Sharing the load: navigating the parenting minefield.
Hands up who has started having more disagreements in their relationship since having kids. And by more I mean like every single second of the waking day. Or whose only communication with their partner seems to have dwindled to a grumpy and barely audible “how are you?” “fine”. And that’s on a good day.
It’s not surprising that having a baby/kids/small miniature army you created yourselves is putting strain on the delicate fabric of your previously water-tight partnership; EVERYTHING has changed. What we think is going to happen vs the stark reality of it is usually totally polar…. Why? Why is it so hard to maintain peace and civility and a sense of union in a household of young children? Why do we end up butting heads 24/7 instead of working TOGETHER towards a solution or a plan or a glass of wine?
Let me examine and break down the issues, as I see them, as they’ve arisen in our own lives. Here is how I/you/we/anyone could go wrong:
1 – We didn’t have a plan. Before the chaos started we didn’t sit down and go, right, let’s make a completely legally binding, peace treaty style, constitutional contract about who is going to do what and when and how and the appropriate amount of whinging that is allowed and the precise amount of sleep hours you’re entitled to vs me and who is going to wash the dishes and when does the dog get walked and who is responsible for the older children waking in the night once the baby comes along???? And and and and and…
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While a plan WOULD save everybody’s sanity, realistically, who ever has a plan? Before you have kids you have no idea what you even need to have a plan about. And if you’ve already got an older child, you equally have no idea how much everything will change once another comes along. We can’t have plans because we don’t know what to plan. Simple as that. However, I think it is still important to have some loose guidelines – you can certainly still discuss parameters around who gets up to the baby in the night, perhaps dad gets baby up and changes her nappy and you then feed her. Or you feed her and dad gets her back to sleep. Or you get up to the baby and he gets up to the older kids. Or you get up to everyone in the whole world (in fact, why bother even sleeping at all?) and he then takes them in the morning and lets you catch up on some zzzzs.
The key to making a plan work, is to stick to it. No matter what. No excuses. Because as soon as one side falls over, the other person has to pick up the slack and do the parenting for both of you – and that’s simply not fair.
2 – Which brings me to my next point – MAKE IT FAIR. It sounds petty, but fairness in this situation is soooooo important. You both agreed to have this child so you are equally responsible for the raising of it. And while some roles are going to be very exclusive (such as breastfeeding), there still has to be a sharing of the weight. I always said to my husband when our babies were small that I’ll keep them alive as long as he keeps me alive. That was our deal. And that means not just making me cups of tea, but providing emotional support, morale; sometimes even just being in the same room is enough.
Men: NEVER underestimate how important just being around is. How much it matters to her to see you decline the invite to play golf with your friends so you can be at home with her, just hanging out. It says to her that you get it, that you understand the sacrifice you both chose to make to have this kid. The old saying “misery loves company” rings true, but it’s more like “parenting loves solidarity”. Let her know she’s not on the front line on her own. You’ve got her back.
If one of you is shouldering this gigantic life event more than the other, it just isn’t FAIR.
3 – TALK to each other. I’m bad at this. I stew and get mad and expect my husband is a mind reader (which of course he isn’t). Both of you will be feeling all kinds of different things at different times, probably things you’ve never had to deal with before – including giant sleep deprivation, guilt, injustice, jealousy, outright rage. The best thing you can do is tell each other how you’re feeling, how you’re coping. In theory you’re going to be each other’s best form of support, so ask for support, ask for help, tell them how you’re doing or if you’re not actually as awesome as you make out to be.
4 – It’s not a competition. Why the heck would it be? And yet, how familiar is the ol’ tired competition? The ol’ “I’ve been up ALL night”, “I’m tired too you know”, “not as tired as me”… YOU’RE BOTH TIRED. Unless you have a tired-o-metre (which you don’t), there is no scientific way to quantify who is the most tired. The best you can do is accept that you’re both blimmin tired and sympathise with each other. Don’t get mad because you feel you deserve to be the most tired (you don’t get a medal for it by the way). Trudge on together, through the haze, and know that some day in like 25 years time it will get better.
5 – You are actually teammates. Anyone who has played a team sport should understand this analogy – you two are a team and this is the hardest game of your lives. You don’t abandon your team when the going gets tough, you don’t sit on the sidelines, you don’t spectate. You get in there, among it, you get in up to your armpits. You get all muddy and sweaty and smelly and you ache and you’re injured and you know what – so is your teammate. And, like any sport, you have to give it 100% because that’s the ONLY way to win. Losing this game is a life-changer.
6 – It’s the little things. Make him a cup of coffee. Kiss her goodnight. Let him watch sports all day long (as long as he is holding the baby while doing it). Buy her flowers. It is so hard to keep liking each other during these long frustrating years with a young family, but doing one little thing each day that just says “you’re doing a great job” or “I love you” is usually enough to get through.
I’ve never heard anyone say parenting is easy. It is, at times, a B A T T L E F I E L D. You feel like you’re doing it wrong 99% of the time, you’re grumpy every second of the day, you are certain you’ll be tired until the end of time… You won’t. It is all just a stage, all of it; the long nights, the disagreements, the missed cocktail parties. And with a unified, sympathetic, load-sharing approach to parenting, you WILL get through it.
If you liked this blog, make sure you check out: Why is my newborn NOT sleeping (and screaming instead)?