Happy Valentines to all the lovely readers out there. I hope you are having a wonderful day so far.
What is your most treasured memory about Valentines Day? My husband loves celebrating holidays and always have little surprises for me since we first met. However, my most memorial Valentines Day has to be last year, months after I have given birth to my first child.
I knew caring for a baby is hard, everyone tells me that, but the first few months was much tougher than I could have ever imagined. Feb of 2018 Emilia turned 2 months old, I have finally recovered from all the physical pains from the birthing process, and was knee deep in baby sleep and breastfeeding hell. I felt hopeless because no one could give me any suggestions, not my very caring family, and not the nurses or the midwives. I kept getting told that it is hard, but everything sounds normal.
At the beginning of February, my husband was already back to work, my mom stayed with me to help with housework, and then we learned that my grandfather – who has been ill – was rapidly declining. NOT GOOD. My mom had to rush back to China to see my grandfather for the last time, and I was beyond devastated since I did not have any faith that I could care for Emilia, and my dog Coco, all on my own. The hormones made my mood swing even worse and I was probably getting close to drifting into the realm of postpartum depression slowly. Thankfully I had my husband, who was patient, tried his best to be helpful, listened to what I had to say, and helped me celebrate all the little success in caring for Emilia on my own. He gave me the foundation to build my confidence and move forward, and get back on my feet.
It was over a month later that my mother returned, and by then, both Emilia and I had progressed so much, that I confidently told my mom to do whatever she wanted, stay in China, return to work, or just take some time off to grieve. I wouldn’t have been able to do it had it not for my husband.
With time, I really had the opportunity to look back on my life after having Emilia. Having a child indeed changed my marriage. It challenges our relationship in a lot of ways, tests our teamwork and communication skills like never before, but in the end it also made us better partners and better people in general. This Valentines Day, I would like to summarize some of those challenges, and how we are overcoming them.
A New Lifestyle
Having a baby and a toddler means you can essentially kiss your downtime good bye. Everything is more fast paced and life will be more stressful in general. It isn’t a temporary change, it’s a permanent one – until the child graduates school perhaps.
As a mom, I was constantly engaged while the baby is awake, but also doing a lot of home making, planning, and just general worrying when the baby is resting. My husband also has more stress at work because job security is more important, and we are more financially challenged with an additional head in the family, but one less person working. We are both more exhausted than before at the end of the day, both physically and mentally. This puts us in terrible moods especially on those early days where baby doesn’t consistently rest.
Time is the greatest medicine, and it is especially true here. I basically picked up a new full time job, and it take time to get used to. My husband and I often remind one another how different life is now. Society often downplay the changes that come with having a new addition, because everyone go through it. But just because everyone go through it, and most make it through, doesn’t mean it’s as easy as getting a new puppy. As family we continue to support and remind one another, to subjectively look at the differences we face, and work towards becoming better parents, and continue to develop our time management and communication skills.
…are a distant memory. Since every day leave us both more drained than before, when we do have downtime, all we want to do is to zone out, and think about nothing. Both me and my husband were huge gamers before, but we no longer play the games we used to play, which were primarily RPGs. We have shifted to games that are simpler, ones that require very little thinking, as something to wind down. Going out for date night seem like so much work, not only for us, but also to either find baby sitter or drag the baby along, that we’d rather not go there at all.
Couples adapt to this change very differently. Me and my husband have been able to get my mother to help baby sit one day each week, where we have the freedom to do whatever we wanted to, although we often end up doing grocery and still consider it a mini vacation. Friend of ours was more formal about actually arranging proper dates and planned events ahead to make sure they happen. One way or another, bringing back some private time really helped us reconnect with one another and catch up. It’s weird that we see each other every day, yet we still can catch up on things during those times when it’s just the two of us.
Also gone are the privacy for anybody at home, and if you breastfeed, you might even lose a bit of that privacy while you are out, trying to breastfeed a wailing baby in public. No more quiet bathroom moments, often the baby will be around, or banging on the door as Daddy watches, along with the cats and dogs of the family, meowing and barking away. Brief moments of privacy is a huge luxury, and with co-sleeping sometimes being a necessary measure to get through the night, some couples even end up sleeping separately – mom with baby, and daddy in another room.
