Parenting – the other side of your relationship

Children are a blessing! Let’s just make that point clear, because they are. In a world where people battle the odds against fertility issues everyday, or wade through the process of adoption, those with children are blessed with something that many yearn for. But as much as they are these precious bundles of joy, having them can also put a strain on one’s relationships. Once the excitement of a new baby gives way to the reality of another life being dependent on you, the tables can turn. And if you believe your marriage is too perfect to feel the tremors of dealing with a new addition to the family, then you’re in for a rude awakening. Even those of us who expect things to change can be overwhelmed with the magnitude of being a new parent.

Speaking from experience, being a new parent, a new mom, is really an amazing thing to experience. There’s the sheer bliss of having a baby, the well wishes from family and friends and people you meet in the hospital, and all the visions of the future you have. And even though you might mentally be prepared for the challenges of being a parent, it’s still a blow to the system how exhausting it is – the lack of sleep, the breast feeding, the burping, the nappy changing, the clothing changing, the bathing… and then hit repeat repeat repeat. It’s a mental, emotional and physical strain that you go through as individuals and this can easily end up putting a strain on even a fairly solid relationship.

Two daughters later, my hubby and I are still learning how to be good parents and deal with the challenges. We have a good handle on it I would say, but some days are definitely better than others. I have days when I miss my girls and can’t wait to see them and want to spend all day with them, and then I have the days when I just want to bundle them in the car, drop them with my mom and run errands alone. So from my home to yours, here are some things that might come in handy for you as you walk your parenting journey, especially if you’ve recently become a mom.

Communication is key

It is vital to keep the lines of communication open. It’s all too easy to keep all the emotions locked up inside because historically we’re conditioned that mom’s just do! We just handle it all for the sake of our children because the alternative is unthinkable – we simply cannot let anyone know that the situation is overwhelming or too much to bear. Sweetie, if you keep adding air to the balloon without relieving some, it will pop! If you don’t want the world to know your coping mechanisms are failing you then don’t – the world doesn’t need to know. But your partner does. It’s a huge deal to take care of a child’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being, and it’s something you cannot do optimally if you’re not taking care of your own.

There were times I’d go on a ranting spree with my hubby, letting him know how hard I sometimes found it to be a mom with a full-time job and try to maintain a healthy relationship with him. It was a massive relief on my system to be able to let him know, especially after trying to deal with it solo at first. With busy lives we’ve found the best time to talk about things is just before bed. The house is quiet, kids are asleep and we can talk about the day, about what we want for our family, reflect on things our girls did, share funny stories we heard about on the radio or saw during the day, or even just talk about the latest series. The point is to talk – it’s therapeutic and doesn’t cost you a dime.

Involve your partner

There really is no need to walk the parenting journey alone. Society has conditioned moms to believe that as the primary care givers it is the woman’s sole responsibility to raise the child. Errrr, wrong! Our bodies render us to be the natural or primary caregivers yes, but there are dozens of parenting things that fathers can, and should, get involved in. I’m by no means implying that moms should give up the reigns – it’s a beautiful thing to be a mom and have such a profound role in your child’s upbringing. What I am saying is to find ways to involve the dad. The experience benefits all parties involved – mom gets a bit of a breather, dad gets to experience parenthood hands-on and bond with his offspring, and baby gets to bond with both parents and not just with mommy. Here are some ways for dads to get involved, which worked well in my home:

