The heightened emotion and lack of sleep of new parenthood leaves many of us on edge and grumpy. Inevitably, we take it out on our partners.
There are five areas of conflict that fast became the cornerstones of day-to-day life for new parents. If they’re a familiar part of your relationship, here’s how to resolve them quickly and calmly.
Our expert is Aaron Balick, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Keep Your Cool: How to Deal With Life’s Worries and Stress (£8.99, Franklin Watts).
‘I’m doing most of the work’
THE PROBLEM: You’ve both become accustomed to playing the new-parent victim. Who’s the most tired? Who’s changed the most nappies? Who most deserves a night out?
THE SOLUTION: ‘One of the best ingredients in a relationship is mutual recognition and gratitude,’ says psychotherapist Aaron Balick. ‘Just try saying, ‘You cleaned up the kitchen tonight, thanks.’ Work of all kinds should be valued and, if you feel your other half isn’t holding up his side of the bargain, respectfully challenge him. And remember, a fair division of labour doesn’t necessarily mean you both do exactly the same tasks.’
‘I want to do it my own way’
THE PROBLEM: You were brought up with one style of parenting by your parents, while your husband was raised by your in-laws in a different way. Breast-fed or bottle-raised, strict or laid-back, over-protective or independent – there’s a clash of cultures and you both think you’re the one in the right.
THE SOLUTION: ‘Parenting isn’t about doing the right thing for you as adults, it’s about creating the best environment for your child,’ says Aaron. ‘At the beginning of your relationship, you and your partner both had to accept different styles of relating (perhaps one of you is open, the other private). You now have to learn to understand and accept opposing ideas about parenting too.
‘If there’s a difference in style, discuss it like adults, privately, and agree on a united approach. Put your child at the centre of the parenting question at hand. Then think of yourselves as a team coming up with the best solution for her. This will take you away from a ‘who is right’ approach and offer a ‘what is right for your child’ alternative.’
‘It’s my mum’s turn to look after her’
THE PROBLEM: If you are close to your immediate family, but your partner is less so, you can be left with very different notions of how much you want grandparents around. Then there’s the whole your Mum versus his Mum issue. You may feel most comfortable leaving your baby with your own mother, rather than your mother-in-law. But your partner may not think this is fair.
THE SOLUTION: ‘Try not to act strictly out of obligation to your parents, as this can breed resentment,’ advises Aaron.
‘You and your partner must both be honest with yourselves about your feelings, discuss them, and decide what you want to do. It’s not uncommon for new mums and dads to be jealous of their own parents’ or in-laws’ relationships with their children – many feel their parents are nicer to their grandchildren than they were to them!
‘While we are all likely to have issues with our own parents, it’s important to let your child, as much as possible, form her own unique relationship with her grandparents. Come to the compromise that works best for everyone, including your child.’
‘Can’t the baby sleep in the nursery?’
THE PROBLEM: In the first few weeks when you’re waking up to feed your baby every couple of hours, it’s normal to have her crib next to your bed. But it’s also common for your partner to think this disrupts sleep for all of you.
THE SOLUTION: ‘Combat tiredness in other ways,’ says Aaron. ‘Eat well, stay hydrated and grab naps when you can. Be clear about your and the baby’s needs. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Explain just why it is that you need your baby next to you – practically and emotionally.’
‘But what about me?’
THE PROBLEM: You’ve been so busy feeding, changing and getting to know your new baby, you’ve forgotten about the other precious being in your life: your man. He’s starting to whine that you no longer pay him any attention and you know deep down he’s right.
THE SOLUTION: ‘It’s a fact that things won’t be the same once you have a baby,’ says Aaron. ‘But this doesn’t mean measures can’t be taken to stop your baby from dominating everyone’s lives. Your little one comes first, but make time to engage with each other. Call in the troops from time to time. Continue to book dates and time-outs from parenting, so you remember how you get on as a couple. You would be surprised what a dinner date once or twice a month will do to rejuvenate your partnership.’