Guest blogger: Smita Malhotra, M.D., mom of two
My oldest daughter is now three, which means that I spend a lot of time watching fairy tales and reading stories about princesses. The endings of these stories are usually the same-the princess meets her prince, and they live ‘happily ever after.’ While I absolutely loved these stories when I was younger, what I want my children to understand as they get older is that real love is not struggle-free. And nowhere is this more true than when you become parents.
As parents, we are often told that children will bring us closer together and in some ways that is true, but it is also completely normal to struggle with your relationship after bringing home a baby. In fact, researchers have been studying how marriages change after the birth of a child for years now, and it has overwhelmingly been shown that marriages are challenged with this new life change. So why is no one talking about this? We have birthing classes for pregnant women, so why aren’t there classes for couples to learn how to navigate our relationships after the birth of the baby?
During my first pregnancy, I spent so much time learning about the gadgets that I would need for the new addition to our family, but none trying to understand how this change would affect the relationship between my husband and I. So when our first daughter was born, we found out for ourselves how hard this time can be. We suddenly went from discussing exciting weekend plans to now talking about the color of the last poopy diaper. When most conversations become purely transactional, the end result can be disconnection, and that can make us feel lonely and isolated.
So when we had our second daughter, my husband and I knew that we would have to work to maintain our connection. Here’s what we did to nurture our relationship:
1. Let go of the guilt
While it is important to take time alone as a couple, the guilt of leaving your newborn can be overwhelming. When I found myself burdened by guilt, I realized that the greatest gift I could give my children is a strong bond between mother and father. And with this reminder, I put my guilt to rest.
2. Schedule time to be spontaneous
Scheduling time for spontaneity seems like an oxymoron, but after kids almost everything has to be scheduled. Every month, we make sure our kids are well taken care of and go on a date day (instead of date night). This allows us the entire day to be completely spontaneous-where we talk about everything OTHER than children.
3. Help each other nurture outside relationships
We are defined by many different relationships in our lives, even the relationship we have with ourselves. So by taking turns to watch the children while the other spends time with friends or even alone, not only allows us to be the best we can be, but strengthens our bond in the process.
4. Let go of gender stereotypes
By sharing responsibilities such as taking turns watching the baby at night to allow the other to rest, we functioned better as a team. We were able to put to rest the outdated idea that the father provides income and the mother does all the work for the baby-which often leads to unnecessary pressure and resentment.
Until I had children, I never realized how relationships change when you become a parent. As a pediatrician and a mom, I now make sure to counsel new parents that taking time for yourself, your friends and your marriage are all important parts of being a fully present parent.
What I want my daughters to know the most about ‘happily ever after’ is that real love is sustained from rising up when the going gets tough. True happiness requires time and work. But with the right person, it is all worth it.