I alluded to this in my Father’s Day post, and I wanted to get into more detail in a separate one. One of the hardest things about being new parents, if not the hardest, is the challenges it poses and brings out in your marriage. People who think a baby will fix their relationship could not be further from the truth. I now think I understand at least one possible reason some people get divorced when their babies are well...babies.
Before I get into this, I want to remind you all that I’m writing from a heterosexual perspective, because that is the relationship I’m in, and I've learned I'm not alone. I also want to add that, I know there are unicorn dads out there, mine is probably one of them, but I’ve learned that they are not the norm. So, thank you to the unicorn dads out there.
Being new parents seems to have reinforced the long way we still have to go to reach gender equality. Even if you think you have a progressive male partner, he was raised and conditioned by a society that has not treated women equally. Until we stop treating women as the default parent, there’s no gender equality. But it goes beyond that. If boys don't have an example of how a man should treat, love, care for, and support a woman, then those boys grow up to be men who don't know how to treat, love, care for, and support a woman. Of course, it's not as black and white as that, but hopefully you catch my drift.
So, my #1 tip for parents-to-be is work out your communication before baby arrives. No one’s communication is perfect, but there are things you can do so you don’t wind up resenting each other. I'm not someone who likes a strict plan, but I'd say having some kind of plan to check in with each other and to resolve issues when there are any would be a good place to start.
I’m not a therapist, but I’ve definitely seen mine about these issues. Very recently, in fact, because I was struggling and I have a beautiful baby boy who I want to show what marriage and relationships are. I want to be an example of healthy communication, and not only a loving mother, but loving wife, too. For example, while I was pregnant I kept saying I don’t want any yelling around my child, but I myself have anger issues, and my family is Chinese. We’re like the Italians of Asia. And my husband is French. Apparently, he’s not yelling he’s passionate. What I’ve realized though is that, I’m not going to be able to avoid arguing with my husband in front of our child (in fact, that may be more harmful); but when we do argue, our son needs to see us resolve our argument. He also needs to see us apologize when one or both of us is in the wrong. Even though he doesn’t understand anything right now, when I have lost my temper, I immediately talk to my son and apologize for yelling, then explain the situation and how I was wrong, and that I promise to do better. I really hope I can do better. Sometimes I worry this is me, but I think as long as I love I will work on processing my anger.
Being clear about these things is important so that both partners understand the expectations and both are responsible for putting those expectations into practice. It won’t be perfect, but it just may help you when you’re in the midst of keeping a tiny human alive and feeling so alone it hurts.
It’s also important to show compassion to your partner. That is what I was reminded of in my most recent therapy session. We all come into relationships with baggage. We have to understand that and figure out how best to communicate with each other. Our different personalities, cultures, and upbringing all play a part in how we communicate and how we receive communication.
Something else my therapist reminded me of, that I’ve heard from other women, is for ever criticism, give your husband five compliments. It may feel weird, and even agitating thanking and praising your partner for co-parenting, especially if he doesn’t do the same, but we still have centuries of misogyny and machismo to undo. So just suck it up and do it for the greater good. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
To the daddies, and to be fair, women and men are just wired differently. It seems there are a lot of things you’re just not going to think of or be aware of until your woman continuously nags you about it. Call it lack of a maternal instinct or something like that. So to avoid the nagging and arguments, and feelings of incompetence, my tip is to check in regularly. Ask what needs to be done. Even before he went back to work, but especially afterwards, I’d be alone with the baby for long stretches and it would’ve made a huge difference if at the very least, my husband checked in to see how we were doing. That to me, personally, makes all the difference. But perhaps that’s my love language. Maybe your partner has a preference for what would make her feel seen and valued.
And to both partners, check in every day with each other on how you’re each doing. Are you overwhelmed? Stressed? Doing alright?
Communication is probably one of the most, if not the most challenging aspects of any relationship. I think the thing to remember is that each of us needs to feel seen, heard, and valued.