What it Means to be Married with Kids
- Tuesday, November 25, 2003
In these days of heady emotions-heartfelt love, frustration, panic, you name it!-it's sometimes hard to step back and get a realistic, practical view of what you as a couple are up against. The prospects may be daunting, but let's take a clear look at the change from being a couple to being parents and the stress that comes with it.
With the arrival of a new family member, every facet of your life changes, starting with your own life as an individual. Suddenly you're exhausted. You may struggle with feeling insecure and inexperienced, wondering if you're really up to the task. You may feel overwhelmed as you look ahead to all the years of parenting this child. And even though you may feel lonely, you're never alone.
That new baby is your constant companion. In the past you only had to relate to your spouse; now you must relate to two people and the baby comes first. This new person is totally dependent, and you're the parent!
If you've given birth, your most obvious changes are in your body. It has just gone through a traumatic experience, and you may be wondering if that body of yours will ever get back in shape again-any shape! Then, if you're breast-feeding, you begin to realize that your body is not your own. You are now a milk machine that doesn't always function smoothly.
If you're the dad, you also may feel insecure. While your body wasn't traumatized by childbirth, you're tired too. And if your wife is nursing, suddenly her body, which used to be available to you for pleasure, is employed around the clock as a 24-hour café for your baby.
Personal time-for play or reading or exercise-can feel like a vague memory. Sometimes it's a challenge even to get a shower before dinnertime. For both partners, roles and responsibilities are changing. The needs and demands of that tiny, dependent person make your life seem baby-centered, and it's easy to wonder if the marriage relationship will ever come back into focus at all.
When the first baby arrives, your marriage typically transitions from a partner-focused relationship to a baby-focused relationship. Rhonda Kruse Nordin, in her book After the Baby: Making Sense of Marriage after Childbirth, points out that the baby "becomes the prism through which most new parents see the world"-and each other. The "time and energy [they] once devoted to strengthening their marital relationship is now redirected toward the new baby."
Couple time is practically nonexistent. Communication patterns that worked BC (before child) no longer work. Your love life is on hold; whatever spontaneous fun you enjoyed in the past must now come as a result of planning.
Time and energy restraints are constant factors to deal with. No longer can you sleep through the night, watch a video (without falling asleep), eat a meal, or have a simple conversation without being interrupted. Fears of inadequacy, frustration, and feeling out of control may lead to anger and conflict.
Nine out of ten couples report that they argue more after becoming parents, and often their arguments center on unrealistic expectations about the care of the baby and the home. If one parent stays home with the baby, the working parent may expect the stay-at-home parent to take responsibility for all household chores. Wives and husbands may have differing assumptions about who will get up with the baby in the middle of the night, change diapers, or handle the extra laundry.
We very rarely argued before we had kids, but after our first child was born, we made up for it! We had just moved from Germany, the birth had been traumatic, and our son was colicky. We were exhausted and overwhelmed, and our stress level was high. Not surprisingly, we began snapping at each other over insignificant things. Leaving the milk carton on the counter or wet towels on the bathroom floor led to accusations that one of us wasn't doing our share of the extra work. Basically we felt out of balance.
Here's the good news: While parenthood can throw the marriage relationship into crisis, most couples are able to find a new balance in the first three to six months.
"I'll never feel in control of my career again," a new mom told us. Her "after the baby comes" plan had been to become a consultant in her field, working part-time from home. Nothing was working! She had difficulty just coping with being a new mom and wasn't able to focus on her work. Professionally, she felt like a failure.
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