Having a child (whether your first or your fifth) can throw your home and relationship into a state of instability. The physical toll in addition to the added stress and limited sleep can force you to temporarily jumble your priorities and focus. Here are some ways to keep a focus on your relationship.
1) Prepare for the 4th Trimester.
Mentally prepare for the fact that the first few months after giving birth will require you to shift your focus. You need to think of these months as the 4th trimester of the pregnancy. Your baby is adjusting to life on the outside, there is some level of physical healing for most woman, and both partners are managing a wide range of emotions. Your older children are also likely trying to adjust to changes during this intense period of time. Freely hand out patience and forgiveness for all that you are going through as a family. Recognize that while challenging, this amazing time will indeed pass and things will get easier. Knowing what to expect ahead of time and discussing your needs and expectations with your partner will help you to manage those first few months with greater ease.
2) Make a Plan but Be Flexible.
Talk through your expectations before getting into the situation. Will one person take all of the overnight feedings and the other get the older kids up and out the door each morning? Will you switch off nights of bath or bedtime duties? Will you divide the house chores, or instead decide to let things slip off of your normal ‘to do’ list? Talk about it and plan for it. Then, make sure you continue to communicate and adjust as needed. Maybe your original plan isn’t working as intended; that’s okay. Just take time to address the issues and make changes as needed.
3) Nurture Your Intimate Relationship.
Even if there are physical limitation that need consideration, there are ways to intimately connect with your partner. What does the other person need from you and what do you need from them? Is it taking time each night to talk about your day, or do you need to spend moments throughout the day with some degree of physical connection? Are you still sharing your fears, hopes and dreams? Focus on finding simple ways to stay connected throughout the day: phone calls, text messages or leaving a note are quick and simple ways to stay in touch. Whatever you need to feel connected, talk to your partner about it. Don’t assume that they understand what you need during this season of life.
4) Plan Down Days.
With the crazy schedules that can come with kids, you have to actively plan for time to unwind and relax. Whether you block off one Saturday a month or a night each week, commit to periods of rest. These are not only important for your mental health, but your physical as well. The stress that can come with young children will take a toll on you if you aren’t finding ways to manage it. A free Saturday afternoon opens up the possibility for a leisurely walk through the park, a much needed nap, or time to just hang out and laugh as a couple or a family.
5) Commit to Date Nights.
This really goes hand and hand with number four – you have to plan for dates. They must be a priority! They don’t have to be expensive, outlandish affairs – they just need to happen. If you find out last minute that a sitter has canceled or you have to work late, roll with it. Instead of canceling the night, replan it. Put the kids to bed, order in from your favorite restaurant, pull out a deck of cards or sit on the deck enjoying a glass of wine together. If you don’t plan ahead for times to connect, they likely will get pushed aside. There will always be something else to do, another kid activity, or a project that needs attention – but a focus on your relationship should always stay in the forefront.
Your relationship is the foundation of your family. Nurture it, make time for it and focus on the big picture when you are in the midst of sleepless nights and other obligations. This season truly is fleeting and it will pass quickly. Remember that being a parent is important, but being a supportive partner should always be a top priority.