Becoming New Parents

Dear Sharon,
We have a six-week-old baby, and it seems that our lives have changed completely. “Will they ever go back to normal”, my husband wants to know? No one really ever explains to you how totally different your life will be after the baby comes. There is so much emphasis on the birth, and not enough on what comes after. We are reeling from the changes. It’s putting a lot of stress on our marriage. Help!
Karen and Sal

Dear Karen and Sal,

Congratulations to all three of you. You are right, people may try to explain how totally different your life will be after the addition of a new baby, but the changes are so dramatic that it is almost impossible to put into words. No one tells you that eating, sleeping, taking a shower, or even brushing your teeth will suddenly become herculean accomplishments. Nor do they mention that conversations with your partner about anything other than the baby can easily become a thing of the past.

This tiny person who will bring you limitless joy and worry; the little being you can’t imagine living without has come into the world dependent on both of you for absolutely everything.

From the moment a baby takes their first breath, their food, clothing, and physical well being are completely your responsibility. They can do absolutely nothing for themselves. Besides being totally physically dependent they have equally demanding emotional needs as well.
Babies have tremendous amounts of information to learn and an amazing capacity to absorb it quickly and easily. They watch, listen and respond to every sight, sound and touch in their proximity. This means that the more time you spend with your baby when you are relaxed and able to enjoy playing, holding, feeding, talking to or comforting your child the better it is for all of you. Of course you are both overwhelmed and exhausted trying to figure out this 24 hour a day 7 day a week job in the middle of your already hectic lives. If a baby feels alone, bored, frightened, overtired or has a tweak in their digestive system ( in other words if anything is even slightly out of whack) they complain, and complain loudly without any respect for the time of day or night or Mom and Dad’s routine.

How can parents cope with all of this? Here are a few ideas that can help:

1) Remember you are not the only new parents reeling from the changes in your life. Many couples with little babies feel a strain on their relationship during these early weeks and months. Most new parents ’need time to recover from the emotional and physical experience of birth but there is no time or energy for that or anything else in part because most new babies do not sleep through the night. Sleep deprived parents have to figure out. how to handle almost constant demands ranging from changing clothes and linens and developing a feeding routine to handling long bursts of crying when they are at their wits end. In short, crying babies that stay up at night and need to be changed all the time do not necessarily bring couples closer together.

In those first few weeks it is very important to take a little time to appreciate each other. Comments, like “you are such a wonderful Dad, I love the way you play with the baby”, or “This baby is so lucky to have you as a Mom, I was amazed at how well you did during the birth and now it’s wonderful to see how you ________” can really make a big difference to your marriage.

2) If you can; join or start a new parents group. New parent groups are excellent ways to remember that you are not alone with the tasks at hand, they can help you laugh about your fatigue and overwhelmed state as well as remember how much this new person has become the love of your life. Mom and Dad can take turns attending.

3) When a child is over the newborn infant hurdles, (at six weeks this definitely applies to you) make sure you spend some time outside of the house together. Take the baby along for the walk in the park or on a street you love. Remember to hold hands or find other ways to communicate to each other that you are still the same couple you were a few months ago. When your baby is a little older spend time alone with each other, even a half hour together in a nearby donut shop can make a big difference. A relative or a friend you trust who already has a strong relationship with your little one is eusually more than happy to help out. You can go out when the baby is taking their nap and bring your cell phone if you are concerned.

4) When your child is beginning to feel more confident and independent in the world around them add a regular date every 2 or 3 weeks to your calendar. I recommend planning this for a time when your child is usually happy and alert. Sunday morning is often a good time to start with. Try not to go to the movies, you’ll find out that you had no quality time to talk to each other. Take a walk, go for brunch, or do something that you both loved to do together before your precious little one arrived and soaked up every minute of your leisure time. As your child gets even older one date a week becomes an important way to keep up with the needs of your marriage, an essential ingredient in your entire family’s happiness.

5) Some reassuring thoughts: The first months of a child’s life can be the most demanding period for any parent, but when these seemingly endless hours are over your child’s life will actually move at a very rapid pace. As hard as it is to have a newborn, many parents look back nostalgically on the first few months they had with their little one. In a relatively short period of time phrases like, “Where did all the time go,” and “I can’t believe how big ____ has gotten” will be rolling out of your mouths. Whatever you can do to make this all important time go well will mean much less parenting work for you when your child grows older. When you stand together watching your 5 year old head off to kindergarten all of the hard work and bonding you are doing now will be a distant memory that helped produce the wonderful child you have before you.

Will your life ever go back to normal? Life will definitely get easier than it is now but it will not return to a pure adult agenda again for a very long time. That’s a very big transition but the rewards can far outweigh the losses you both now feel. The wonder of a new baby and the way parents fall so magically in love with their new addition is one of the most precious gifts of life. Congratulations and enjoy – in a few more months you will be on to a whole new stage.