I always feel a bit nervous when I hear of a couple whose relationship is rocky deciding to have a baby. Whilst there are many wonderful moments when parenting together draws you closer, in my experience, having children takes your relationship into a new stratosphere.
On the upside there are those gorgeous moments when you and your partner are in total agreement that your child is the funniest, cutest, most wonderful human being that the planet has ever experienced. You are in totally harmony in this view and whilst other people have had more than enough conversation about your child you are both happy to talk endlessly about him/her. There are also those moments that you just “catch” your partner lost in a moment with your child – playing a game, cuddled up asleep, letting them have CBeebies over the football when you can’t help but feel that extra bit of love for them.
However there is also a whole new level of challenge and negotiation in a relationship.
Firstly the physical practicalities of pregnancy and childbirth mean that your roles are very clearly defined and not by you. As a female having a baby means your body is stretched, prodded, pushed, and for all the good control pants out there left in an entirely different state to the one you had pre-baby! Throw in the hormones and it’s a whirlwind ride!! As a man it’s mostly business as usual. Beyond being hugely supportive – even when your partner is irrationally sobbing over something that makes no logical sense at all – there’s not a lot that can be done to share this out and it requires a lot of communication and understanding.
Secondly the absence of sleep, the abundance of washing, the endless food production as well as the normal things of life, like earning a living, mean that there is very little free time to spend on a relationship. An evening in together usually means completing chores, swapping diary dates and slumping in front of an episode from a DVD boxset before crashing for the night in the hope that the kids don’t wake up before 6am! Sharing conversations on a level of anything deeper than “did you put the bins out?“ or recounting something funny the kids did is a rare treat. Add in sleep deprivation and the fact that a shower alone is now the pre kids equivalent of a spa day and a real effort to ask how my other half really is. Whilst craving connection I also crave being on my own for 5 minutes, feeling like my own person again and sleep. When it’s hard to cater for your own needs considering another adult’s need for attention or support can just feel like too much.
Thirdly, when you are so overstretched it is so easy to begin to resent the other person for really stupid things. When you find yourself tempted to smother your partner with a pillow for waking you up with a rare outbreak of snoring or you actually start to feel deeply irritated with them because they get a lunch break at work it’s probably not how you might normally respond. Equally their frustration that you have spent all day having fun with your mum friends then dumped a list of chores on them when they walk through the door is probably not a reflection of your relationship, but just how you’re both really tired and overstretched. These are the times that are hard on any relationship because the fun factor is low and the tough factor is high, however lush and beautiful your children are.
Finally throw in the fact that however similarly you think you will be on a parenting front there are times when you just won’t agree. The problem is that when it impacts your children there is a good chance that at some point one of the issues you don’t agree on will be something you both feel passionate about and then it’s going to get messy.
Parenting together is an awesome experience and it can bring a whole new depth to a relationship, but it really isn’t for the fainthearted or those hoping it might help glue them together. On the really tough days I hold onto the fact that I know my husband and I were fortunate enough to have years of pre kids time which was really good – that is us – we just sometimes (or quite often on the really bad sleep weeks) are very tired and overstretched. Our best conversation time is now a long car journey, date nights might be less frequent, but they are still in the diary and for Christmas we even bought each other comedy tickets so we could pretend we’re still hip and cool (ok that was always a pipe dream, but it was nice to go out).