In between building your registry, getting your nursery ready, and all of the other to-dos that come with having a baby, one of the most important things that often gets pushed to the side is sitting down and talking with your partner about the life change that is about to unfold and prepping for the impact it’ll have on your relationship.
“There’s so much focus in our culture on dreaming about pregnancy and dreaming about baby, but not any dreaming about what a family of three will be like,” says Margot Kirschner, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist focused on the adjustment to parenthood. “We’re not very well prepared for the transition. There’s a lot of premarital counseling that goes on, but not so much pre-baby counseling.”
Dr. Kirschner notes that it’s often a common group of problems that arises after baby that leads to the downward spiral of relationships, and even the spiking divorce rate within the first few years of parenthood. Having an awareness of and discussing these topics before your little bundle is in your arms is key. “It’s not that much fun to think about these more concrete, less dream-like topics when you’re pregnant, but it’s such a better time to think than when you’re sleep-deprived. Discussing them with a newborn baby is really disorienting.”
So, with that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of key subjects to discuss with your partner before your baby arrives, borrowing from our own experience, that of several friends, and our conversation with Kirschner.
Team Work: “I think this is the number one problem I see in my office,” says Kirschner. “We’re so socialized to be independent in our culture and do things by ourselves. Most of us have a hard time asking for help. So, we’re sort of doing our own thing in our partnerships, then we have this baby and we need to work together to solve new problems. All the sudden you need to think together. A good way to practice that before baby arrives is trying to think about the challenges that might arise in the first weeks and months of new parenthood. Also think about how you will support one another.” This idea of team work will help address all the other ideas below.
Division of Labor: How will you divide the housework, the baby work, and the outside-the-home work once your child arrives? Practicing those aforementioned teamwork skills and coming up with a plan while you’re still pregnant will be much easier than arguing about whose turn it is to do what with a newborn. If you don’t discuss it beforehand, Kirshner notes that “there’s often an inherent assumption of gender roles” that couples slip into.
Me Time: Have a frank discussion about the interests and hobbies that are most important to you that you want to continue after the baby is born. Feeling “time starved” as a new parent is completely common. Try to come up with a plan in which you can both support each other in your separate interests and make sure both parents can have solo time for exercise, socializing, showering (!), or whatever is important to you. How will you support each other so that this “me time” feels equitable? Also, think about how both parents (especially mom) can feel truly free during their free time. Mothers often become the “designated worrier,” which means even in times “off” from her child, she is still “on.” How can you both share some of the emotional workload so that the stress of having a child isn’t lopsided?
Finances: There are a boatload of new expenses that come with raising a child, the biggest one often being childcare. How much do you think you can pay for childcare? Is daycare an option? Will one or both of the parents shift their current work schedules to take on more childcare? What about private vs. public schooling? Whether it’s setting a budget for some of these items or just having a discussion about them, it’s important.
Career: Discuss your current career goals and how you envision those goals changing or remaining steady once baby arrives. How can you both prioritize each other’s careers, while also balancing childcare needs? What compromises might you both have to make? What does maternity and paternity leave look like?
Parenting Philosophy: There are a bazillion parenting philosophies out there—from Simplicity Parenting to Waldorf to everything else under the sun. And even though your personal philosophy might change once you’re actually practicing parenthood, it’s still a good thing to discuss pre-baby. To figure out which way you might lean once you have your child, start talking about your own upbringings, what you liked and didn’t like, things you’d like to bring into how you raise your kid and which things you’ll want to leave behind. There are some great documentaries about parenthood (check out our top 10 list) that can get your wheels turning together.
Sleep: Sleep deprivation is a very real and debilitating issue that often blindsides couples. Making sure each partner gets enough shut-eye is key in curbing short tempers, arguments, insensitive comments, depression, and so much more. Where will the baby sleep? What are your views on co-sleeping? What about baby nurses or having a relative come over and help during the night? How can you each ensure that you’re both getting maximum time to recharge? Think about it before the sleepless nights begin and while you have the bandwidth to strategize.
