“Yes—but we’ll be different.” It’s a comforting phrase that so many couples have told themselves as they watch their friends flailing and trying to cope with their children. It’s really easy, before you have them, to imagine that you’ll never be a messy mom, that you’ll be able to separate the stress of a new child from how you view your partner, and that both you and your relationship will come out stronger for it. It’s easy to think that way—but that doesn’t make it true.
Having a child is a wonderful, fulfilling, and at times magical experience, but it’s also maddening, stressful, and monopolizes all of your resources—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Now, for virtually all parents, the joy of bringing new life definitely outweighs the stress—but it’s important to acknowledge that the stress will be there.
Rather than pretending that you and your partner will somehow breeze through parenthood without a scratch, you can protect your relationship by acknowledging that there will be problems and coming up with coping mechanisms. But how do you know what problems will arise? Here are some of the most common complaints new parents have—and how to cope.
The Lack of Sleep Is Getting to Us
Don’t underestimate the power of chronic sleep loss—it’s something that so many new parents struggle with. It’s not just the being tired, a lack of sleep can also make you irritable, frustrated, and give you a much shorter fuse. Trying to stick to a schedule of taking turns feeding—pumping so your partner can help—can make a huge difference. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you feel like you’re reaching the end of your tether.
One Partner Isn't Helping Enough
While you might imagine that parenthood will be all about teamwork, it very quickly may not feel that way. When you’re exhausted and stressed, it’s easy to become short-sighted—you see what you’re doing and you’re sure that your partner isn’t doing anything. You notice yourself doing all of the feeding and organizing and diaper changes and you miss the fact that they’re also doing diaper changes and running out to buy diapers, on top of a full-time job. Everyone ends up feeling resentful.
The solution? Talk about it. First of all, try to tune into what your partner is doing and not only be grateful, but express that gratitude. Encourage them to do the same. Talk about what you’re doing and make room for both of you to explain what you’re struggling with and how the other could help. If you both put your cards on the table, it will be an important reminder that you really are in this together.
My In-Laws Are...Everywhere
In-laws are often associated with wedding planning stress but, if you thought that they had a lot of opinions on that, then just wait until you hear what they have to say about your new baby. Although in-laws and grandparents can be total lifesavers in the early days and weeks of parenthood, many of them don’t know their boundaries. There are a lot of outdated, judgmental views on parenting that can rear their ugly head and, because many grandparents feel some ownership over the new children, you may find that there’s a real invasion of personal space. If this is the case, you need to talk to your partner—and if it’s your parents doing the butting in, then you need to talk to them. Sketch out what are helpful ways to be present and involved in the first few months of your baby’s life, but don’t be afraid to shut the door—literally and figuratively—when you need to.
We’re Not Intimate Anymore
Intimacy—both sexual and romantic—takes a real hit after a baby is born. Suddenly, not only are you sleep-deprived and obsessed with keeping this tiny person alive, you’re also constantly invaded by their needs, cries, wants, and well, diapers. Alone time and space have become a thing of the past—and if you manage to get it, you probably want to use it to sleep. If you feel you and your partner growing apart, make sure to take the time touch base with them. Even if you can just try saying, “I’m sorry I’m stressed, I love you, and I can’t wait to get some time with you again.” If you talk about how you’re struggling and make time for some physical intimacy every day—even if that’s just a hug—you’ll keep that connection alive. Then, when your child is a bit older, you can start to schedule date nights and alone time back into your life. But in the meantime, try to be patient and compassionate with each other.
See more: 8 Innovative Baby Products for New Moms
We’re Not on the Same Page
Hopefully, you had some major discussions about your ideas on parenting and how you thought you should raise a child before you decided to have one with this person. But, even if you did, the reality can be very different than your theorizing. It’s common for couples to suddenly feel like they’re not actually on the same page as much as they thought they would be. If this is the case, you need to take a moment to reaffirm your values—remind yourself of the type parents you want to be, while also giving yourself a break. Try not to obsess over little diversions from your plan—like giving your child an extra treat or not sticking to sleep training—and focus on big-picture issues. If you’re still sticking to your core values and trying to make yourselves a stronger, happier family, then that’s what’s important.
The truth is, parenthood can wreak havoc on your relationship—but you can get through it. The trick is not to think that you’re above it or to feel so guilty about admitting what’s happening—or burying it under the carpet. Instead, be open about about the fact that you're struggling, try to talk to your partner, and, more than anything, ask for help when you need it.