You’re about to become parents for the first time, and you are still newlyweds. "Marriage changes in ways that are unexpected for people," says Kristin Maschka
, author of This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today
(Berkley Trade, October 2009). "We went from basking in the glow to shouting at each other in the kitchen." The hard times after a baby is born are a dirty secret. But preparing for the challenges can help you welcome your baby without ruining your marriage. Here, Maschka’s tips for keeping your marriage intact when you become parents for the first time –
Give yourself state of the union check ups regularly.
Choose a time – say dinner or first thing in the morning before work – to discuss anything that is on your mind
about your schedule, the relationship, or problems you might be having. Make these discussions a normal part of your routine, so when the baby comes along, you already have an established time to vent or express whatever it is that is bothering you or needs improvement. Maschka warns against letting your frustrations build, which will likely cause a blow out of an argument.
Anticipate changes to your career.
A baby will interrupt both of your careers. But moms will feel the most pressure to put the brakes on their careers, while dads will feel the need to work long hours to bring home more money. "You’re not as enlightened as you think you are," says Maschka. She and her husband thought they were a modern couple until the baby arrived, and they found themselves slipping into society’s expectations of the mom and dad.
Eventually, they decided to follow a path that worked for them, and they both became self-employed, so they could have more flexible schedules and could parent together. And Maschka returned to a full-time job at a nonprofit when her husband’s real estate business slowed down and her daughter was a bit older.
Get dad involved from the start.Women and men slip into society’s roles when it comes to parenting, too. Often, moms take on the child-rearing burdens and dad gets away with doing very little for the baby. But Maschka describes how her husband’s lack of involvement in the beginning was making her resentful. She says they felt pushed toward a life that they didn’t want. "There was no use in blaming each other," she says. "It didn’t make sense." That’s when the two started to come up with a routine that worked for both of them, a way that they could each have careers and be involved in their daughter’s life. And they were sure that dad helped with baby and mom got some time to herself.
Discuss parenting standards.Just as you must talk about schedules and careers, you must also discuss your parenting styles. Who will stay up with the baby when she’s sick? What are grounds for punishment? How will you punish? As different circumstances arise, Maschka says you will likely argue. That’s all right, but be sure to revisit these issues when you’re calm – and come to a resolution that satisfies both of you. Then, display a united front to your child.
Realize you’re not alone.Lots of first-time parents think they are the only ones whose marriages seem to fall apart under the weight of baby. But you’re not alone. Most couples have a period of adjustment – and everyone’s relationship changes. Now, there’s someone else who needs all your attention. A bigger family means more work and a changed dynamic. Finding a way to care for your child and love each other requires patience – and it is difficult for everyone at first.
Celebrate your new marriage.
Your marriage will never be the way it was before baby. "Marriage after kids was a different contract than marriage before kids," says Maschka. She and her husband mourned the loss of their old relationship and then renewed their vows
and threw a huge party to celebrate their new relationship. In fact, they added to the vows they originally took, and their daughter was at their vow renewal. You might not want to have another wedding, but you could renew your vows to one another in private or simply recognize and discuss the beauty in your new marriage.