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Prepare Your Relationship for Baby

The newborn you will bring home may seem angelic, but beware: He has the power to turn you and your husband into resentment-filled, sleep-deprived, sexless zombies. We spoke to Stacie Cockrell, coauthor of Babyproofing Your Marriage, to help you understand and avoid the relationship pitfalls that a new baby can bring.

What to Expect

“Know that you’re definitely going to have relationship issues in the first three months,” says Cockrell. “There’s no way around it. Couples think they need couples therapy, but no, you have a newborn and you’re trying to redefine your relationship and figure out how the household is going to work and how you’re going to take care of baby.” The relationship tangles that ensnare so many new parents, she says, can be avoided by mutual understanding and clear communication.

The Great Mom/Dad Divide
Men and women are hardwired to respond differently to becoming parents. Cockrell calls this “the great mom/dad divide.” As soon as a woman discovers that she’s pregnant, her “mommy chip” clicks in and her all-consuming priority becomes protecting and nurturing her baby. For dad, bonding tends to happen a little later, and his instinct is to provide for baby. This pressure to financially support a child gives many dads a jolt of “provider panic.” “These biological drives catapult couples back to caveman days,” Cockrell says. She advises couples to “realize that how your spouse is reacting to parenthood is normal.”

These instinctive responses are true even in dual-income families, says Cockrell, but she’s noticed that scorekeeping tends to be less of an issue when both parents work, because each spouse expects to have nighttime responsibilities since they’re both at a job during the day.

For moms (especially stay-at-home moms) who feel like their husbands don’t understand how much work it is to be home with baby, Cockrell recommends they give their husbands a “training weekend.” Mom goes away for the weekend while dad takes care of baby. “A training weekend provides so many opportunities. First of all, you get a break and you get to recharge. Second of all, your husband will finally get it. Don’t let him get a babysitter or have Grandma over. When you return, he’ll appreciate you and help you more.”

She warns moms not to be a “maternal gatekeeper.” If you think you’re the only one who knows how to properly take care of baby and block dad from helping, then you’re depriving yourself and your spouse of the responsibilities, benefits and joys that come with equitable co-parenting.

“Couples have to be prepared for the endless tit for tat over who has it tougher or who’s working harder,” says Cockrell. Avoid scorekeeping, or else resign yourselves to a never-ending and exhausting battle over who did the last bath, who changed the last diaper, who got to go to the gym last and whose turn it is to fold the laundry.

Cockrell offers these tips to avoid scorekeeping: 1) Make an “everything list” that includes all the labor that goes into running a household and taking care of baby. Divide the list in half to equally share the burden and ensure that one spouse doesn’t think that they’re shouldering more of the weight than the other. 2) Come up with a plan so that each of you is getting some free time. It’s essential for new parents to have a little “me” time to cope with the day-to-day labors and frustrations of parenthood.

Sleep Deprivation
As any new parent will attest, the biggest adjustment to having a baby is the lack of sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can result in cognitive and memory impairment and even psychosis. For new parents, it definitely leads to crankiness and quarrels.

“Couples end up playing ‘midnight chicken.’ No one knows whose turn it is to get up with the baby,” says Cockrell. She advises couples to figure out a nighttime plan: “Agree to split nighttime duties to avoid turning into walking zombies.” It doesn’t make sense for both parents to be up at the same time. Try shifts -- if you’re breastfeeding, pump to get a few feedings ahead -- then one parent can wake up with baby between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., and the other can take the 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. shift.

Sexual Disconnect
A major flash point for new-parent stress is the change in their sex lives. “Women are so laser-focused on baby that sex isn’t on their radar. We’re hardwired to make sure this baby survives, and our body is telling us not to get pregnant right away,” says Cockrell. But men can feel rejected -- even crushed -- by the lack of sex. Luckily, a mom’s sex drive usually returns within three to six months.

She offers these tips: “We tell men, redefine foreplay. It’s no longer just taking us to dinner or coming home with flowers. It’s getting in the assembly line, helping out at home. Give us an hour to ourselves to let us get out of mommy mode so we can get interested in sex.” Just remember, says Cockrell, that “everybody goes through this, it’s completely normal, and it will pass.”

Want to know more tips, including how to deal with meddling grandparents? Go to the next page

-- Kelly Alfieri


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