're exhausted, and you need your partner to handle the kids' dinner and bedtime a few nights out of the week, while you retreat to your room to rest, read, paint, or work out.
Pick something that fills you up, and work with your partner to make time for you to engage in that activity. At this point in my life, it's napping that I crave. I realize that’s not that exciting, but my youngest is in the middle of a sleep regression. So getting to nap brings me relief and helps me show up as a better partner and mom.
2. Make Time to Connect as a Couple
The times when my partner and I haven’t prioritized having intentional time together, are the times when we've started feeling like we’re just roommates trying to survive. Our communication during these times ends up being in passing between diaper changes, feedings, bedtime routines, scheduling appointments, pick up and drop-offs, cleaning, errands, work, and trying to determine what to eat ourselves.
Connecting with your partner could look like many things:
- Coffee together in the morning before the kids wake up
- Debriefing from the day over dinner after the kids go to bed
- Binge-watching a TV show together that you both enjoy
- Going out to eat or do something fun together, while someone watches the kids
When we're able to go out without our kids, we enjoy going to a local coffee shop to talk and hang out.
When getting a babysitter isn’t possible, we try to pick a night (usually on the weekends) that we hang out together after the kids are asleep without our phones. We check in with each other (more on this in a moment), eat, and maybe play a board game or watch a movie together.
It’s difficult to get out of parent mode when it's just my partner and I. My brain is still going through what needs to get done. I have to make a conscious effort to be present so that I can connect with him.
3. Practice Healthy Communication Skills
Good communication is imperative in healthy relationships. You are going to have
conflict in intimate relationships, so it's important to be able to work through the conflict in a healthy way. Below are some communication skills to implement in your relationship.
A. Use "I" statements. These statements help you communicate what you're feeling and needing assertively without accusing your partner
"I" statements follow the structure below.
I feel ___________________ when ___________________ because
______________________. I need/Can you
Example: I feel irritated when I come home to tons of dirty dishes because it feels like it's on me to clean it all up. I need your help dealing with them, so it's not so overwhelming.
B. Avoid absolute statements. It's important to communicate when your partner has done something that upset you. You don't want to bottle up your frustration until it explodes. However, we often tend to use absolute statements when we're irritated with our partners. No? Just me then?
You never take out the trash.
You always leave the dishes for me to do.
You never make time for me.
When we use absolute statements, it can put the other person on the defensive. Instead of listening to your concern, they might jump to proving that the absolute is unfounded. (E.g. I did the dishes a few days ago.)
Instead, go back to using your "I" statements.
Example: I'm feeling disconnected from you since you've been on your phone a lot today. Can we talk for a few minutes?
C. Set up weekly check-ins. These don't need to be extensive conversations. The important thing is that you give each other attention and the opportunity to seek support from one another.
You can each ask each other the following questions:
- How's your mental health?
- What do you need from me this week?
- What are your goals for this week?
D. Have open and honest conversations about household responsibilities. If you are the household manager who carries the family's mental load, it can become even more exhausting after you've had a new baby. Set aside time for you and your partner to discuss divvying up household duties.
Each partner needs to take on the entirety of the task from conception, through planning, to execution. Planning how a task is going to be accomplished is the majority of the mental load, so a partner just taking on the execution of the task doesn't necessarily remove the mental load from their partner. It's also a good idea to discuss your expectations regarding the household duties. Talk about the results you both expect, so you're both on the same page. This can help you avoid issues down the road.
4. Ask for Help
- It's stressful and taxing when families are isolated and have young children. This can also be intensified if you’re breastfeeding (Read more here No, It’s Not Just You. Breastfeeding is Exhausting). Seek community whether through your family, neighborhood, places of worship, or local or online parent groups.
- Reach out to others for emotional and physical support. Ask a trusted individual to watch your child, so you and your partner can have a date.
- Counseling - Going to individual or couples therapy can provide the additional support that your relationship needs to navigate the season that you're in. Therapy can be a great place to learn and practice new communication and coping skills.
5. Engage in Intimacy
Sex after having a baby may feel overwhelming. Your body feels different, you're
exhausted, and you have to plan around a baby who is attached to you and feeding around the clock. You may also be wearing nursing clothes and pads that don't make you feel exactly sexy. (Although, we can help with the feeling beautiful in nursing clothes part.)
Having sex again is one way to reconnect with your partner. With all the life changes, you'll probably need to schedule a time to have sex. Doing so doesn't take the fun and connection out of it, but it does help you stick to it. Planning it ahead of time may also help you both because you'll be looking forward to and anticipating sex.
Wait to engage in sex until after you've been cleared by your doctor/midwife AND you feel ready. Just because your doctor/midwife clears you to have sex at six weeks postpartum, doesn't mean that you have to have sex immediately.
Talk to your doctor if sex is painful postpartum. Speak with a counselor if you're having difficulty having sex again due to your mental health.
6. Appreciate One Another
As parents, it can be easy to fall into a routine in which it's like you and your partner are just doing your daily duties to keep the house afloat and your children alive. Even though you both may be doing routine or mundane tasks, it's important to verbally appreciate one another for the work that you both do. Calling out the positives you both see and thanking one another will go a long way.
Thank you for taking out the trash.
Thanks for getting the kids' lunch ready this morning.
You were really sweet with the kids tonight.
Investing in your relationship with your partner creates a better home for your children. Children learn what intimate relationships are supposed to look like based on what they see at home. Don't worry about having a perfect relationship. Your children seeing you work through conflict, treat each other with respect, apologize, and seek to grow together will speak volumes to them.
"The greatest thing you can do for your children is love your partner." - Stephen Covey
The above suggestions work best when both partners are willing to try to carry them out.
So yes, a baby does change everything. You and your partner both have to be intentional about working to connect with each other. However, having a baby certainly doesn't ruin your relationship. It mainly throws additional challenges into the mix that you have to work through as a couple.
Our staff at Ellie and Becca know firsthand how having a baby grows, challenges, and enriches your life. We're rooting for a healthy relationship for you and your partner. We're also cheering specifically for you, mama. We'll create nursing dresses so that mamas like you feel confident and beautiful as you care for your little ones. Because that's how we see you; strong and beautiful.