Now We Are a Family

Bringing a new baby home

Bringing a New Baby Home and What Happens to the Marriage

A baby takes on average nine months to percolate within you. During these nine months, partners have some time to get used to the concept of “baby makes three,” but when it actually happens, most of us are knocked for a loop. There is a vast difference between the abstract concept of family…but when it becomes a concrete fact, it’s a whole new world. Sure, now you’re parents—but what happens to your marriage, now that you’re no longer alone?

A relationship is an organic thing, not something that is set in stone. From the moment you met your partner, your relationship evolved and changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. The truth is, even before your baby is conceived, you’re a family, since the name “family” isn’t necessarily restricted to those couples with kids. But you probably really didn’t “feel” like you were a family, or had the potential to become one, until that belly started swelling. That belly grew between you two, reminding you every day of the changing going on not only in your body, but also in your relationship with your partner.

Hopefully, by the time your first baby arrives, you two have been able to lay a solid foundation of good communication, trust and mutual support, because the addition of a child can create serious strains on your marriage. Becoming parents causes everyone to reevaluate who and what they are as individuals and as a couple. The stress induced by becoming a family can cause even the most rock-solid couple to do a double-take. How you proceed from there depends on how much work you put into your relationship.

One of the most visible areas affected by the birth of a new baby is the physical realm. Your finances will take a direct hit, with the addition of diapers, medical bills and all things baby; babies aren’t cheap. If you work outside the home, likely you took some kind of maternity leave, if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that offers it. Other new moms have to use vacation or other time…or just have to take the unpaid time off. This means the complete financial burden for this blossoming family unit sits squarely on your partner’s shoulders, and that’s not a fun position to be in.

Dealing With The Inevitable Stress of a New Baby

Men in particular become stressed by this new “provider” role they have to take. Modern guys are used to more equable partnerships (financially at least) than that of our parents and grandparents, so having to take over as the breadwinner can be a shock to them. Regardless of how they were raised, men are biologically hard-wired to be providers, and they can get a great deal of satisfaction out of it. However, in today’s troubled economic times, it can be daunting. If you’re accustomed to being financial partners with your spouse, the stress on both of you can drive a wedge between you, no matter how in love you are. This is the time for completely honest communication between you, and a realistic evaluation of your budget. Decide what can and can’t be lived without, plan accordingly, and never let the communication between you stop.

Then, there are other physical stressors after the arrival of a baby: your body has changed. It produced a child, and even if you’re not nursing, your body is no longer completely your own. Even the most well-adjusted guy will sometimes look at the baby and you (usually while nursing), and say, “Hmph, that used to be all mine.” Yes, it’s a bit selfish, but it’s a natural reaction. This is another area where talk is so important: a tiny resentment can grow into a huge one, and that can spark fights in other areas of your relationship. Additionally, your body is awash with hormones, recovering from a pregnancy and birth. You’ll probably be going through some baby blues. You may be tired, snappish, weepy, scared—or all of the above. Some of the best ways to deal with this is getting some help, some sleep, and a nice, long shower.

There is a huge amount of psychological pressure on new parents, too. New and experienced moms alike get a tremendous amount of advice from all kinds of sources, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy in the face of all the things they “should” or “need to” be doing, according to everyone else. Society puts pressure on parents to be perfect, and this is daunting. Some days, you’ll feel like you accomplished climbing Mt. Everest just by getting yourself dressed in clean clothes, much less doing composting while also washing your baby’s organic cloth diapers and making your own free-range-stir-fried tofu. Your spouse is getting all kinds of advice too, and he is probably feeling inadequate as well. The best thing to do? Form your own army of two: you against the world. Who cares what the magazines say? You two decide how to parent your child, because parenting is not a one size fits all affair. A family is what you make of it, and only the mom and dad and kid(s) in that family can decide what’s right for you. Take any unsolicited or unwanted advice, smile nicely, and discard it, without guilt.

You are now a family, a unit. You and your spouse are bonded through your child, and that can never change, even if someday you separate. You have to come together to raise your child as a team, but you can’t and shouldn’t forget about the love between you that helped bring that baby into the world in the first place. Your romance needs to be nurtured, too: make time for each other, and don’t neglect the little things that make big differences. Sure, you’re tired and stressed, but that is no excuse for not being kind to each other. Saying please and thank-you, trying to understand each other’s point of view, and keeping the physical and emotional spark stoked is extremely vital. Provide your child(ren) with a positive example by showing love, consideration and mutual support for each other as a couple, because you’re also more effective parents, too.

Becoming a family is a heady thing. Suddenly, you have so many more pressures and responsibilities than you did before…but here’s the bright side: suddenly, you have so much more of everything, including love.

Image Credit: A Kiss for Baby Anne by Mary Cassatt

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