Recognizing that sleeping separately was not an ideal arrangement was important to get things back on track for us. For both me and my husband, having the privacy and sleeping together again without Emilia taking up half the bed was incredible therapy that helped us destress, and also connect. At the end of the day, loving parents and warm family dynamic is one of the most important factor in raising confident, affectionate and empathetic children.
While we need each other more than ever before, me and my husband also fought a lot more, due to stress, my rollercoaster hormones, and the fact that things that didn’t matter before can be a bigger deal now.
Husband didn’t take out the trash on time? Toddler will rip up the bag and cover the floor with its content. Coins falling on the ground and not picked up? Guess what it’s a chocking hazard that could land you and your child in the emergency now. Placing step stools in the wrong corner? Toddler may decide to climb onto tall furniture and jump off for fun, breaking a leg in the process. My husband was, and still is a pretty negligent person when it come to the small things, yet every little thing are no longer so little with the addition of a toddler. Many things that I could overlook before, I can no longer overlook now. Things need to be promptly cleaned up, bins that are full have to be removed quickly, and all the little things just add to the amount of work I need to do day in and day out, while the baby is also making MORE messes to be cleaned up. It is far too easy to then attribute all of my misery on my negligent husband.
There are so many more things to disagree on when it come to parenting too, just because we had the kid together doesn’t mean we see eye to eye with all of the parenting decisions. Communication is especially important, and we try to do our best to keep emotions away from decisions.
It is an unspoken rule that when me and my husband are fuelled with emotion, we do not make decisions on important things, we don’t even try to problem solve. We pause our discussion, find things to calm ourselves down, and continue when we are more level headed. The number of things to disagree on will only grow as our daughter get older, and resolving the problems little by little, is time consuming, but well worth the effort. Ignoring our differences will only increase problems later on.
More contact with in-laws
Before having a child, we met up with our in-laws once in a blue moon, both my parents and his parents. Usually around the holidays for dinner, and that was it. Now we see my parents once a week and his parents twice a week. Even though I don’t have any conflict with my in laws, and same goes for my husband, the more frequent visits is something I’m still trying to get used to. I would imagine this being a much bigger issue for those that never got along with their in-laws in the first place.
Grandparents can be both a blessing and a curse, they are so loving and helpful, and will do everything for their grandchildren, but they are also often the first to break your house rules when you try to discipline your kid, or give unsolicited advise with no regard to your feelings.
Our little family was no longer so little, and my feeling about having grandparents around for almost half the week is mixed too. Me and my husband discuss this every few months to reevaluate how we feel about our current “visiting schedule”, and consider changes if necessary. We stay open about what we are comfortable with and what we are not, and take breaks from the conversation if necessary, since when it comes to in-laws, the subject is always very sensitive. What was the most important was for us to continue having those conversations, rather than keeping thoughts to ourselves.
I was concerned about grandparents spoiling Emilia too at some point. In reality, there was nothing to worry about in that regard. Babies are super smart, and they understand the difference between mommy and daddy and grandma and grandpa. As long as I am firm about my stance about things, she also adapts depending on who’s around. For example, Emilia will often ask to be picked up and walked around with grandparents being around, very typical toddler behaviour. However I don’t typically do that with her since I’m often trying to get housework done, or trying to encourage some play together instead of just holding her. So I would sit down on the ground, give her cuddles, and try to redirect her attention to a book or something. With time, and the unavoidable tantrums, she got the idea. These days she asks to be picked up by her grandparents, who loves it, and would do it for hours; but less so with me, which I’m ok with.
Getting through parenting as a family is hard, and even harder for relationships and marriages that are not as strong to begin with. Having a kid is like a magnifying glass, that makes every little problem bigger. It is normal to struggle, like everything else, it’s a journey that doesn’t just fall into place on its own. With love and support, one step at a time, holding tight of your partner in crime, and you will get through your obstacles and come out stronger and better.