If parenting was a sport, then parenting in the newborn days would be like running an ultramarathon (if you're unfamiliar, that's any running race longer than 26.2 miles). The near 24-7 care that new babies require in the early weeks and months is a true test of endurance and stamina. It's not that feeding and diapering a tiny baby is necessarily difficult, it's the sheer number of hours you spend doing those things in the span of a day -- every day -- while under the duress of extra hormones, necessary healing, and little-to-no sleep.
Considering that, it's important to think about and plan for how you and your partner will handle parenting in the first few months. It's kind of like planning for a big vacation, except this vacation probably won't include beaches and sleeping in. Open and honest communication will be your most important tool, followed by patience and empathy. Review the following list to help you plan for your first experiences in parenting.
Expectations - What do you expect of each other in your roles as parents? Does your partner believe that baby care is a 50/50 job, or do they have other expectations when it comes to division of responsibilities? What kinds of things do you do for each other now that may need to get reassigned when baby comes?
Philosophy - Do you know your partner's philosophy on child rearing? While this will likely evolve as your child grows, it's important to discuss early how you think you want to address parenting challenges, especially if the two of you have different views. Will you take parenting classes? Will you talk to a therapist? Do you aim to raise your children like you were raised, or is it your goal to parent very differently?
Support - Caring for a new baby is a lot easier with a village. Where will your support come from? How does your partner feel about inviting family or friends to help out? How does your partner feel about hiring a professional, like a postpartum doula, housekeeper, nanny, sitter? What kinds of professional resources do you have to help with medical, physical, and mental difficulties or issues? Plan together and create a list of go-to resources for all things that you may need during the first few months.
Boundaries - How does your partner feel about visitors in the early days? How do you feel? Does your partner know how you feel? Will your partner help you set boundaries for visiting with friends and family? What about boundaries with each other and the baby? How will you communicate to your partner that you need some time alone? It's easy to feel "touched out" as a new parent, making the desire for intimacy less important. Have honest and open conversations as a couple. Let your partner know that lack of intimacy is likely temporary and not necessarily a reflection of your love.
Finances - Finances are often a hot/contentious topic for couples. In the first few months after baby is born, your financial situation may be different or even strained. One or both of you may be on leave and one or both of you could be without a regular paycheck. Ideally, it's best to plan well in advance and put money back before either of you go on maternity or paternity leave. That way, when you're finances are tight, you have money to pull from reserves, which can help lower stress. If you aren't able to save money in advance, plan for how you will adjust your monthly budget during the early months and plan for how you will keep track of and manage your money during that time.
Connecting - For many couples, the relationship -- closeness, date nights, and intimacy -- takes a back seat for a period of time after baby is born. This temporary change is expected as the new family dynamic takes shape. It's important, however, to make even a small amount of time for and gestures toward each other to show that each person is still appreciated and loved. There are so many other ways to show love aside from intimacy. If you haven't already, learn each others' love languages. Talk through the impending changes before baby arrives and discuss ways each of you would like to be shown love.
For more in-depth information on parenting and relationships after baby, including how to handle conflict, I highly recommend picking up a copy of And Baby Makes Three by John Gottman, PhD, and Julie Gottman, PhD. Some of the biggest challenges and relationship stress occur after baby is born, and very few of us are naturally equipped with ways to deal. The Gottmans have relationship advice down to a science (also see The Gottman Institute) and provide you with a manual for your relationship as it transitions through parenthood.
For another resource, check out the Lamaze online class just for new parents called "Parenting Together: Starting Off Strong." This interactive online class is designed for partners to engage in together whether or not you live together or are romantically involved. Tested and brought to life by real parents, it introduces the top challenges that new families face and proven solutions. Topics covered include preparing for parenthood, working as a team, managing conflict, dividing responsibilities, and adapting to life with baby.
Life with a new baby is joyous and challenging, rewarding and exhausting. The more you prepare and learn about how to effectively parent with your partner, the better you will be able to approach and solve common problems.
TagsParenting Newborn Postpartum Postpartum support Parenting Relationship Postpartum Relationship Parental Leave