Everyone knows that it takes time for babies to sleep through the night. But unless you've lived through significant sleep deprivation -- used as a form of torture in warfare -- you can't really understand what you're up against. " For most parents, the first three months after childbirth are like a fog," says Carl Sheperis, Ph.D, Director of Doctoral Programs at Walden University. "It's hard to anticipate the effects of sleep deprivation and exhaustion," he says. But it's a safe bet that you'll both feel tired, cranky, and irritable. You'll each think you're getting less sleep and doing more at night -- a perfect recipe for resentment.
That's why it's important to keep the lines of communication open, says Dr. Sheperis. Talk about the challenges, support each other, and "make sure that you both are taking care of your physical and mental well-being as much as possible," he says. Also, don't take things to personally, says Dennis Lin, M.D, relationship expert and sex psychologist. You're snapping at each other because you're tired. "It's nothing personal. It's just what happens when you get little or no rest," he says.
When you get married, you learn about compromise and how you have to make an effort to think about each other's needs. After a while, it becomes second nature. And then you throw a baby in the mix and "the baby's routine becomes the primary focus, and the needs of the parents become secondary," says Dr. Sheperis.
"It's almost impossible for most couples to anticipate how intense their focus on the new baby will be," agrees Jennifer Freed, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family counselor
and author of Relationship Wisdom. It can be so strong, in fact, that it "may temporarily overshadow the couple's feelings for one another. This can happen in a lopsided way, too, so that one partner is focused intensely on the baby, and the other partner feels left out," she says.
You have your way of ding things, and your husband has his. When it comes to placing the toilet paper roll, you may be able to agree to disagree. When it comes to child-rearing -- well, those disagreements can get pretty heated. It's true that many couples talk about their philosophies and parenting styles before the baby comes, but as Dr. Sheperis points out, "there is a difference between discussion and actual practice." Another point to consider: you have no idea what you'll decide to do when the baby comes, no matter how much you plan ahead. "There are no guarantees until the baby arrives," says relationship expert and coach Tristan Coopersmith, author of MENu Dating.
As you develop your personal parenting styles, "be patient with each other," says Coopersmith. "Give each other the freedom and flexibility" to find your own way.
You might be able to avoid visits from your husband's parents, but your baby's grandparents? Good luck. And both sets of in-laws have their own ideas about child-rearing, so you'll have more advice than you know what to do with. The key here, says Coopersmith, is to "respectfully communicate your needs. Show your appreciation, but set boundaries."
Of course the man you married is a modern one. Of course he's going to be an involved father. But you'll still probably see a shift in the division of labor in your home after the baby arrives. "Women often assume the role of primary caregiver, even in household that were previously more egalitarian," says Rachel Dinero, Ph.D, an assistant professor at Cazenovia College. The reality is that "both partners are equally capable of caring for a baby -- and it's important for both partners to play a role early on," says Dr. Dinero.
If you're staying home to care for the baby, you'll probably find yourself doing more than ever around the house. And in spite of that, your efforts may go unappreciated. "The working partner often perceives that the stay at home partner is not really doing much at home and has plenty of time to clean, cook, and take care of other household chores," says Dr. Dinero. "The reality is that caring for a baby requires more work than most full-time jobs, so it's important that partners take time to recognize the efforts each puts in."
In the midst of the haze that surrounds new parenthood, you might be surprised to rediscover just how much you love your husband. "The way the baby melds the best of both of you will help you remember what made you fall in love with each other in the first place," says Dr. Lin. "Your shared love for the little one will make you closer and give you more motivation than ever to make your relationship work well for years to come."
It's absolutely true that having a baby changes everything. But you'll find that, happily, many of those changes are positive. And even the bad ones -- well, you wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.
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