While it's mostly true that "nothing can prepare you for parenthood," there really are some things you can do to be ready for what's to come in the first year of marriage after your baby arrives. From here on out your marriage will be different because it's no longer just the two of you. There will be a total shift in your identities when you become Mom and Dad. Before your first baby arrives, take the time to give a hard look to things that will be different — and embrace them with full commitment.
1. HOUSEHOLD DUTIES
The key to getting the mundane chores of changing diapers, washing clothes and keeping up with the hundreds of items that make up cohabitation is having a clear, direct and honest conversation about it before Baby comes home, says Jancee Dunn in How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids (Little Brown; 2018). While it may sound extreme, literally tacking up a chore list may help with the awareness of duties. The goal is to collaborate with mutual respect — as allies. You’ll both be zombies for awhile, so you may as well admit you’re in it together.
When the time is good, talk together and see if you can find common ground about raising your child. How will you discipline? What about bedtimes? Are you authoritative? Permissive? “Research consistently demonstrates that children of authoritative parents are more likely to enjoy positive relationships with their peers, do well in school and to become independent children,” says author Lisa Damour in her book Under Pressure (Ballantine; 2019). Food for thought.
Lack of sleep, the changing dynamic between the two of you and just a general ennui about sex may dominate Mom’s life for a while as she recuperates from delivering a baby. But know that physical intimacy is majorly important for both of you in order for you not to start feeling like roommates. The best way to have better sex is simply to have more sex, says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (Holt; 2005). Take advantage of a few stolen moments here or there — even if you have to schedule it.
4. EACH OTHER TIME
It’s incredibly common for couples to begin neglecting each other after the baby arrives — guard against it. If you start thinking that you’re losing touch with each other, ask yourself, “What would I be thinking, doing or saying right now if we were having an affair?” says Diana Kirschner, Ph.D., author of Love in 90 Days (Center Street; 2019). Of course, this isn’t about actual infidelity; it’s about seeing each other the way you did before — when you weren’t collapsing and snoring all night.
The boundaries you set and the understandings you reach with your in-laws will help prevent unwanted interference as your child grows, says Susan Newman, author of The Book of No (Turner; 2017). Be gracious and honest, emphasizing how much you want them to connect with their new grandchild, while acknowledging your preferences. It is essential to talk this through as a couple, too, so you can both steer your parents in helpful directions by finding the right way to speak to them and considering what they are good at when it comes to Baby.
Your sweet baby can cost you a bundle, and costs will be a bone of contention between you. It’s possible to shell out upward of $12,980 annually for your child, according to the most recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been tracking the cost of raising children since 1960. Research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates nine out of 10 new parents report a decrease in relationship happiness during the first year of their baby’s life, and it’s often due to money changes. What to do? Financial guru Dave Ramsey has tips for the first year: 1) Focus on the basics; 2) Borrow items when you can; 3) Bargain shop; 4) Gather and sell items you no longer need. In general, though, remember you are in this together and all will settle down eventually.
7. KEEPING SCORE
It can be a slippery slope that starts with, “Well, I’ve done the last two diaper changes ...” No matter what, you WILL get into a little score-keeping if Baby and household duties get too one-sided. Three tips can help from author Heidi Murkoff of What to Expect the First Year (Workman; 2009). Stay friendly when you: 1) Ask for what you need without assuming that your partner should know; 2) Talk about what you feel instead of pointing out what your partner is or is not doing (avoid criticism!); 3) Ask, “How can we help each other out here?” rather than insisting that everything be done your way.
Your parenting life has just begun, and all along the way there will be rough patches. It’s a good time now — before life with kids gets thick with activity — to commit to good communication and a lot of understanding for what each other is going through. When you married you made a commitment to each other — let having a baby deepen that!
Susan Day is editor of this magazine and a mom of four.