Family Culture: Dream about what you’d like your family culture to feel like. Will you practice any (or multiple) religions? Will you celebrate multiple holidays? Whose home will you celebrate those holidays at? (Your side of theirs?) What about dealing with religious relatives if you are raising your children atheist? What values are most important for you to pass along to your children and how will you demonstrate them in your household?
Relatives: One of the first touchy topics is whose family will visit first—and for how long—after baby arrives. Kirschner advises waiting a few days (at the very least) in order to establish a sacred bond between the unit of three. “My suggestion is to not let anyone come until after the first couple of days,” she says. “Really try to preserve your arrival home and be together, and work at figuring it all out without the disruption of family. You dream so long about this baby coming into your life, and it’s nice to stay in that dream a little bit longer together.” Once the relatives do arrive, discuss ahead of time some of your concerns and reservations so that you and your partner can come up with a game plan to handle the relatives, in both the early baby days and beyond. Also, think about the holidays and your plan with splitting up time with family.
Self Work and Relationship Work: Any problems you had pre-baby will be magnified post-baby. And that goes for both personal and relationship issues. “Often we are in these relationships where we want to have a baby together, but we don’t want to baby-proof our marriage by attending to the things that are already problematic in communication or in our own psychology,” says Kirschner. “Not attending to those things or not being aware of them is where they are so problematic. When you have the baby, the tension on these issues gets dialed up tenfold.” In other words, go to therapy (solo or couples) before the baby arrives. There should be no shame in sorting yourself out.
Mood Disorders & Postpartum: Knowing the warning signs of postpartum depression and other mood disorders is key for both parents. “Mood disorders are often much more subtle than we are being told they are,” says Kirschner. “There’s a huge hormonal transition that is happening. In the weeks and years that follow birth, there’s agitation, irritability, insomnia, tearfulness, and all of these signs that men and women aren’t aware of.” So, make yourself aware. Read up on the warning signs of postpartum, as well as prenatal depression. It is much more common that most people realize, and there are documentaries and other resources that can help educate around it.
Don’t Forget Dad: “Once the baby is born, dads often feel like second-class citizens,” says Kirschner. “He used to be the center of his partner’s world, and now the baby is more the focus. Figure out a way that he can feel involved and still get mom’s attention. There’s a good picture out there of a dad holding the mom who holds the baby. Make sure you’re bringing dad into the picture.” Often women become the “expert parent” by default, by not letting men figure out all of the new baby tasks for themselves. Making sure that dad is getting enough one-on-one time with the baby early on will prevent more inequality in the long run.
Intimacy and Sex Life: Be aware that libidos can shift after childbirth, through sleep deprivation, and all the other parental obstacles you’re dealing with. Discuss other ways you can keep your intimacy strong, even if traditional “sex” isn’t always an option. “Oftentimes men want to jump right back into sex at 6 weeks postpartum, but it can be pretty scary for women to have sex again, especially if they had a traumatic birth,” says Kirschner. “Communicating around sex and doing things other than penetration, like making out and taking a shower together, is smart.” Intimacy can also be achieved through talking. Although it might seem hard to believe before having a baby, setting aside just a few minutes to hold each other and talk when the baby is sleeping might need to become something you specifically carve out time for.
A Helpful Bookshelf: Kirschner recommends two great books that are ace at prepping parents for the the arrival of their little one. And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives is a seminal book in the category, with plenty of projects and conversation starters within the book that are ideal for the pre-baby days. She also suggests reading The Transition to Parenthood, which is a comprehensive book based on case studies looking at 250 couples from their pre-baby days through their child’s third birthday. Learn from these couples’ ups and downs before going through your own.
Have a topic we left off our list? Let us know which concerns you wish you’d discussed with your partner before you had a child in the comments below.
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