Let’s get real for one second here, friends. Life after having a baby (or BABIES in our case) – is so much different than life before having a baby. I used to tell myself things wouldn’t change that much – but the truth is – that just isn’t the case. Life after kids changes a LOT and that is okay! The important part is finding your way together within the chaos.
In retrospect, it wasn’t that I didn’t expect things to change – it was that I didn’t fully grasp HOW MUCH things would change… especially early on when the boys were so TINY. Even in the smallest ways things had changed (like not having time to shower, hold hands, cuddle, or watch our shows together…), and things had also changed in big ways (like not being able to be intimate, not sleeping basically ever, and not having any time alone to clear your mind or just be). And the truth is, if you don’t work through it together to figure out how you want things to look for you as a couple after babies, it can truly be detrimental to your marriage. (Not to be dramatic, but SERIOUSLY.)
There was a point a few months after the boys arrived where I hadn’t had a real conversation with James in just about as long – when I actually thought we might end up being one of those couples who try for a baby for so long and then finally get what they were wishing for, only to end up divorced a year later. It is no surprise to me that this happens to couples because having a baby is HARD – you guys!! And you know what makes it even harder?? Having TWO BABIES at once! (oh.my.word.) James and I were already running on fumes when we got home from the hospital (overnight induction, followed by 30 hours of labor, a c-section at midnight the next day, and being in recovery all morning before having two tiny babies thrown in your room to care for will do that to you!!!) – so the little sleep we got from that point on only piled on top of the exhaustion we were already feeling. To give you an idea – on the drive home from the hospital James actually couldn’t remember what road to turn on to get to our house! Ha! As in – he drove a good half mile past our house before either of us realized it. Yeahhhhh. Maybe we shouldn’t have had two newborns in the back of our car in that state of mind, hmmm?
The first 3 months were definitely the hardest for us, although initially everything is so new and exciting that you are kind of floating on air and adrenaline for a bit. Then as the dust settles about a month in and the babies seem to hit their peak fussy stage – things got really hard for us. The boys would be so upset anywhere from 4pm-7pm until 10pm-1am on a daily basis – and it seemed like we couldn’t figure out anything that would help. Something would work for thirty minutes, or an hour, or a night – and the next moment, or day, or week, they would hate whatever it was that we thought was working to calm them. (To give you an idea – we ended most nights sometime around midnight, waving a white flag of surrender that consisted of me sitting up in bed with two babies sleeping on my chest while a vacuum cleaner ran plugged into the wall. I’d end up falling asleep like that out of total exhaustion. James would come in periodically to check on us and eventually to turn the vacuum off and transfer them to the bed once they were asleep.)
As you can imagine, two screaming babies can make you feel a bit stressed out and on edge… and surprise, surprise – it only amplifies the stress when there is another adult in the situation trying to figure out their way through it as well. I thought I knew what was best… James thought he knew what was best… and we were slowly pushing each other further and further away in those moments of stress and exhaustion.
Looking back on this time I realize that the main issue wasn’t the stress, or the crying babies, or the exhaustion… it was that we hadn’t had any time to just be together to talk through things or feel connected. We couldn’t even come together to figure out a plan of attack – because there was no time for strategizing! We were in survival mode for so long (and running on no sleep – so that only made us feel more irrational and not like ourselves) that we had lost each other in the chaos of the every day. We were tag-teaming time with the boys in the evenings so that each of us could hopefully manage 2-3 hours of sleep at some point – so even our nights were spent apart. James slept in the guest room and I slept on the couch before eventually moving up to our room alone with the boys in our bed for the first couple of months, while James remained in the guest room.
We were doing whatever we had to in order to survive and to care for these two tiny humans we had been put in charge of. There was really no other way around what we were doing (unless we could have afforded to hire a night nurse or something) – so it was the kind of thing where you just have to WALK THROUGH IT. You know? There was no going around it, so we just had to make our way through and do our best to ensure that when we came out the other side – that we did so TOGETHER – not apart.
