Keeping Your Relationship Afloat in Early Parenthood
So you saw the two blue lines and thought, ‘happy ever after’.
That perfect twosome that you were was about to become three and things were going to be rosy and blissful. But two years down the line, it’s all kids and cooking and nappies and fluster. Yes there are great times, but there are tough times too. Where you used to be accommodating and generous to your partner, now you’re trying to grab back whatever you time you can get. Instead of generosity, you feel resentment. He, feeling just the same, is hogging whatever he can for himself and it’s become a battle of wills.
Who’s more tired? Who’s doing more work? What’s better - staying at home minding the kids or getting to go and ‘hang out’ at work like he does? You know the script. So how do you begin to grasp back that spark you had? To reclaim that playful way you had with each other so that you can work together to bring up your family happily, as opposed to adding another challenge to the mix of family mayhem?
Psychotherapist Michelle Whelan Kennedy agrees that it can be one of the most stressful and testing times for couples, particularly as parenthood often differs from expectations. “It can be very fairytale-like before the baby is born and the reality can be very different from ‘happy ever after’. Firstly there’s the sleeplessness. The body is under a lot of pressure at this time and disruption to sleep and regular nocturnal patterns can have a big impact on moods, emotions, reactions, and behaviours. As well as that, becoming a parent is hugely emotional - it can be a time of confused emotions, such as joy about becoming a parent, as well as fear of not being able to cope or be a good enough parent.” Apart from the added pressure, there’s also the inevitable focus from each other and all the adoration and attention that might have entailed, to, well, none. With children in the mix, the focus moves from each other to the new members of the family.
So keeping a connection between you both is key to maintaining a healthy relationship, insists Michelle. “Try and spend some time together every day, even if it’s five minutes of just checking in with each other seeing how you’re both doing.” While it might be the last thing on your mind when you’re feeling under pressure, being kind to your partner keeps a loving spirit in the relationship, and makes the other person feel loved and appreciated. “Everyone comes with different expectations of becoming a parent, largely based on their own experience of childhood, so remember that your way isn’t the only way. You both bring something of value, so stay focused on what you are both doing well,” she suggests.
In addition, positive reinforcement, which works wonders for children, also works extraordinary well for adults and is something that’s easily forgotten about with frayed nerves and sleepless nights. So tell your partner how great they’re doing, what you love about them, and focus on the positive. Getting some time on your own or with friends is also vital - for both of you. Ever noticed how your mood soars after a trip out on your own or out with the girls, despite being in foul humour when you left the house? Recharging yourself and being kind to yourself will give you the resources you need to support and look after others.
Oftentimes, it’s that pressure-cooker effect of giving and giving to others and not to yourself that leads to frustration, which more times than not is taken out on a partner. So try giving each other a break each week. “Rotate the Saturday morning in bed/Friday night out with friends. And keep it fair and balanced,” suggests Michelle. Getting caught up in the day-to-day bustle and insanity that is being a parent to young kids, on top of financial and work challenges, it’s easy to forget what is possibly one of the most important parts of parenthood. “Enjoy being a parent,” says Michelle. “Try and have fun – laugh with your kids.
Children bring out great fun in us if we allow them to.” “Becoming a parent is about coming together and it has the opportunity to bring us to a deeper level of intimacy with ourselves and others if we embrace it. Keep it simple and truthful and try to accept yourself in all the ups and downs. That’s a great mirror for kids to learn to accept themselves too,” she adds. Understanding that each member of the family, including you, needs attention and love is central to keeping everyone happy. So giving yourself and your partner the space for some individual downtime, and then dedicating some time for just the both of you, is a great place to start.
Michelle Whelan Kennedy Michelle is an accredited psychotherapist (IACP). In addition to working one to one with individuals in her private practice, Heart2Heart, Michelle works with groups using art and imagery for self awareness and personal development.