The heightened emotions and sleep shortage new parents face leave many on edge and grumpy. Inevitably, we take it out on our spouses. When you aren’t staring lovingly at the beautiful baby you’ve created together, you’re probably glaring at your husband. Is it your hormones or has your spouse become the most irritating person on the planet?
You might recognise five areas of conflict in your new life as a parent. If they’re a familiar part of your relationship, here’s how to resolve them quickly and calmly.
#1. I’m doing most of the work
You’ve both become accustomed to playing the new-parent victim. Who’s the most tired? Who’s changed the most diapers? Who most deserves a night out?
“One of the best ingredients in a relationship is mutual recognition and gratitude,” says Aaron Balick, psychotherapist and author of Keep Your Cool: How to Deal with Life’s Worries and Stress. “Just try saying, ‘You cleaned up the kitchen tonight, thanks’. Work of all kinds should be valued and, if you feel your other half isn’t holding up his side of the bargain, challenge him respectfully. And remember, a fair division of labour doesn’t necessarily mean you both do exactly the same tasks.”
“Put your child at the centre of the parenting question at hand. Then think of yourselves as a team coming up with the best solution for her."
#2. I want to do it my own way
You were brought up with one style of parenting by your parents, while your husband was raised by your in-laws in a different way. Breastfed or bottle-raised, strict or laidback, over-protective or independent — there’s a clash of cultures and you both think you’re the one in the right.
“Parenting isn’t about doing the right thing for you as adults — it’s about creating the best environment for your child,” Balick notes. “At the beginning of your relationship, you and your spouse both had to accept different styles of relating (perhaps one of you is open, the other private). You now have to learn to understand and accept opposing ideas about parenting, too.
“If there’s a difference in [parenting] style, discuss it like adults, privately, and agree on a united approach. Put your child at the centre of the parenting question at hand. Then think of yourselves as a team coming up with the best solution for her. This will take you away from a ‘who is right’ approach and offer a ‘what is right for your child’ alternative,” Balick points out.
#3. It’s my mum’s turn to look after her
If you are close to your immediate family, but your spouse is less so, you can be left with very different notions of how much you want the grandparents around. Then there’s the whole your-mum-versus-his-mum issue. You may feel most comfortable leaving your baby with your own mother, rather than your mother-in-law. But your husband may not think this is fair.
“Try not to act strictly out of obligation to your parents as this can breed resentment,” Balick advises. “You and your husband must both be honest about your feelings, discuss them, and decide what you want to do. It’s not uncommon for new mums and dads to be jealous of their own parents’ or in-laws’ relationships with their children — many feel their parents are nicer to their grandchildren than they were to them!
“While we are all likely to have issues with our own parents, it’s important to let your child, as much as possible, form her own unique relationship with her grandparents. Come to the compromise that works best for everyone, including your child.”
#4. Why can’t bubba sleep in the nursery?
In the first few weeks, when you’re waking up to feed your baby every couple of hours, it’s normal to have her crib next to your bed. But it’s also common for your husband to think this disrupts everybody’s sleep.
“Combat tiredness in other ways,” Balick suggests. “Eat well, stay hydrated and grab naps when you can. Be clear about your — and the baby’s — needs. Don’t expect your spouse to read your mind. Explain why it is that you need your baby next to you — practically and emotionally.”
“You and your husband must both be honest about your feelings, discuss them, and decide what you want to do.”
#5. But what about me?
You’ve been so busy feeding, changing and getting to know your new baby, you’ve forgotten about the other precious being in your life: Your man. He’s starting to whine that you no longer pay him any attention and you know, deep down, he’s right.
“It’s a fact that things won’t be the same once you have a baby,” Balick notes. “But this doesn’t mean measures can’t be taken to stop your baby from dominating everyone’s lives.” Your little one comes first, but make time to engage with each other. Call in the troops from time to time. Continue to book dates and take timeouts from parenting, so you remember how you get on as a couple. He points out, “You would be surprised what a dinner date once or twice a month will do to rejuvenate your partnership.”
HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT
Psychologist and marriage and family therapist Anoushka Beh tells new parents how to avoid arguments.
GIVE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
Arguments arise because both parents often have very different expectations of the same situation. So, the next time your spouse snaps at you or says something that seems like “an attack”, instead of assuming that he or she is not on your side, take a deep breath, and ask questions to understand where he or she is coming from.
Resources are thin during this time and parents often forget to express appreciation to each other for the efforts they put in as individuals. Saying how grateful you are for your spouse’s efforts goes a long way in keeping you both connected to face other challenges.
ASK FOR HELP
Voice your need for support rather than staying quiet and growing fatigued, which can result in resentment towards your spouse or the baby. Try talking to other mothers, too, who will be able to empathise with your situation and offer useful advice.
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