I remember at one point in late May when we finally had our first evening where we magically got the boys to go to sleep by 9pm and they stayed in bed for long enough that we actually had dinner together and were able to sit on the couch next to one another for the first time in almost three months. We talked about the issues we were having with one another (we had been at each other’s throats a lot lately) and I remember just crying and crying telling James that I was having the weirdest combination of emotions – because I was SO HAPPY to have these boys I had dreamed of for so long, and yet also SO SAD because I missed my husband, so much. I didn’t anticipate feeling grief for the relationship we used to have before we had babies. I knew things would change, but I didn’t understand how much the lack of time together or even just moments of quiet to talk things through when we were at odds would affect me. That night was a big game changer for us because we were able to come back together and remind ourselves why we were so good together in the first place. We talked through what we were feeling and started to make a plan for how to improve things little by little.
With each passing month things got better with the boys (as it always does with babies)… and we got better at communicating and making our way through the chaos. I have wanted to write this post so many times this past year, but we just never had the time – so I’m glad I can finally share it. I feel like not a lot of people talk about how becoming parents affects your marriage – even when you have wanted to build a family for SO long – like we did! That struggle didn’t make us immune to the new struggles that would come in this next stage of life, though thankfully I do think it made us more grateful for it all regardless of how hard it was at times.
Anyway – we recently finally sat down together and drew up this list of tips we have for people approaching parenthood, and for those in the thick of it. I hope it helps people to get through their first year as parents (and beyond) as a stronger team than they ever were before!
Here we go…
- Accept the fact that you have no idea what you’re doing.
And that when you do think you finally know what you are doing – you can guarantee your baby will change and you will be back to not having any idea what you’re doing again! 😉 Just head right into parenthood as humble as possible, and it will help you to roll with the punches a little better.
- Don’t take anything to heart that is said while a baby is screaming.
This one is an important one. haha. You may say some not so awesome things to your spouse while your baby is screaming. You are both doing all you can to help the baby stop screaming though you will oftentimes feel like your spouse is working against you – not with you. I assure you that is not the case, though it may feel that way! 😉 Just make a rule to disregard anything said while a baby is screaming. Trust us on this one. 🙂
- Trust that your spouse can care for your child(ren) as well as you can, even if it looks different than the way you do it.
This is a big one – you guys. Don’t correct them or tell them what to do when they’re doing it, unless they ask for your help, or if they are about to do something that may actually harm your baby (obviously). Otherwise, do your best to let them find their way… They may soothe your baby differently than you (and that’s okay)! They may change their diaper differently than you do (and that’s okay)! They may get them dressed or give them a bath differently than you do (and that’s okay)! Their relationship is not meant to be identical to your relationship with your child – AND THAT IS OKAY.
- Know that everything is temporary.
Babies change every minute of every day. Just when you think you have them figured out – they do something totally different or move on to the next stage! Because of that – remember how your relationship and schedule look now is not how they will look in weeks or months or a year. Remember everything you are in right now is only temporary – so try to step back and see the bigger picture when you are feeling stressed or frustrated… or even lonely. Your intimacy will look different as the year goes on. Your sleep will look different as the year goes on. Your schedule will look different as the year goes on. Just remember that if you are in a hard stage right now – it is only for RIGHT NOW.. not forever.
- Make time together as a couple.
Get out of the house without the kiddos. I think it was helpful for us to head back to work at 8 weeks because it forced us to shower, get dressed, and go somewhere without our boys. It allowed us time to feel like functioning adults. It allowed us time to see each other as functioning adults who could wear something besides spit up and pajamas!! 😉 haha. We could flirt with each other at weddings we were shooting (we joked that weddings became like our new “date nights” this past year – haha), and it gave us time to miss our boys (even minutes after we walked out the door, of course).
- Make time for yourselves.
This is a really big one and I think is SO overlooked. It is essential you each make time to do things that FILL YOU UP outside of your marriage and kids. This includes – exercise, hobbies, social activities and more. It took us a while to get to the point where we could make this work, but as soon as we could – we did. It started with us giving each other 30 minutes to go in the basement and workout, and eventually those moments of alone time for self care got longer and longer. James would watch the boys while I got my nails done. I watch the boys on Sunday mornings so J can go play ball with his friends (it is literally the only time he socializes with adult males his age – so it is a priority)!! If you are not happy on your own – you will not be a good husband/wife/parent. You must prioritize your mental health and happiness. Put your oxygen mask on first, or else you won’t be able to help anybody else get theirs on. You know what I’m saying?!
- Communicate your needs often and thoroughly.
