When you feel like things aren’t what they used to be in your relationship, it can be a sad time. Having a baby can bring this feeling on overnight, so it’s important to recognise and accept that all relationships change and adapt over time.
Having a baby is such an exciting time with so many positives that it’s easy to see why couples expect to feel happier together and it can come as a real shock to find that you are not getting on. But research shows that this is normal – parenthood is often the most difficult transition anyone will have to make.
Struggling with new roles
You may struggle to hold onto a clear sense of who you are when you first become a parent. You have to get used to a new identity and sometimes the other roles in your life become secondary, at least in the beginning. This includes your role as a partner.
New mums may also find it difficult to adjust to changes in their body like increased weight, stretch marks, sagging and scarring. The demands of breastfeeding can be difficult to adjust to and many new mums find themselves feeling unattractive or at odds with their body.
However, while some mothers and fathers may feel the loss of their old selves, others are happy with their new identity.
Loss of freedom
The demands of having a baby to look after can leave you feeling like you no longer have any individual freedom. Many parents struggle with not being able to come and go as they please, to go out and to enjoy their own interests.
Life with children brings a new routine of mealtimes, nap times and bedtimes. Adjusting to this new lifestyle with no letup can feel very suffocating for some parents and may take a lot of adjusting to.
Changes to other relationships
Having a baby can also change your relationships with other people, including your family, friends, parents and in-laws.
Many couples find they develop a stronger bond with their own parents and their in-laws. This often comes from a combination of enjoying a shared interest in the baby, and a reliance on support with childcare. But it isn’t all plain sailing. There are often difficulties with partners’ families, particularly if they interfere with your way of doing things. Some couples struggle with interference or criticism from their own parents, and difficult relationships may become even more strained.
Some partners want to go back to the traditional ways of doing things that they were brought up with, which can lead to conflict between couples because they each have different ways of doing things.
New parenthood can stir up past childhood experiences and feelings and it may also stir up old memories of parenting for the new grandparents.
If you have difficulties with your parents or in-laws, it’s often best to discuss them with your partner first and work out what you’re going to say. That way you can present a united front and avoid letting your in-laws or parents create any difficulties in your relationship with your partner.
Relationships with friends
It can be hard to keep up with old friends, particularly if they don’t have children of their own. They have different schedules and may not understand the demands on your time – especially at the beginning. But having a baby gives you lots of opportunities to make new friends with other new parents, who can be a great source of advice and support.
What else helps
Remember to look after yourself. This means eating well, resting when you can, and exercising if possible. Most importantly, though, try to recognise that things will get easier.
Meet other new parents Being with a baby can be lonely and isolating; other new parents can offer support or just be someone to talk to from time to time. Your health visitor or GP may know of local groups, or you can try your local Children’s Centre, library, NCT group, or faith centre.
Don’t expect too much of yourself. You, your partner and your family are the most important thing to care about, especially when the baby is small. Don’t worry too much about the housework or cooking fancy meals. Most other things can wait.
Take time to enjoy your baby. As parents of older children say, the time when your baby is small will fly by (although it may not seem like it!). It won’t be long before they’re off to school or leaving home, so enjoy this time while it lasts.
For more information, see our article on why having a baby doesn’t have to hurt your relationship.
For more information about coping with the wider family, read our article on letting the in-laws interfere.