There really is nothing that can properly prepare you as a couple for how much life changes when you become parents for the first time. I remember hearing recounts from friends about how much of a challenge the adjustment was for them as a couple, and how they seemed to dedicate most of their hours just trying to get everyone fed, bathed and dressed each morning.
I remember those stories. And I also remember arrogantly thinking, “that won’t happen to us”. It couldn’t be that hard surely?
Not too much will change, right?
Of course, now I know how hard it can be to try and keep a sense of yourself as a couple, when you’re the parents of a small baby. You begin to feel as though this tiny little human is holding you hostage, and managing to somehow dictate your (now non-existent) love life. Any snippets of intimacy and romance are held captive by someone who can’t even talk or walk. One minute you’ve got all the spontaneity in the world, and the next you’re having to type yourself a reminder on your phone to let your other half know that you love them.
My husband and I would walk along the waterfront at night time when I was pregnant with our first baby, and we’d hold hands and chat. He’d stroke my blossoming, ripe belly and he’d tell me how beautiful and glowing I looked. It made me feel like a million dollars. He’d squeeze my hands and tell me I was his goddess. We promised to always make time for each other, and to always see each other as individuals in our own right – no matter how crazy parenthood got. I’d buy him his favourite chocolate and leave it on his desk, and he’d pick up my favourite ice-cream and leave it in the freezer for me to find. We always found time to show affection to each other, and our bond seemed stronger than ever.
And then our daughter burst into our lives … and all of that changed.
Welcome to a new reality
It wasn’t that becoming parents for the first time was a negative experience for my husband and me – not at all. It was more that it was such a sudden jolt to reality, after we had clearly been living on another planet I fondly now like to call No Idea.
Because we really had no idea. We assumed that our connection as a couple would not waver and that we’d find our way back to each other seamlessly, even through a sleep deprivation haze. The reality was that we’d sometimes spend hours arguing about whose turn it was to take the rubbish out because we were so exhausted, and our hand holding and gentle caresses became less and less simply because we forgot.
Instead of our relationship being easy by default, it now required conscious effort and intentional tending from both of us in order to stay healthy. Our priorities changed, and we evolved anew as a couple. And somehow, amidst all the chaos of it all, our love for each other got even stronger.
There were some simple things we did to keep our relationship a priority, amidst all the dirty nappies and night wakings.
1. Kiss – and do it like you mean it
Firstly, we’d always make sure that whenever we did kiss – that it was a proper kiss, not some half-hearted dry peck on the lips you’d give your grandma. We committed to making those kisses, albeit however fleeting they were, count. Those tender, soft moments were memories that kept me feeling anchored on the days I’d spend alone trying to get my daughter to sleep. Those kisses reminded me that I was more than just a mum – that I was someone’s other half too, someone’s lover, a woman.
2. Do something thoughtful – it shows you care
Secondly, we’d very often write each other silly little love notes. On the mornings my husband would need to sneak out to work early, before my daughter and I woke – he’d write little funny poems or drawings on the whiteboard in the kitchen for me to find later. And some evenings when the house was all quiet and my husband was asleep, I’d sneak down into his car and leave a little love sticky note on his dashboard. It wasn’t much in reality, but it meant so much to both of us – because we both felt seen.
3. Don’t wait for the Perfect Date Night
Finally, we’d have “good enough” dates together every week – even if it meant we had our daughter in tow. These “good enough” dates looked like pizza picnics on the floor in front of the TV when we’d speak in whispers as our daughter slept in the other room. They looked like hand-holding under a table at a cafe while our daughter slept on my front in a carrier. They looked like standing-eating-cake dates together in the kitchen at the bench, while our daughter played on a mat nearby.
Grasping at little moments of togetherness helped to keep our connection strong, and forced us to live in the now, rather than wait endlessly for that elusive Perfect Moment. Parenting in real life is a far cry from how we anticipate it to be – but as it turns out, the one thing that can make you love your other half more, is watching them fall in love with a tiny human you both created together.
This post is sponsored by Woolworths Little One’s nappies