This goes with the point above. Your spouse isn’t automatically going to know when you need time away (though sometimes they will, I’m sure). You need to communicate those needs to them. James and I also kind of stopped asking permission for these things and just started to tell each other what we needed and what we were going to do. James was better at this than me initially and I resented him a little for that. Finally I realized, I can leave the house too – I just have to tell him I’m going to! He’s not trying to stop me – I’m stopping myself!
- Show yourself and each other grace.
Parenthood is truly such a crazy ride with one seriously steep learning curve. Every day you will make mistakes. You need to learn to show yourself and your spouse the same grace you most likely often show to strangers and acquaintances.
- Be kind. (In James’ words: be quiet.)
Often times you will want to speak your mind, or add things to a conversation that maybe just don’t need to be said (see #2). Choose kindness whenever possible. And if you can’t be kind, just be quiet.
- Find your strengths.
There are things each of you will do better than the other at different stages. Find those strengths and encourage your spouse to nurture them in themselves. We found that James could better soothe Gabriel by doing this crazy hum/chant thing when he was really little and instead of insisting on my own way – I let James take that and run with it! It made him feel good to know he could help and that Gabriel needed that particular thing from him. It is nice to feel needed and wanted… so allow your spouse and yourself to have that!
- Remember: Things will get better / easier / more and more and more beautiful.
Don’t miss out on the beauty of it all because you are overwhelmed in the moment. These days are SO fleeting and don’t let the stress or exhaustion of this moment cloud your memory of the magic of it. Things really truly do get better and simultaneously easier with each month and stage. Our motto was always “one day at a time” because we knew each day could be so different, so we tried to just ride through them with positivity whenever possible.
- Have a sense of humor.
This one is pretty obvious – but seriously. 🙂 Got spray pooped on? Laugh it off. Peed on for the millionth time? Laughi t off. Accidentally put diaper rash cream on your toothbrush? Laugh it off… 😉 Even in moments of supposed anger, try to find the funny. (Like how a few nights ago at 3am when Gabriel had peed through literally his entire PJ set, his sleep sack, his sheets and his mattress pad… and James was soooo sleepy and out of it that he didn’t know what I was asking him to do when I asked if he could take the mattress pad off the mattress while I fed Gabe. He got so frustrated trying to understand me that next thing I knew – I was nursing Gabe in our bed and James brought his ENTIRE MATTRESS into our room for me to figure it out. hahahaha. In the moment I was like… WTF?! It’s a mattress pad – just pull it off like you do a sheet!!! But the next day we laughed SO hard about it because James had nearly no recollection of what the heck happened!! haha
- Find a schedule that works for the two of you.
This goes kind of along with the story above. James is not a morning person. I cannot emphasize enough how much I dislike “tired James”. It is my least favorite version of my husband (yes, even more awful than hangry James!!) and I honestly will do anything to avoid it – even if that means I wake up with the boys every morning between 6-7am and James sleeps until 9am. People think I’m crazy and that they would want to kill their husband for that… but the truth is – it works for us! I’m a morning person and love my mornings with the boys! James gets a little more sleep while I take the morning shift… and I’m able to nap in the afternoon when I inevitably get sleepy, while James is with the boys. Find what works for you two. It may look nothing like what works for other couples – but that is okay. They don’t have to live with you! 😉
- Intimacy may look different for a while and that is okay.
Maybe this is awkward to talk about here, but I can’t post all these tips and not at least mention it because this is such a HUGE part of why this first year is hard! Intimacy looks SO different after you’ve had a baby for various reasons. If you carried your own child (rather than use a surrogate or adopt), then on top of all of the new sleepless nights, exhaustion, and lack of time together – you are also dealing with postpartum body image issues, hormones, and lots more. If you are breastfeeding, it affects the way your body functions when you’re intimate – and nobody tells you that before you have kids! So many of the tips I mentioned above could be specifically used towards this topic — communicate your needs, show each other grace, and understand that everything is temporary. This will be a constantly changing part of your lives, not even just this first year as parents, but throughout your marriage – so be kind to each other and talk your way through this.
I feel like there were more points I had in my head for this post – but I’m blanking out – so I’m going to end it here. 🙂 I hope this post helps you to think about life after babies and encourages you to have honest conversations about these things with your spouse before the baby arrives and when you’re in the thick of it!! XOXO
Photos by Simply by Suzy. 🙂