Here at Daddilife we often focus on how to be a good parent – the clue’s in the name, after all – how to ensure you think about your child’s growth, entertainment, finances… But then, Daddy life is more than just about being a Dad.
So this week, we thought “What if we flipped the light onto us as people, and to who we were, and continue to be, after having a child?
We start by looking at our relationships with our ‘better half’.
Top Relationship Stresses for parents
The ‘Becoming a Family’ project, started in 1990, studied the effect of children on relationships, and discovered that it’s a pretty universal truth that most relationships – 92% in their study – suffered a decline after having a child across all aspects of the relationship. But they also saw plenty of positive signs of recovery once issues were worked through.
What causes most of these stresses?
Increased demands on the partnership
Firstly, you’re now jointly responsible for more than just a shared bank account (perhaps even a junior savings account too). You will hopefully have spoken about your approach to raising your child prior to the birth, but you may find this is put to the test when the reality is giving you an unexpected experience (How much milk is too much?!)
Secondly, this shared responsibility is not sympathetic to your requirement to sleep. And if you’re anything like me, the less sleep you have, the more grumpy you get… and the more grumpy you get, the less tolerant you are. In fact, in a Channel 4 series focusing on the issue in 2013 found that 3 out of 10 parents cited a lack of sleep as the main factor in their relationships ending post-children
You are required to divide your time, and run your day, at the behest of something that has its own schedule, which it then proceeds to change just as you’ve adapted. Both of you will lose yourselves to begin with, and it takes work to get that back, let alone the relationship.
Less Alone Time
We all need time to pursue our interests, relax or just be alone with our thoughts. Those late night gaming sessions, getting lost in a good book or going for a long run now need to be weighed against the changing demands on your time. You will find that prioritising your child and the needs of the house mean that you both find you have precious little time by yourself.
You are no longer the most important person in your life – at least for the first few months. And this takes some getting used to.
Less Couple Time
This also means no more weekend lie-ins, walks on the beach or cosy nights in scrolling through Netflix.
Well, not strictly true but you will certainly be unable to spend as much time on each other as pre-baby. Most of your time together will be spent taking it in turns looking after the new one, sleeping when they sleep and generally making sure you get through the day.
Essentially this means you’re not spending quality time together in the same way as you were before. You’re bonding as a family and adjusting to a new way of life, but you’re not dedicating time to each other and your joint needs – you’re now focusing on being ‘parents’ rather than ‘a couple’. Communication becomes less flirty and more functional.
This will mean less sex, too, at least for a bit, and that also can contribute to you feeling distant from each other.
There is theme here…. Your expendable cash is no-longer expendable, it’s going on nappies, baby-food, clothes (they grow so fast!) and other, previously unthought of requirements (a coffee-cup holder for the buggy?!). And, as they get older, the toys, clothes and food just continue to get more expensive!
Naturally this may lead to you feeling constrained. You can’t spend as you used to, you can’t buy or save as much and this is another change to deal with. This is the main complaint with all of this: your previous life no-longer exists. Both of you are coming to terms with something new whilst having to navigate an entirely new scenario. It’s going to affect you.
How do I focus on my relationship after having kids?
With the constant flow of changing requirements on your time, it is a challenge. And it won’t be an option some days – but as with everything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It’s important to recognise that there never be ‘the right time’
The key strategy is to make that time together. Book it in. Well in advance, if possible.
It’s so easy to just be grateful for the end of the day, a glass of wine and chilling on the sofa, before heading off to bed, but it can be a dangerous rut to get into.
My partner and I are particularly bad at this – having had our son in the first lock-down, there wasn’t much we COULD do to spend time together outside of hanging out on the sofa (although we did catch up on a lot of quality TV) – but we’ve brought this habit along for the ride. There’s always something else (friends to see, child-based activities, work events) that take up time.
As a result there are moments of going a day or two without really saying anything other than ‘hello’ or ‘have you taken the bin out?’ – and that’s not a relationship.
It’s also important to remember the little gestures mean something. Give a compliment for no reason, leave silly notes around – buy flowers, or a small gift for no reason other than you were thinking of them.
It;s also worth considering counselling. Either together or individually – there’s no shame in asking for a helping hand from professionals who have the experience, and the impartiality to offer advice and tactics on how to deal with this massive step-change in your life.
In the meantime, book time in to do something you both like. Do it now.
How can I improve things?
There’s no tick list, you know your relationship best. However – the most important aspect is communication.
You may be feeling upset about the time your partner spends with the children, or about the fact that you’re not spending time together, or something about the way they dealt with a recent problem – but they won’t know about it unless you talk about it. It might not be easy, but it is necessary. Letting things fester is a recipe for disaster, as resentment grows like your to-do list, so please talk.
It’s also easy to misconstrue intentions, or indeed, start building a wall. Becoming more open about what your wants and needs is going to be key. Say you want a hug if you’ve not had one for a while, don’t be afraid to talk about sex and work out what you both want.
You’re in this together.
Hugely important to remember is when you do chat, try to do it at time when you’re both calm. Again, my partner and I are very good at waiting until it’s bedtime to start chatting, which doesn’t help sleep!
What about me?
We’ve spoken a lot about strengthening your bond as a couple, but you also need to make time for yourselves. You’re still individuals. Use your time wisely. Don’t live in each other’s pockets, ensure you also go and see your friends and do activities apart.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder – I often feel much more in love with my partner after I’ve caught up with a friend alone.
Talk to others. Make sure you have a support network so you’re able to vent a little outside the comfort of the house and back into the relationship. Go through a similar process with yourself as you do as a couple. Time is at a premium so make sure you make time for yourself and each other every couple of weeks.
The benefits of children in a relationship
Of course it’s not all doom and gloom – having a child means the end of your old life, but the beginning of a fabulous new one as a family. The adjustment period is tough but manageable.
You may be lucky and not experience any of the problems mentioned above, and/or you may find that you grow closer as a result of sorting through them. Watching your new arrival grow and flourish as a result of you is one of the most gratifying experiences there is.
Keeping them in mind, and encouraging them to open up and be honest about how they’re feeling (once they can) is also a useful tool in remembering to do it ourselves.
Your behaviour around them will also shape how they view life (no pressure) so leading by example of chatting through your emotions, showing your affection and being a kind and understanding person to each other will leave a lasting positive imprint upon your little one(s).
It also improves who we are as people – we know that giving to others is hugely beneficial to our health as it makes as feel good – and teaching our children to start doing that, as well as all the altruistic tendencies we show to our children will only add to that
What are your experiences? Good or bad, sharing helps! As always, we’d love to hear from you in the community.