Special guest post by Hannah Caradonna, MSW, RCSW
The author with her daughters.
A reader asked how to maintain balance in the relationship after having children. We asked our friend Hannah to share her insights as a psychotherapist and mother of two young children.
I remember, at the end of my first pregnancy, feeling like I had been packing for and anticipating a vacation, yet I had no idea where I was going or exactly when it was going to happen. I didn’t know what to pack and didn’t even know what questions to ask to prepare for my voyage. My two biggest concerns were what the baby would do to my marriage and what the baby would do to my career.
I was not alone in this concern. As a psychotherapist working with couples, I see others faced with these very same concerns. And I totally get it. It is hard to strike that balance between work, house duties, friends, exercise, relationship and so on, even before having children. So, what happens when you add a baby to that list? How does a baby shift things?
Of course, the answer is that a baby shifts everything. Here is what it is like: You are balancing these different aspects of life carefully. Then, your baby is born and the birth throws everything off of the scale, and all that is left is the baby. All the pieces fall back onto the scale slowly, over the course of weeks/months/years, but their weight changes.
And here’s the kicker: you don’t really know which items will maintain the same weight and which will carry less. But, the sum total of time you have in one day stays the same. This means that you have time to do everything you like, but some things will be done less frequently.
My husband and I have become really good at negotiating time. We trade, barter and plan. Today, for example, I watched the kids in the morning, while he worked. Then, we swapped roles at lunch time, so I could work and he watched the kids. We take turns having social outings with friends. We carefully plan our dates and get giddy at the idea of spending time together without our kids. We recently went on a double-date, and the moment we left the babysitter with all our kids, the four of us hugged and jumped up and down to celebrate that we were child-free for the evening. This is not to say that we don’t enjoy spending time with our kids, but rather the time we do have for all the other stuff in life becomes sharpened and purposeful. We are more mindful of the time we have alone or with other adults.
Appreciating moments is one of the countless lessons taught by having children. I’ve learned to slow down while I am with my kids. Babies and young children don’t have any sense of what a clock is. They don’t understand the past or future. All they have is now. Right now. Think about what that means. At moments when I have a scheduled appointment to make, I may feel very frustrated with the slow rate at which they are putting their shoes on. On the other hand, my children teach me a valuable lesson about being present and appreciating this moment. Again, time feels more sharpened and purposeful.
You Have 9 Months to Start the Conversation
It is really normal to feel uncertainty or fear before life-altering changes, such as becoming a parent. Be open with your partner. Acknowledge each other’s fears and hopes. Often partners who are not sure about having kids are worried about missing out on career opportunities or life experiences like traveling. They may be feeling financially insecure. Partners who want a baby can feel strongly about having a family, experiencing pregnancy/childbirth/nursing or wanting to leave a legacy behind. All of these issues, on both sides, are issues of existence and what you want out of life. These are heavy topics but very important to share with each other.
I like to think that the reason pregnancy lasts so long is to allow for plenty of opportunities to talk about and think about what parenthood will do to your lives. Here are some questions to consider asking each other:
- What are your fondest memories from your childhood?
- What aspects of your mother and father’s parenting practices do you hope to carry on as a parent?
- What aspects of your mother and father’s parenting do you hope to do differently?
- What do you want for your children in life?
- What were your parents’ roles at home growing up? Who worked outside the home? Who cooked? Cleaned? Planned outings? Etc.
- What is your biggest fear in having kids? Why?
- Think about friends and family who have children, who do you feel can be a role model for you and why?
Take the time to really listen, until you understand what your partner is feeling and thinking about. The goal is to feel compassion for your spouse’s point-of-view. Remember that views can change over time. Understanding each other’s dreams and fears are a huge part of being able to negotiate parenting and your relationship.
Ultimately, every couple has to find their own way through the shift in becoming parents. I recommend starting the conversation early and keeping it going throughout the various stages of parenthood. You and your spouse are the foundation of your family and that is what will carry you through this journey.
Hannah Caradonna, MSW, RCSW is a psychotherapist and counselor in private practice in Victoria, British Columbia. She works with adults and couples and runs couples workshops. She is married and the mother of two girls.