It never fails. Every time we have a new baby, my husband travels out of town for a conference. He has to fly through several time zones, go to meetings all day, and stay up late for long dinners and then he has the audacity to complain about how tired he is! Cry me a river; that sounds like a vacation!
The old saying should be changed to, “Hell hath no fury like a postpartum woman who has to listen to someone complain about how tired they are.” Or as one friend put it, “I never knew sleep equity was an issue in our relationship, until we had children.”
“Sleep equity” will be just one of the many new things you may find yourself dealing with when you and your spouse become parents.
Marriage coach (and wife and mother), Marie McKinney Oates tells us the five reasons why kids complicate a relationship, and what you can do about them.
1. We Make Decisions Without Talking About Them
Like, on more than one occasion, my husband has invited a family member to move in with us to help with the kids, and forgot to mention it to me. No, seriously.
Or, that time I picked which elementary school our son would be going to without getting my husband’s input.
“Everyone kind of has their own game plan, and you just assume that the other one is going to be on that same page. You think you know each other,” says Marie McKinney Oates.
If you think it would be a good idea to have your mom stay with you for a month after the baby is born, talk to your spouse about it. If you plan to never spank your children, talk to your spouse about it. If you plan to potty-train using Skittles, TALK TO YOUR SPOUSE ABOUT IT.
“With parenting, you both think, we’re both going to love this kid the same way, we’re both going to discipline this kid the same way, and you don’t think that it requires all of the talking that it’s going to require,” says McKinney Oates.
But, it does. Especially in the beginning.
McKinney Oates says to figure out what your goals are, get on the same page, and go from there. And, accept that there will be differences in your approaches because you’re two different people.
2. We Criticize Each Other
When my husband says, “Our son’s hair smells,” he probably means our son’s hair smells.
But, what I hear is, “Why are you coddling our son? If he doesn’t like it when you dump water over his head, make him suck it up! OR, is it that you’re too lazy to bathe him on a regular basis?”
At the very worst, my husband may be suggesting that we buy a different brand of shampoo.
McKinney Oates says my (over)reaction is normal. She says parents, but especially women, take comments about the kids very hard, “It can all feel very personal. It’s your identity.”
McKinney Oates recommends changing the focus when you find too much criticism in your relationship. “The perfect antidote to criticism in a relationship is being grateful,” says McKinney Oates.
Look for the good things. Make a point to thank your partner for what he or she is doing. Compliment your husband when he changes the baby’s diaper (even when he puts it on backwards).
3. You’re Stuck On An Old Definition of Romance
After the birth of my first child, my best friend bought me the book, “Porn For New Moms.”
It included pages like this:
A guy washing the dishes or changing a diaper is what gets a mama going. Have you heard the lyrics of that new song by James Arthur, “Say You Won’t Let Go?” He says, “I’ll bring you coffee, and I’ll take the kids to school.” Swoon. That guy is getting lucky.
Gone are the days of hours-long dinners, late nights talking, dozens of flowers and spontaneous sex.
“There’s no time, there’s no money, there’s no energy. We just have to be really realistic about what’s in all of those bank accounts. And structure our lives accordingly,” says McKinney Oates.
Instead of panicking about what you no longer have, be grateful for what you do have.
Date night can be an hour of TV with a glass of wine after the kids have gone to bed. Or, maybe it’s him planning a family day at the zoo.
This ain’t “The Notebook,” but it’s real life. And, it can still be fabulous.
4. We Quit Having Sex
I guess it only makes sense that the act that got you here, in the first place, is the last thing that you want to do.
But, as McKinney Oates so hilariously sums up, “Sometimes, I don’t feel like filling my car up with gas, but I still have to do it.”
The problem is parenthood has dramatically changed things for both parties, but in completely opposite ways. Most men are feeling like they’ve been put on the back burner, while most women are exhausted, touched out and not feeling very sexy.
But McKinney Oates says sex is the glue in a relationship, “It floods our brains with happy chemicals that help us stay in love and feeling connected to our partner.” She says you have to find a way to make it a priority.
5. We Try to be Superwoman
“We drain ourselves a lot in this culture,” McKinney Oates says. Amen, sister.
She says somewhere along the line, women have created this idea that to be a good mom, we have to do it all. “I’ve seen a lot of marriages where the woman really does want that to be her identity,” she says.
When we do this, not only are women putting too much on themselves, but they’re also leaving their partner out. “There’s a point where you need help, and that’s a good thing. There’s nothing weak about that. You’re one person, and the quicker we realize that, the better it is for everyone in the family,” McKinney Oates says.
She says when you and your spouse start acting like a team, you are reinforcing the idea that you love each other, you need each other and you can depend on each other.
Be Patient. “I wouldn’t take the first year of parenting personally,” laughs McKinney Oates. “We’re learning how to ride this bike together,” she encourages us to remember, “We’re going to screw up a lot. We’re going to say mean things, we’re going to forget about each other, we’re going to be selfish.”
Give yourself a year. Get used to the bumps, and you’ll find your marriage so much stronger on the other side. “Parenting enhances so much of what you really signed up for when you got married,” she says, “You’re really building something.”
If you want to read more of Marie McKinney Oates’ relatable advice, you can buy her book, “This Bleep is Hard” or follow her at The Poor Mom.