You and your mate really wanted a baby. Your little one has arrived and you both find yourselves overwhelmed with the enormity of the tasks ahead of you and the enormity of the love you feel for this child.
Many husbands tell us that when they saw their baby born, they cried for the first time in their lives. Both parents are in awe of this tiny or not so tiny bundle of joy.
As marriage and family therapists, we would like to share some observations on new parenting that perhaps are a dirty little secret.
Expect that the first 3 months will be utterly insane and at times each of you may feel on the verge of losing your sanity.
A new mother gave some wise advice, “Until you are getting an eight hour block of shut eye for two consecutive months, you shouldn’t even think of analyzing your relationship. Neither of you are capable of a coherent thought. Remember the way you feel now will likely pass.”
In case you are unfamiliar with John Gray’s book, Men are From Mars, and Women are From Venus, the truth of his premise is so evident at this stage. Men and women, even though similar in many ways, are so different.
After baby arrives, you no longer are on the same page.
It truly can feel like you are on opposite sides of a great divide. Before baby you were relative equals. After baby, it’s all too easy to divide and conquer in a way that disappoints everyone.
We have created a list of differences that erupt after a precious little one or two or three enter your home. David and I are partners, parents, grandparents and marriage and family therapists. Our list has come from the multiple roles that we have had the privilege of living. If you can add to our list, please do so by putting your perspective in the comments section of this blog.
Difference #1: Women are certain that their bodies will never return to “normal”. We are astounded that our stomach didn’t just shrink after the birth of our baby. We hate those articles written about celebrities who have gotten back to their pre-baby weight in two weeks or less.
Men’s bodies are not affected at all. They are the same handsome, well- toned, attractive guys they were prior to baby arriving. We’re thinking positively here guys.
Difference #2: Women are up multiple times a night. Once we become mothers our hearing is acute. We are capable of hearing a baby stir from another room without the help of a baby monitor.
If you are blessed with a baby who allows you to sleep 10-12 hours a night without interruption, we strongly suggest that you refrain from sharing that piece of information with any sleep deprived friends.
Men can sleep through a crying baby, a pooping baby, and a throwing up toddler. Stellar hubbies volunteer to do a night feeding, yet if the baby is breast-feeding, that doesn’t always work well. Men also get to sleep in, whatever that is.
Difference #3: Breastfeeding removes a new mom’s sexual desire for her husband. In order to be a success at breastfeeding, she needs a breast pump (the most dehumanizing machine known to man), creams, nipple shields, pillows and special clothing. New moms need to feel attractive in order to have sexual desire? None of the paraphernalia associated with breastfeeding has that effect.
We are not putting down breastfeeding. It provides beautiful moments between mother and baby as well as having multiple health benefits for the child. It just doesn’t make it easy to switch gears from mother to lover.
Most men’s sexual desire stays the same or even increases.
Difference #4: Women experience many affectionate and sensual pleasures with their baby. They caress, kiss, cradle, and rock their little one. There is no feeling in the world quite like a baby nestling into the crook of your neck. This baby came out of your and your husband’s loving relationship and was birthed from your body. Your physical needs are being met in a very different way than ever before at this time in your life.
Men, at times, find their newborn slightly boring. Some husbands are not remotely interested in changing diapers. “It makes them want to puke.” Not exactly endearing words to a new mother.
There are stellar hubbies who want to be involved yet their experience with their child isn’t as innate as their wife’s.
Difference #5: A women’s fears are about her child’s safety. Can I be a good-enough mother? Have I done everything I can for my baby’s health? What if I hurt my baby? What if something is wrong with my baby? I remember feeling acutely responsible for our son’s jaundice. If you are a woman who wants to return to work, how do you know when it is the best time for the baby?
A man’s fears are more often financial. “I’ve got to make more money for the three of us now. What if something happens to me, what then? What if our budget doesn’t make it possible for my wife to be a stay at home mom? Will she resent me? Should I take on a second job?
Difference # 6: A women’s focus is on safety, security, structure, consistency and comfort for the baby. Especially with the first baby, the wife’s schedule totally rotates around the baby. Am I doing what is best for the baby?
As grandparents, we remember being asked not to use the icemaker on our fridge door because it might wake the baby. We complied with a grin on our faces. That took me back to my memories of being a new mother and feeling so protective.
Men are free to be impulsive, adventuresome, and separate. At times they actually feel confined by and perhaps resentful of the baby’s schedule.
Difference #7: Women can barely find time for a shower.
Men not only get a shower, they might get a workout in as well. They can go for a jog on a Saturday morning. What a contrast!
Difference #8: Women expect their hubbies to have the same feelings for the baby and the same concerns about the baby.
Men can fail in the empathy department. Words like, “Well my mom had a baby and your mom had a baby, it can’t be that hard” certainly don’t warm a new mother’s heart.
Difference #9: A woman gives her baby her total attention and expects her husband to do so in a similar way.
A thoughtful husband tells his wife, “You sleep in honey, I will watch the baby.” He has the best of intentions. Later, when the new mother enters the family room she finds thoughtful husband totally engrossed in a football game. The baby who hasn’t been fed or changed is exploring dad’s I Phone and chewing on the edge of the carpet.
Difference #10: A woman’s sex drive often can’t be found for quite awhile after having a baby. Dr. John Gottman, a researcher from the University of Washington, has discovered that it takes approximately three years after having a baby for a woman’s sexual desire to return and then she desires sex only about one time a week. Some of you have had multiple babies, so three years may be a long time coming.
Men’s sex drive usually doesn’t change. Dr. Gottman writes that three years after having a baby men still desire sex once a day.
Another therapist, Esther Perel, describes the advent of parenthood this way,
“Having a baby is a psychological revolution that changes our relationship to almost everything and everyone. Priorities shift, roles are redefined, and the balance between freedom and responsibility undergoes a massive overhaul.”
Did we mention that there is one similarity for both men and women?
Extended families often want to be way more involved in your life, which certainly can complicate the marital landscape. If either partner have parents who don’t want to be involved that can also create it’s own complications.
Parenthood has been called an “Ass-Kicking Party”
The good news is that parenthood provides us with an opportunity to grow up. Truly a baby is such an amazing gift to a young couple, even if one that takes you totally out of your comfort zone.
We promise you that this stage too will pass. How it passes though, has everything to do with how well you handle your differences today.
Do you make differences bad or dysfunctional?
Do you retreat into your own corner where you hope to find lots of sympathy from friends of the same sex who are also parents and truly understand?
Do you wind up taking your fears, disappointments, confusion and frustrations out on each other?
Do you detach and distance?
Do you fantasize about being desired again by someone else?
Do hurtful secrets enter your relationship?
Do you embrace the differences with curiosity and with empathy?
Do you focus on what you have gained rather than what you have lost?
Do you delight in each other and in your precious newborn?
Until our next Conscious Lover’s Blog…