  • Share feeding times by letting dad bottle-feed your baby. If you’re not at bottle-feeding, that’s okay, enjoy the breast-feeding experience and quality time with your baby. Dad can always take over and handle the burping!
  • Let dad change nappies too. If he doesn’t know how, teach him. If you don’t know how either, then it’s the perfect opportunity to learn together. Ask one of the grandparents or Google it – there’s bound to be a wealth of how-to videos out there.
  • Share the bath time experience. Bath times are such special moments – watching your baby’s reaction to water, and seeing how the reactions become more animated with time is quite exciting. My hubby loved getting involved with bath time, to the point where I was given an instruction to not do bath time as he would do that when he got home. It was his special bonding time especially while I got to bond all day being on maternity leave. So make bath times something both mom and dad can do, or make it a family affair and do it together. 🙂
  • As an extension of bath time, involve dad in dressing baby as well. At this point I have to say, exercise patience please moms! On too many occasions I wanted to shoo Nizaam aside and say “here, let me do it.” But don’t give in to this urge no matter how long they take. Somehow we were born with the skill of dressing our babies better – must be the time we spend on our own grooming? But give dad the space to do this on his own – they really do get better at it with practice. And the sense of pride they feel when baby is looking dressed and cute just makes them wanna do it again.
  • Pick baby things together. Don’t you just looooove shopping for baby things? Gosh, I always needed to walk down the aisles even when I knew I didn’t need to get anything. So involve dad in this oooh-aaaah experience. Let him help choose toys, clothes and accessories. If you’re trying new types of toiletries, let him help with the decision-making process too. If he helped decide on a rattle he’ll be sure to brag about this fact while being all too eager to wave it in front of your baby. And he’ll be that much more keen to dress baby himself in that awesome outfit that he picked out, or that you chose together.

Appreciate your partner

As much as it is also his responsibility to be a parent, don’t take for granted the role he plays or tries to play. Let him know that you really appreciate him being an involved parent and how you know it will only benefit your relationship and the well-being of your family unit. Too often we take for granted, as men and women alike, that our partners know we love them and appreciate them and all those good things. But it’s always nice hearing it. When we’re off to movie night and my hubby tells me I look nice, I’d smile and thank him for the compliment and say I’m wearing make up tonight. He’ll say something like “but you know I always think you look nice” or some random thing along those lines. But even I he always thinks I look nice, even if he always feels love for me, the point is that it’s nice to hear the actual words now and then. So let him know he’s important to you. It’s not only a nice thing to do, but contagious as well – if he doesn’t already say nice things to you, he may very well feel the urge to start returning your compliments 🙂

Make time for quality time

Oh boy! Where to start on this one… this is seriously way easier said than done. When you’re single or just a couple without kids, it’s so easy to be spontaneous and decide on a whim to go catch a bite to eat or go for a late night movie. When children enter your little microcosm it’s a mini-project to fit everything in. Suddenly there are vaccination schedules and paediatric check ups and getting invited to kiddies parties! I find having a family calendar really helps. I get those year planners (the ones that can wipe off, and they come with a marker as well – you can get them at most stationery stores and retailers for under a hundred bucks). I use different colour markers for different members of the family, and another colour marker for family stuff. Although I keep my calendar on my phone as up to date as possible, it’s so easy to just refer to the family calendar. So get one and plot in the stuff you know about like school meetings, concerts, work events, weddings and the like. Be sure to mark off date-nights and time for family bonding – those are calendar-worthy too! The trick with juggling schedules is to know that you’ll need to compromise in some cases, and that you shouldn’t in others. this is something that you come to learn as you discover what is important to you and your family.

Grandparents will be grandparents

Grandparents spoil – that’s their thing. They don’t necessarily agree with you on your disciplinary choices; they don’t always agree when you say “no” to your children; and the worst part is that they raise their differences of opinion about your children, in front of your children. This gives rise to frustration and can easily lead to arguments with your spouse around how your own parents need to respect that you are trying to parent your children. Let me tell you it’s a battle you don’t always win! So do yourself a favour and tell yourself that you will not win every battle, but know which ones you want to, need to, win. Discuss with your partner where you both draw the line on the grandparent parade, and try to stick to it. Some examples from my own experience include knowing that I lose the battle with my parents giving the kids sweet treats often. So I give in and let them buy sweets and chocolates, but I limit the intake and save some for another occasion (which also leaves me with a nice little stash of treats at home; useful for bribery! Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes). Another battle I lose is the bed time battle – if my 4 year old sleeps over at her grandparents place I know she’s going to be up late watching TV. Where I win there is that she’s not waking me early the next morning for breakfast. So identify the important stuff and stand your ground on it and ask your parents to respect it (like homework before play if your kids are with their grandparents after school), and don’t swear the little things (like they had a bag of chips on a weeknight). That way you and your partner know that the big things are sorted, and the grandparents have room to play and enjoy their grandkids. We all want what is best for our children, but it should also not be at the expense of grandparents nurturing special bonds with your children. Afterall, grandparents are gold!

So embrace your new love triangle and the depth it adds to your world – you’ll find there’s more than enough of the L-word to go around. 🙂

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