Jake and Lou Anne used to live in a loft and have people over all the time. But once they decided to have a family, they moved to a house in a quiet neighborhood. And, their friends came over significantly less often.
“It was definitely a dramatic change for us,” said Lou Anne. “It was hard to give up our two-seater convertible, but we knew it wasn’t a family car. We had hoped we could keep it and add a family car, but since we couldn’t predict our expenses after Cara’s birth, we traded it in.”
Their daughter arrived in October of 2005. Even though she was an "easy" baby and had a great temperament, she still rocked her parents' world.
“We were pretty on-the-go kind of people before Cara arrived on the scene,” said Jake. “That has come to a screeching halt. Lou Anne and I really enjoy each other’s company and spending time with our friends. It has been an adjustment just trying to figure out how to have time together, much less work in our friends,” Jake said.
While Jake says the changes in their life have truly have been just that - changes, not sacrifices - many couples know that bringing home that new bundle of joy can cause everything from joy to total frustration. Even when you know that life is going to be different, going from spontaneous and carefree to a schedule and being responsible for someone else can throw a good marriage into a tailspin.
In her book, Childproofing Your Marriage, Dr. Debbie Cherry says there are two major threats to the marital bond when couples have their first child: lack of time and lack of energy.
Intimacy can be greatly affected by:
- feelings of grief at losing couple time,
- sensing disconnectedness from your spouse,
- feelings of jealousy about the amount of time and attention the baby receives, and
- the loss of energy from caring for the baby.
If a couple does not recognize these threats and deal with them openly, they may begin to feel even more alone and isolated from each other.
“You really can’t measure the love and joy that comes with having a baby,” Jake said. “At the same time, I think it is really important for Lou Anne and me to have time together. We consider personal time, couple time and family time equally important."
The couple spent the first year trying to get in the groove of how to do all three.
Time is a precious commodity, especially for new parents. Things that you used to take for granted - like afternoon naps on the weekend, taking your time in the bathroom, sex, watching your favorite sitcom or grabbing a bite to eat - become things that practically have to be scheduled into your day.
If you are a new parent, Cherry offers several helpful suggestions for you:
- Develop a couple-centered, not a child-centered relationship. For the first time in the relationship, couples have to choose who really comes first. Starting here and now, determine that the couple comes before the children. If children are number one, their never-ending need for attention will eat up everything you have to give, and the rest of your life will suffer because of it. Love your children, provide for them and meet their needs. But remember that one of their most important needs is to have parents who really love each other.
- Become co-parents, not compulsive parents. Moms and dads alike can fall into the trap of believing they are the only ones who can adequately care for their baby. Somehow they forget that many parents have come and gone before them and have learned to capably care for these helpless little creatures. Becoming a compulsive parent creates isolation and will eventually lead to parenting burnout. Breaks and daily support from each other are a must for parents.
- Talk to each other every day. Check in with each other regularly. Talk about changing expectations and needs, and division of labor. Discuss your disappointments and fears about parenting. Communication involves both talking and listening. Be the best listener you can be if you want your spouse to continue to share his or her deepest thoughts, feelings, fears and needs.
“I think one of the most important things we keep in mind is that we are on the same team,” Lou Anne said. “I really depend on Jake. We try hard to be respectful of each other and to mind our manners. When you start stepping on each other’s toes, then it becomes a matter of ‘that’s not fair,’ and things go downhill quickly. Cara has been a blessing. Our goal is to keep our marriage strong so we can be a blessing to her through the years.”
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