For the purposes of this post, most relationships will be characterized as marriages, however, by no means do I believe it is necessary to be married in order to raise a child. It only takes two people who care about and respect each other and who are dedicated to caring for and loving the baby. Married or not married, two mommies or two daddies, it makes no difference.
No one ever said marriage was easy. Having a new baby certainly doesn’t make it any easier. A very insightful new mom in one of the sessions of The Chicago New Moms Group commented that she doesn’t understand why a couple would decide to have a baby to save a marriage since having a baby can challenge a relationship in ways one may never have previously even imagined. Shortly after the birth of my first child, my father in law told me, “You aren’t really married until you’ve had a baby.” Why is this? Because until this point in time, it is likely that nothing else that you have coped with as a couple has challenged you in quite this way. I would say the only exception to this would be if you had dealt with a serious illness as a couple.
So your new baby has arrived, a baby who you have hopefully had some fun conceiving (unless this process occurred in a laboratory), now the work begins. As a mother, your transition to motherhood may not be easy but your identity as a mother begins to consume you the first time you hold your new baby. For a breastfeeding mother, your presence is intricately tied to your baby’s livelihood and nurishment. However, often partners struggle to find a role within the family and sometimes this can lead to tension in the relationship. I frequently hear new moms say that their partners often take a backseat when it comes to child care duties such as feeding, changing, putting the baby to sleep and general comfort measures because the mom just is better at it. Although this may be true, it is largely due to the fact that she is solely responsible for these duties so much of the time and, well, practice makes perfect, right? Moms who are at home with their babies during the day, whether it is on maternity leave or because they are staying at home full time, learn to read them better because they spend more time with their babies then fathers if the father has gone back to work. When given as much practice, clearly partners can do just as well, but often moms have a hard time giving up that control (myself included!). Sometimes it just seems easier to do it yourself rather than show your partner how you do it or, better yet, let him learn for himself. Even though a partner may not be directly responsible for feeding a baby in the beginning, there are many things he can do to help him connect with his baby. Dads are often great at comforting babies, they can change diapers, they are often expert swaddlers, getting babies wrapped up snug so that there is no escaping and therefore leading to some longer sleep segments which in turn, helps everyone feel better. Chances are he is going to have his own way of doing things that are different from you. I know its hard but with all your strength, resist the urge to correct him (unless there is a real safety issue involved) because this can lead to him feeling that his way is always wrong and ultimately, taking a backseat in parenting. Building his confidence and his skills leads to greater satisfaction in his role as a parent and a greater sense of inclusion in the new family dynamic. Incidentally, having the positive support of a partner is also one of the strongest predictors for a successful breastfeeding relationship between mom and baby. All these ways of including your partner and also giving him greater responsibility in his role as a parent are essential to helping your relationship stay strong following your baby’s birth.
The other component to a well functioning relationship that I can’t emphasize enough is communication. This sounds obvious but when everyone is exhausted from being up all night with a baby, the first thing to break down is communication. We get snappy, we get cranky, we make assumptions about things that we think our partner should know. For instance, after the first few initially crazy months after your baby is born, he may assume that since you are into more of a routine as a mom, that you are okay with him going back to his original weekend plan of watching football and taking naps. While you may have spent your whole week counting the minutes until Saturday when he will be there to help you and give you a little parenting respite (maybe you were looking forward to showering before 4pm or even running an errand or two on your own). Unless you directly tell him that you plan on relying on him for some very specific tasks, chances are, he has no clue. I know, sounds simple but some basic communication can go a long way to keeping your relationship strong as you and your partner begin your new roles together as co parents.