Bringing a new baby into your family brings many big adjustments – your body, your finances, and your sleep schedule all have to bend and flex to make space for an additional family member. While friends and family tend to share about adjustments that come with parenthood, there are some pieces of the postpartum puzzle that parents often feel like they’re missing.
One of the most surprising changes that come with parenthood is the way that your relationship with your partner(s) changes. Before birth, a person’s focus may be spread around between their personal goals, needs, and interests, and those of their partner. After birth, the baby takes up the majority one’s energy for quite some time (Maybe decades? I’m not far enough into the parenting journey to know where that ends!), especially the parent who provides most of the care for baby.
This adjustment causes a reorganization of emotional and physical energy resources. Because caring for children, managing the household, and earning money can’t possibly all be split 50/50, the postpartum and early childhood period is a ripe time for resentment. Many parents are surprised at the divide that depletion, fatigue, and overwhelm can create in their relationship.
Checking in with one another regularly (put it on the calendar!) at a time when emotions are not running high can help parents keep a pulse on their relationship, and one another. Ask your partner how they’re feeling. Ask how they feel like they’re managing the many directions that life with children is pulling them in. You don’t even need to provide solutions, necessarily. Just feeling heard often lifts a weight for parents who feel isolated or unseen.
Brainstorm about how you can support one another, even though both parents may be feeling overwhelmed and frazzled. Sometimes small adjustments can make a big difference for someone who is struggling to keep their head above water. I find that I can take on all the drudgery of dishes for a family of five much more easily when my husband takes five minutes each day to put away the hand-washes dishes on the counter.
If you find yourself feeling overrun with responsibilities, it’s easy to resent those (especially your partner) who have leisure or restful time. These feelings are an opportunity to explore where you can find more restorative time for yourself, even in small chunks, because all parents deserve to have some down time. Sorting out time for yourself should not be your undertaking alone! Enlist the help and creative thinking of your partner, friends, and family members to create some breathing room for yourself.
Lowering your standards can help everyone feel both more flexible and more free as they are navigating life with babies and young children. Know that your and your partner(s)’ personal best is going to look different than it did before you became parents. Adjusting your expectations (within reason) around housework, meals, vacations, sex, and other major parts of your day/month/year can make day-to-day life feel more manageable.
Finally, find small ways to connect. You may not have time to go out and grab dinner and a movie regularly, but you can still find moments of micro-connections throughout your day. A hand squeeze or a long hug can lift your spirits and get feel-good hormones flowing for each of you. Sitting down to talk at dinnertime (maneuvering around interruptions of course!) can help you feel like you’re on the same page.
As you raise small children, small actions and adjustments are key. Trying to overhaul your family life or relationship can feel like too big of an undertaking, but taking small steps toward one another can have a meaningful impact on your life with your partner and family.
Nikki Shaheed is one of the co-owners of Birthing from Within International. She facilitates Birthing from Within and Birth Story Listening trainings for birth professionals. Nikki leads Birthing from Within classes and Birth Story Sessions for parents in San Antonio, TX, where she lives with her husband and three young children.