On the surface, this is a very simple question to answer.
Change is inevitable
Whether you’re married, de facto, gay or straight, having kids will 100 percent change you and your partner. If this change is positive or negative, is where the real complexity lies. And like most things worth talking about in life, everyone’s story is different.
Kirsty Levin and Lana Sussman are co-founders of The Parents Village, Sydney-based prenatal and postnatal support service, where they run courses specifically designed to support couples through the journey of becoming parents.
The two women have seen enough to know that while every couple’s story is different, there are certain things you can do to create a firm foundation to navigate parenthood, together.
Read more about relationships:
- 7 ways to strengthen your relationship when you have kids
- Does your relationship need baby-proofing too?
- How being bad parents for a night was the best thing for our relationship
Welcome to “baby shock”
“More often than not, it comes down to which role you take in family life. Primary carers, by nature of their responsibilities, experience an overwhelming change in their personal identity. This means they can often express resentment and anger towards the partner whose life seemingly continues to go on the same,” Kristy and Lana told Babyology.
“We call this baby shock, and that’s because so many things change when baby comes along.”
Cara, a mum of two children aged 1.5 and four years, agrees with this. She and her partner, David, had been together six years before embarking on parenthood. She spends most days at home with the children.
“Becoming parents has bound us deeply and strongly to one another while simultaneously pushing our rafts so far from one another that we can only sight the other in between the huge waves. I long for him to get home, but because he represents a lightening of the load,” said Cara.
“I prioritise sleep and precious solitude over date nights. I have to work really consciously to disconnect from the background buzz of frequently unfair blame and resentment for the unwashed dishes, the lost drink bottle, the kids’ moods … It’s so easy to get lost in the infuriating minutia and forget the big picture, forget who this guy actually is.”
Things aren’t the same as before
Grief is another thing many parents aren’t prepared for.
“Another thing that is often not spoken about is the grief and loss that can be experienced in terms of loss of identity, loss of career, loss of the old relationship,” said Kristy and Lana.
“A lot of people say, ‘I’d never go back, I love my baby, but I do miss those days of just being with my partner.'”
A different kind of love
But not all couples consider the “old days” as superior to the present.
As Karen, mum of two aged six and eight said, she and her husband of ten years have cultivated a different kind of love. Companionable, loving and wholly centred on the children. Their combined commitment to this ideal has made it work.
“Before kids, my husband and I were far more affectionate with one another, that’s for sure. As soon as our first child came into the world nine years ago, ALL our love instantly seemed to filter away from each other and into that small, beautiful little being. As a result, we often describe feeling as though we’re merely teammates in an endurance race with seemingly no finish line.
“Our ‘spark’ has wavered over the past decade, not helped by the fact that our kids love sleeping in our bed with us and will sneak in most nights.”
Too tired, too busy
Changes to household dynamics, routine and sleep take a significant toll on parent relationships.
“Sleep deprivation impacts mood regulation immensely, and often the stress is taken out on your nearest and dearest: yep the partner,” said Kristy and Lana.
“With short fuses causing many an argument over often trivial things, it’s important to recognise the signs within you as well as your partner. Practise empathy, understanding and acknowledge that support is needed rather than throwing fuel into the fire.”
Jessica, mum of two aged three and six said these issues had a catastrophic impact on her marriage – leading to separation after nine years together.
She told Babyology that for them, it was a lethal combination of dishonesty and unmet expectations.
“Becoming parents put our relationship on the backburner. For a long time, it felt like we were ships in the night. It took monumental effort to carve out couple time and we didn’t get a lot. I checked in with him regularly to reassure him of my love and commitment and to seek reassurance that he’d be there when the dust settled. He said he would. He wasn’t.”
How to prevent a relationship breakdown
The couples that appear to best manage the transition to parenthood are the ones that separately continue their social relationships and other connections.
“They also seek out and receive support early on, and are aware prenatally of these adjustments and have open communication with their partner about how they feel and how its changed or will change their lives,” Kristy and Lana said.
Happy couples also tend to “divide and conquer” everything from domestic tasks to me-time. And they also make a specific time to meet up and discuss any grievances.
Strong together, but also apart
Perhaps the key to a successful relationship after kids though is a willingness to apply perspective to what is arguably one of the most stressful and busiest times in your life.
“They acknowledge that this is a transient phase of their life that will pass and they need to rally together to stay strong as a team,” said Kristy and Lana.
This sense of teamwork, while hard-won, can also inspire a greater sense of individual self in the relationship too.
You are together, but you are also, still very much yourself:
As Cara, the mum of 1.5-year-old and a 4-year-old put it:
“In the moments where we actually see each other and laugh or hug, it’s a relief to find him there – and find a welcome piece of myself there as well.”