With all the Internet explosion of information on mothering and parenting, it seems every angle has been analyzed to bits regarding the dynamic between mommy and baby, and to a much lesser extent between daddy and baby. But the dynamic between mommy and daddy after baby is born has been mentioned least of all, except a conventional focus on “spicing it up” with sexual relations again.
Perhaps it’s natural, since so much time and attention must go to the child, who is the central project, the magnum opus of the family. We live in an era where the negative consequences of child neglect are clearly documented, where a generation of latchkey children are now in charge and refusing to repeat their own parents’ patterns. But maybe things have tipped too far in a babycentric direction, at the cost of the couple who fell in love to begin with.
Of course, babies can bond couples in new, healthy, wonderful ways. The mutual adoration of their child, the feeling of shared sacrifice and commitment to this special mission and challenge can create a parental superteam. Some couples say they never knew the strength of their love until they raised a child together.
But for others, the sacrifice and challenge is too much and takes over their lives. The responsibility, the diapers, the feeding, the sleep, all the well-documented tasks of childrearing can take their toll as exhaustion and lack of free time set in. The child is everything: but sometimes at the cost of anything else.
This is where communication becomes crucial to ongoing family success and happiness. Parents are part of a workhorse team, but one that requires active and continuous discussion and coordination and compromise. But sometimes the teamwork becomes too rote, too chore-like, or shuts down altogether and dissolves into anger and hostility.
Jill Caryl Weiner’s innovative 2013 book “When We Became Three” provides a gentle, nonconfrontational reality check for families in the throes of childrearing. Subtitled “A Memory Book for the Modern Family” it is full of friendly prompts and fill-in-the-blank sections to document milestones in the transition from couple to family. Aside from the usual sections documenting amazing moments in a baby’s development, the book helps the family develop a personal narrative, a story that encompasses the initial love of the couple, and how that love is solidified by the joining of baby.
It is a wonderful heads-up to the couple that the book starts with documenting special moments of how they came to fall in love, and what they think is special about each other, including their favorite song or vacation spots, their most romantic moments. There are important therapeutic reminders like “things we love about our relationship that we want to preserve after Baby is born.”
The book progresses to help share the parents’ wonder about the new arrival, from each parent’s point of view, which enhances mutual understanding and communication. The book doesn’t flinch from recording tough aspects of childrearing as well, with sections on “Parents’ Long Nights,” “Baby’s First Tantrum,” “First Fears,” and “Diaper Drama” which give the opportunity to bond over the tough times and “projectile poop.” Yet, the overall tone remains interactive, fun, and lighthearted.
Where the book shows even more valuable insight and therapeutic purpose is in the next-to-last section “Now That We’re Three,” where the focus goes back to the couple and their mutual relationship, now that they are parents. The prompts help each parent share what they admire now in the other, after seeing how they have handled their new roles. The prompts encourage the couple to record actual dates they go on together (a nice nudge to go on some dates together now without baby!) and even to honestly note what changed, and what potential romance was foiled (which will signal to the couple how to improve).
In many ways, the book is a secret portable therapist for the family, full of tender wisdom and humor, asking important questions in an approachable manner so the couple can develop necessary insight and realizations into what could otherwise be a harried, stressful time period. The completed result can be a heartfelt diary journaling the complex ups and downs of childrearing, a record full of the honest moments that ultimately enhance love and sympathy and mutual tolerance.
This book, and other approaches as needed, such as couples therapy and more blogs and articles about the parental relationship during childrearing, are a refreshing and important step towards acknowledging this common but underdiscussed problem. Without frank acknowledgement of those stressors, couples are at risk of dysfunctional dynamics, even divorce. Sacrificing everything for your children is important, but not at the cost of the relationship that started it all. A happy couple means a happier family too.
Weiner, Jill Caryl. When We Became Three: A Memory Book for the Modern Family. Plain Sight Publishing: 2013.
Copyright 2014 Jean Kim.
Art: Bonheur des parents (1903) Jean-Eugène Buland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons