Practical Tips: How To Really Prepare Your Relationship For A Baby
By Ellie Baker, Couples Coach, Wife & Mum
When I was pregnant – perhaps just like you’re doing now – I scoured the internet for advice on how to prepare my relationship for having a baby. As a couples coach, I was all too aware, not only from my own clients, but also from the research, just how much of an impact a new addition has on a couple’s relationship. My husband and I diligently followed the advice that google provided, which was usually one of two things: talk about your values and family dreams, and make the most of being a two (lie ins, date nights, babymoons and the like). So, we spoke at length about our own upbringing, the kind of parents we wanted to be, the activities we wanted to do with our daughter… We planned the babymoon. And we absolutely maximized our remaining time together as a two.
Whilst these suggestions are great (and definitely enjoy those lie-ins as much as possible!) our conversations didn’t actually prepare us for the immediate aftermath of labor and the whirlwind of the newborn phase. It turns out (obvious, really, when I think about it now) that we didn’t need to know our approaches to discipline, whether we wanted to do tennis with our daughter and what we’d do differently from our parents. What we really needed was specifics: the practicalities taken care of, and a concrete plan for uniting as a team for the rollercoaster of parenthood.
Of course, every baby is different, and who knows what you have in store for you. The “plan” will probably go out the window. But, one thing you can be fairly certain about is that you’ll be a bit (or very!) tired, emotional, and at times, overwhelmed. But, having something in place is the crucial foundation you need in order to thrive, rather than just survive, the fourth trimester and beyond. As is minimizing the potential stresses in your lives, and in your relationship, now, so that you can unlock a smoother transition when it comes.
So, here are my top practical tips for preparing your relationship for parenthood:
1. Make a plan for navigating nights
Everything is harder when you’re sleep-deprived. Without getting too science-y, poor sleep disrupts the connection between the prefrontal regions of the brain (associated with regulation) and the amygdala (associated with emotional responses). Basically, we have a shorter fuse. And I, for one, can confirm that my husband and I were at our most snappiest with one another in the early months of parenthood! That’s why I dedicate a whole session to this theme in my Pre-Baby Relationship Bootcamp. I get couples to make a plan for navigating night time care and I suggest they get granular.
Tip: Start the conversation with your partner now. What’s your preferred option for handling nights? What’s the next best? Have an idea in your mind of a few strategies that might work for your circumstances, considering factors like returning to work, whether bottle-feeding is an option to prolong a stint of uninterrupted sleep if you plan to breastfeed, where you, your partner and the baby could sleep and what, if any, options you have available for night time support.
2. Get intentional about parenting breaks
It’s important for both you and your partner to get time off from parenting responsibilities. Whilst my husband was amazing at looking after our daughter without me, I didn’t make the most of those opportunities to actually leave the home. And as a new mum, I felt constantly “on” and aware of what was happening with my daughter, even if I wasn’t the one involved. This doesn’t equal a relaxing break!
Tip: Think now about restful ‘family-friendly’ activities that you can support one another to do. Come up with some ideas and share them with one another. In harder times, encourage your partner to take that break, e.g. go for a walk, have a long shower, get a coffee. If I could go back in time, I would have suggested that we allocate time slots at the weekend, even just 30 minutes, which we could protect as “me time” (and, personally, I’d make sure I get out!)
3. Resolve day-to-day friction
Even before having a baby I could have made my life feel a little easier. And then once my daughter arrived, I didn’t feel I had the time or energy to do anything about it. So, what are the little things you can organise ahead of time to remove some of those existing everyday gripes? I’m thinking: a subscription order of toilet paper (or other household supplies), a schedule for cleaning and chores (or hiring a cleaner), setting up weekly grocery deliveries, creating a shared system for keeping a shopping list, automating more payments or admin etc.
