Among the many questions I ruminated over while expecting — How often will the baby sleep? What will labor feel like? Will I be a good mom? — something significant was missing.
That query: how would a baby change our marriage?
It’s not that I was naive enough to think a baby wouldn’t shake us. On the contrary, I knew from my mama friends that children absolutely shift family dynamics. I expected that much. But in the midst of buying a house, outfitting a nursery, and prepping for labor, I never paused to consider what those changes would be.
Perhaps if I had, the differences wouldn’t have been so surprising.
After nearly seven years of marriage, including two and a half years of parenting, my husband and I agree that the year we expanded our family was one of our most challenging. Nevertheless, we made it. And, yes, it is changed for the better. Here’s how:
1. We fight more but communicate better
In the first year of our son’s life, there was plenty to spar about, namely, who was going to get up with the baby at 5am and what’s for dinner. After years of (mostly) harmony, this shocked me.
Our worst fight to date occurred on the car ride home from my parents’ place. The topic was baby duty. My husband travels for work, often for weeks at a time.
“Wait, you’re going out of town again?” I huffed at him as we sat trapped in traffic. I had a big event I didn’t want to miss and no time to find a babysitter. My husband then commented on my lack of flexibility, but what I heard was, “You’re a selfish mom.” Unfortunately, I did not handle that gracefully. Thankfully, our little one snoozed his way through some strong words.
Having a baby upended our marital equilibrium as we learned to manage childcare duties and function with less sleep and time for ourselves. Over time, I’ve seen each stage of childhood present new conflicts to conquer. Rather than hold in our frustrations, my husband and I mostly bring them to each other.
What I learned after that blowout fight is to slow down and listen before jumping to conclusions. We also got better at connecting the dots between everyone’s schedules — keeping a family calendar.
2. We fiercely support each other’s alone time
Let it be known that prior to becoming parents, my husband and I supported each other’s individual pursuits, whether that was playing club Ultimate (him) or training for triathlons (me). Months into the demands of new parenthood and work, we were desperate to find a new rhythm. Each of us snuck out here and there to run errands, meet friends or workout, but the time felt stolen. We both felt sort of guilty for abandoning the other with baby, especially on the weekends.
Yet whenever I did carve out time for self-care, such as catching yoga class or attending book club, I returned home with an elevated mood and restored patience. Same for my husband when he made it to the gym or woodworking class. Then it dawned on us — what if we created a schedule?
We pulled out our family calendar and discussed which nights he’d take off and which ones I’d claim. Within a week, carving out guilt-free alone time became less complicated. This resulted in two happier parents. When my husband travels, he encourages me to hire a sitter so I can still take my weeknights. Ditto for me when I’m out of town. Seeing him thrive brings me so much joy. I’m his biggest cheerleader.
3. We’re closer than ever
I noticed it in college friends who had babies before us, but I could never put my finger on it. This indescribable bond they shared; one look, one word communicated so much. I wondered how they got so close. I wondered if my husband and I would ever be like that.
Now I know. It’s changing overflowing diapers in the dead of the night. Consoling a wailing babe with swaddles and shushing and rocking. Trying to stay afloat with a few hours of sleep. Agonizing over feedings and milestones and hospital bills — together. Figuring out how to be adults, how to lead, how to care. Parenting transforms us. And in my case and the case of many women, it changes our partners too.
I’m deeply grateful for a husband who steps up and shares the load of caring for our sweet son. When we were brand new parents, we leaned on each other for physical and emotional support. We learned — through trials and triumphs — how to be a team. We discovered each other’s gifts and figured out when to step up, when to step back, and when to step forward together. We pushed each other to the edge countless times and drove each other crazy. (Still do!) We gave each other grace again and again.
Our baby gifted us with an ineffable bond.
4. We date less but value our time more
The time my husband and I used to spend frequenting our favorite neighborhood haunts has decreased significantly since we became parents. It’s not that we don’t love to date — we do — but our busy careers only allow us so much time with our son.
More often, we spend the free pockets of time we do have as a family of three. Most weekends, we limit our commitments and savor everyday family activities — walks to the playground with our dog, hosting friends or family for dinner, and just hanging out in my son’s playroom. Some may call this boring, but the slow pace helps me be a more present parent and spouse.
And when we do call a babysitter and go on a date, which is much less than we did before marriage, we don’t take our time together for granted. We put away our phones, limit the baby talk and savor each other’s company. Call me sentimental, but something about the scarcity of time makes dates feel a little more romantic. Whether we’re on a high rise restaurant in Chicago or a few blocks from our home at a hole-in-the-wall bar or back at home getting our son to bed, it doesn’t matter, so long as we’re together.