The birth of your first baby is undoubtedly a magical time for any couple, but it’s also a demanding time full of uncertainty, exhaustion and fluctuating emotions (blame the hormones), which can send even the most contented relationship careering off course. To avoid the new-parent relationship trap (arguing over night feeds and the endless laundry cycle), it can be helpful to open up the dialogue on some common parenting sticking points long before baby comes along to deprive you both of sleep and rational thinking.
“The looming responsibilities of parenthood can weigh on even the most optimistic parents-to-be. Who will attend to the baby when they wake up? Who will be handling the laundry and preparing meals? Who will be feeding the baby at night? Are the in-laws allowed to stay for months? What type of disciplinary methods will be used? These issues may seem inconsequential now, but once you’re in full-on parenting mode, knowing what to expect from each other can get you through the day and avoid new-mum meltdowns,” says Lily Kandalaft, founder and CEO of Dubai-based maternity nursing and babysitting agency, Malaak Mama & Baby Care. “It is very important to have conversations to know what is expected of each parent. Discussing roles and responsibilities early on, before your little angel arrives and you are overtired, will be the perfect start to a smooth parenting journey.”
The chat about baby chores
Talking about parenting roles pre-baby is a strategy that Anna McCall wishes she’d used, prior to having her son, Simon, now a toddler. “Before having Simon, I’d always viewed my husband as my equal. We both had good jobs, earned similar salaries and shared the housework at home,” says Anna. “But when my son came along, my husband suddenly backed off and left me to do everything as far as the baby was concerned.” With her husband sleeping soundly in the spare room, Anna was left alone to cope with night feeds, nappy changes and a bad case of infant colic. “When I challenged him, he told me that he saw the baby as very much my domain, and it was his job to support us financially. I felt like I’d suddenly been transported back to the 1950s. Where was the evolved, modern man I’d married?”
Siobhan Freegard, founder of video parenting village ChannelMum.com says this is a familiar scenario. “Some couples have fixed ideas on who should do what, which can lead to conflict. Some men expect their partner to do everything, which can leave a new mum feeling exhausted, and some women feel obliged to do it all, which not only shuts out dad but also puts too much pressure on them. But if you talk during the pregnancy, or even before you begin trying for a child, you can iron out many of the issues which couples face.”
The chat about including dad
According to maternity expert Rachel Waddilove, who has counted the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow among her celebrity clients, men often retreat because they don’t know how they fit into the new family. “Men can feel very left out when baby comes along. It can feel very much like a women’s world,” says Waddilove. But by talking to your husband about how you’ll share the baby duties in advance of the birth, he’ll feel more included from the outset. “It’s important to discuss it and that it’s a shared experience,” she says. “It’s easy for dad to feel out of the circle, particularly if mother is breastfeeding. I’ve had guys say to me, ‘There is nothing much I can do’. But that’s not true. Guys are good at bringing up wind, for example. I’ve taught dads how to bath babies… It’s important not to exclude your partner. I advise my breastfeeding clients to express a bottle of milk a day, so dad can do a feed. That way dad feels included and mum can get some sleep.”
The chat about in-laws
Once your little bundle of joy comes along, you’ll likely be inundated with a stream of advice from well-meaning family and friends, but just how much influence the grandparents – and especially the in-laws for each side of the couple - have over your parenting approach can be a bugbear among husbands and wives, as Irish expat Rachel Jones found out.
“When I had my first baby, my mother-in-law came out from the UK to stay with us in Dubai for the first few weeks. I loved having her there to help out at first, but gradually her presence began to grate on me. She’d comment on everything from how much my daughter was feeding to how much sleep she was getting and even how I dressed her. It felt like she was constantly watching me and criticising me,” says Rachel.
While the pandemic has limited the amount that some grandparents can physically travel, the involvement of in-laws and parents in raising your children – whether via video call and instant chat, or in person - is an important conversation to have before your baby arrives, insists Kandalaft. “It can be quite challenging to stand up to your parents when they insist on their opinions of how to raise your child for example breast feeding versus bottle feeding, what the baby eats, sleep techniques, child caring options... It is important for you and your spouse to agree early on what really matters for you and your family and how you can support each other. Sit down and make a list and decide which issues are worth standing firm on, so you are in agreement. You and your spouse and your baby are a family now and you will need to establish your own values and traditions so it is important to keep a ‘united front’ on what is acceptable for you and your family,” she says.
The chat about money
“There’s nothing more stressful than money worries while you are on maternity leave,” says Freegard. “So make sure your finances are sorted. Raising a child can be very expensive so save money while you are pregnant and shop around to make sure you get good deals on maternity clothes, baby equipment and nursery furniture. Ensure you talk with your partner and plan your budget, as it’s likely cash will be tighter than before you became parents.”
Similarly, talk about how you’ll cover childcare costs if and when you go back to work. “When you are pregnant or caring for a newborn, it’s hard to imagine going back to work, but it is something that needs to be discussed early on. Good childcare can be tricky to find so if you do intend to return to work, it’s best to start looking as soon as you feel this is the right decision. Make sure you budget and factor in childcare costs to your overall household budget. Some people find going back doesn’t always make financial sense, whereas for others it’s essential to make ends meet and they have to go back sooner than planned.”
The chat about parenting styles
“Discussing parenting styles is vital,” says Freegard. “If one of you believes in a strict routine and the other in attachment parenting, it will cause rows and send mixed messages to the child. Always try to compromise and remember it’s not about you being right or wrong, it’s always about what’s best for the baby.” Of course, you don’t always know what your parenting style is until you become a parent, but reading around the subject will help prepare you both. Often it helps just to be aligned on your parenting values, and then if you need to tweak your approach as you go forward then you have already opened the lines of communication to discuss it. Plus, if you have both already shown willing to apply thought to the topic, you’re starting from the same page. Freegard adds, “Try to talk through all these issues before the baby is born so you are both prepared and pulling in the same direction. The first few days or weeks after a baby is born can be a bit of a blur, so having the basics in place will be a huge help.”