Tips: Sit down together and each write a task list of what you do to maintain your home and life together. Think of how you can simplify, automate or outsource (if you can afford to do so!) as much as possible. Allocate who’s doing what and by when. You’ll thank yourselves later for a little bit of upfront work and organisation now. Not only will having systems in place free up time, but they’ll also free you from irritations that can easily lead to conflict when you’re feeling stressed!
Need a helping hand with this? Check out my Ultimate Parenthood Prep Checklist which includes an actionable task list with handy hints to help structure your conversation.
4. Share responsibilities
I can’t tell you the number of women (yes, research tells us this is a gendered experience in heterosexual couples) who’ve told me that they feel resentment towards their partner over how many of the home and childcare responsibilities fall on their shoulders. This is especially the case if the mom chooses to breastfeed and has a longer time at home with the baby. They, naturally – due to biology, take on a greater share of early parenting. But this status quo can become ingrained, even when both parents are back at work. It’s a big discussion point in my Pre-Baby Relationship Bootcamp course, where we address the differing roles and experiences of moms and dads, and the all too common phenomenon of ‘maternal gatekeeping’, which can lead to burn out, mental health challenges and a decline in relationship satisfaction. So how do you prepare for it?
Tips: Get clear on what each of you plan to contribute in looking after the baby and the home. A great resource to use here is Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play Cards as they give you a physical thing to hold, which makes it far more tangible (it also takes the onus out of you thinking through everything that’s involved!) And to get the conversation started, I’d suggest watching her documentary which introduces the idea of the mental load, why it falls on women in society and why it’s important to address “fairness” in your relationship. My Ultimate Parenthood Prep Checklist also provides spreadsheets of tasks and chores to help you firm up your commitments.
5. Set yourselves up for communication success
It’s no surprise that communicating effectively with your partner becomes more challenging when you’re tired, distracted, emotional or stressed (or all of these at once!) So, pick a time now, before the baby arrives, when you’re hopefully not feeling too much of any of these, and get tools in place to help you later.
Tips: A really simple question to ask yourselves is, ‘When do we have our best conversations?’ I’m not talking about idle chit-chat here, I’m talking about meaty conversations covering the important stuff. Think through things like, time of day, location, activity (if any). For me, I know our discussions are most productive when we’re walking, side by side, during the day, for example.
The next question to ask each other is, ‘What pushes your buttons when we’re having hard conversations?’ Perhaps it’s bringing up old arguments, swearing or walking out. By understanding this, you can think through ways to mitigate escalation. Perhaps one of you needs space to process, but walking out in frustration makes everything worse. So you could start using a phrase to “signpost” that need for space, in a kind and considerate way and come up with a ritual to reconnect and talk at a better time.
I’d also find out, ‘What do you need during challenging conversations?’ Perhaps humour, physical affection or phrases like, ‘I know this is hard but we’re great and we’ll get through this together’ would make all the difference.
And finally, come up with your own way to check-in with one another. Could a scoring system work? Or perhaps you could name different “personas” to clue each other in to how you’re feeling without the need to articulate yourself at times when emotion is high and cognition is low.
I hope this has given you some ideas for how you can really prepare yourselves for the transition to parenthood. Why not share this with your partner to get on the same page and schedule some time to work through my suggestions?
Need further guidance? My Ultimate Parenthood Prep Checklist is the perfect resource for working through some of these ideas with a little more structure.
And of course, if you’d benefit from time, in the diary, to show up together and tackle all of these themes and much more, then the Pre-Baby Bootcamp is exactly what you need! In small groups of couples (your discussions are held privately on mute) you’ll cover a weekly workshop theme, like physical intimacy, the work-life-baby balance, your differing roles and experiences, communication and much more, from the comfort of your own home and with an empowering, interactive approach.
Ellie Baker is a couples coach, wife & mum who helps committed couples keep their relationship strong – proactively & intentionally – by making it fun, approachable and empowering. Her online group course, the Pre-Baby Relationship Bootcamp, prepares couples for the rollercoaster of parenting together, so that they can experience as much joy – and as little stress – as possible.