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You thought you were totally loved up and bringing your bundle of joy home was icing on the cake. But discovering differences on how you both want to bring up your child, with sleep deprivation in the mix, can make your feel worlds apart from your partner. Here are some of the most common new-parent problems – and how to tackle them.
‘We don’t agree on the important things’
You might think you know your partner inside out, but starting a family together is sure to reveal some new material.
“People often assume their partner will feel the same way as they do about the big parenting subjects such as childcare, schooling or family meals, without ever actually talking about it,” says Claire Halsey, clinical psychologist and author of Ask a Parenting Expert (£14.99, Dorling Kindersley). You can’t expect to have discussed every issue that might crop up, but it helps to make a head start during pregnancy. “Get in the habit of bringing up your concerns,” says Claire.
Avoid being defensive or prickly if you have opposite opinions. Instead, see how you might compromise. It helps if you set what Claire calls ‘an example of sacrifice’ – i.e., your partner gives something up for you, and you do the same for him.
This negotiation style worked for Becca, 30, mum to three-year-old Cara and 18-month-old Jake. “I wanted to get a part-time nanny. My husband thought it was too expensive, but agreed when he realised how strongly I felt about it,” she says. “This has made me much more inclined to do things for him, such as supporting his twice-weekly football practice, even though it creates a long day at home for me.” Compromise is always possible, whatever the problem.
>> Prepare your relationship for a baby
>> Your relationship with your partner after birth
‘I’m in full-on Mum mode; he’s acting like he’s still single’
This is the most common source of tension for new parents, according to Relate counsellor Christine Northam.
Eva, 33, mum to 16-month-old Maxwell, said: “For the first few weeks my husband transformed into superdad, constantly clearing up and bringing me cups of tea. But as soon as he went back to work it was like he’d regressed to pre-baby free spirit.
“He even started going for a drink after work, which meant I was left on my own from 8am until 9pm. Understandably, after a few months of this we had a massive row.”
Ring any bells? Although an argument is one way to raise important issues, it’s not the healthiest. Try to discuss your feelings at a quiet time and come up with positive examples of how things could change, as well as pointing out what’s not working for you,” says Claire. For example, suggest he has a ‘pass out’ on a Friday, but every other night he’s home bang on the dot – no excuses.
Bear in mind you are one step ahead: the physical side of pregnancy prepares a woman for her role as a mother. For men, the shift towards parenthood can be an altogether slower process.
“That’s why it’s best to include your partner in as much of your baby’s care as possible,” says Claire. “It will help him adjust.” He might be reluctant to help simply because he lacks confidence, so be patient and guide him.
>> Visit our Relationships and Sex sections>> How to balance your baby and your social life PARENTING STYLES
‘He doesn’t understand my priorities’
If you’ve spent all week coaxing your baby into a routine, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your partner breaking every rule in the book over the weekend.
“Remember there’s no one way to do things, no right and wrong; what’s important is to work together to come up with a method that suits you both,” says Claire.
When Sarah, 28, mum to Milly, 14 months, imposed an evening routine on her two-month-old daughter, her partner thought she was mad.
“He’d watch, eyebrows raised, as I whisked her away for a bath at seven every evening, telling her the same story and bringing out the same cuddly bears. He thought we should be carrying on as normal; going out to restaurants and parties, just with her in tow. But when Milly started to go to bed easily and sleep through, he realised why I’d made such a fuss about it.”
Talk about why each of you wants a certain approach and, most of all, listen. Although it’s likely you’ll do the majority of the childcare, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t got some valid points and new ideas.
>> Visit our Childcare section
>> Help your baby's language development
‘He doesn’t understand what it’s like being at home all day’
This is the cry of stay-at-home mums all over the country.
“When my husband leaves for work in the morning he says I’m the lucky one, getting to stay at home and play with our son,” says Laura, 34, mum to 10-month-old Oscar. “But from where I’m standing he’s the lucky one. Being at home can be a real slog and I envy his independent life in the office.”
It’s hard to play the supporting role when you also feel you need looking after. According to Christine, it helps to try to recognise that your different roles each have their pros and cons. You might crave adult company, but at least you aren’t stuck in a dull office all day.
“You have to ask for help and support if you don’t feel you’re getting it,” says Christine. “Use humour to avoid arguments. For example, say you’re not getting enough praise from the baby so you need him to tell you how well you’re doing.” But the fastest way to get him to appreciate what life is like in your shoes is to get your partner to spend a day in sole charge of your baby, without helping him out and preparing everything in advance. It’s the surest way to make him see what life at home is really like.
>> Visit our Bonding With Your Baby section
>> Visit our Being a Dad section
‘We see his family too much’
A new baby brings the whole family together in a way that nothing else can. Which can have upsides as well as down.
“It’s extremely valuable for children to have a relationship with their grandparents,” says Christine. “But it often takes a bit of work to get the balance right.”
So what if you’re seeing one particular grandparent a bit too much? You and your partner need to agree on how to handle it, and how you want grandparents involved and kept in the loop so no one feels sidelined. Working things out of a team is the best way to avoid conflict later on.
“My husband would have been happy for his mother to move in with us,” says Harriet, 30, mum to 12-month-old Eliza. “She only lived round the corner – close enough – and I had to set limits about when was convenient for her to visit, which my husband agreed with. Now we have every other weekend aloe.” Another common grandparent problem, according to Christine, is how to handle their well-meaning advice – the worst being out-of-date health tips and old wives’ sleep remedies. “Try not to follow advice automatically,” she says. “First think about whether it would really work for your family.”
‘I want another baby; he doesn’t’
If the sound of one pair of pattering feet isn’t enough and you’re already planning the second, you might find your enthusiasm is not matched.
“Many men associate paternal responsibility with financial pressure,” says Claire. “So a reluctance to have another child might be linked to money worries.”
Your partner could also be feeling left out – since all the love you previously lavished on him is now shared with a baby. The prospect of sharing you yet further with another child might not fill him with delight.
“Although my husband loves being a dad, he often talks about the time before we had a child, when we could spend all day in bed and do whatever we wanted,” says Jill, 32, mum to 13-month-old Bart. “I know he misses it and when I mentioned having a second child he looked worried. I don’t feel too strongly, or not yet anyway, so I’m happy to wait a couple of years to make sure we get our own relationship back on track before disrupting it with another baby.”
Shared decision-making like this is important. “Respect each other’s opinion but also try to work out why you feel differently about something,” says Christine. What’s holding your partner back? And how can you try to overcome his concerns?
“Sometimes just talking about the problem to someone else, say a good friend, and hearing yourself explain it can make things clearer,” she says. And that goes for everything.
>> 10 Secrets of chilled out parents
>> Sex after birth - what men really think
>> Pregnancy worries - the truth
>> Having sex when you're pregnant
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The Baby Divide – how a little one reveals the gaps in your relationship
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