It's easy to romanticize a bouncing bundle of joy as, well, a bouncing bundle of joy -- a cuddly, cooing baby who loves you unconditionally and enriches the already fulfilling life of you and your partner. But does a baby really strengthen your relationship? Consider the reality -- fatigue, dirty diapers, crying, mood swings (of all family members). A new baby can make cooking a simple dinner difficult, let alone maintaining a marriage or relationship. According to Pamela Jordan, PhD., whether or not you succeed depends on the communication taking place long before the child is even born.
"What's absolutely essential is two partners make a decision together to have a child," she says. Jordan specializes in parental relationships and teaches couples how to prepare for a baby. In addition to her position as associate professor in the Department of Family and Child Nursing at University of Washington, Jordan is also the developer of the Becoming Parents Program, which helps expecting mothers and fathers embrace realistic expectations about parenthood and how it will impact their relationship with one another. She took a few minutes to share some tips about how a couple's relationship can strengthen through parenthood.
1. It's a family affair. It's vital that both partners make the decision to have a child. When that's the case, a baby can positively enhance the relationship and bring the parents closer together. If parents aren't on the same page, having a child could be detrimental to you as a couple.
2. Have realistic expectations. Ask other parents about the reality of parenthood. Spend enough time around kids to understand that they are going to be the biggest job of your life. But also understand that every parent -- and every child -- is different. Regardless of how much time you spend around kids, you'll still be surprised by what's ahead in your own family life.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. It's important to talk to your partner about your expectations of yourself and one another as parents. If dad expects mom to do everything child-related, and mom expects a 50-50 division of labor, there will be issues. Be open and honest about your goals, and from there negotiate a realistic plan that will make you both happy.
4. Don't expect a mind reader. Now that you've laid out your expectations, it's time to put them into practice. The communication doesn't stop here. If you're not getting something from your partner -- why doesn't dad take the baby from me the moment he gets home from work? -- then you need to let him or her know. It takes a lot of strength to explain your feelings and outline what you need. That strength will only help your relationship in the long run.
5. Listen up. If your partner comes to you with a problem, listen, don't try and solve that problem. It's important to hear what your partner is saying and be supportive. For example, if your wife is frazzled because the baby has been crying all day, don't launch into solutions she could have used to stop the baby from crying. Simply understand where she's coming from. Reserve advice for when she asks for help.
6. Tag-team sleep. Lack of sleep and fatigue are some of the biggest challenges during the first few months, and that can be a big strain. Parents need to help one another and find a sleep schedule that works for both of them. The solution will be unique to every couple.
7. You're No. 1. In order to be your best for one another, you have to take care of yourself. Whether that means a game of golf with the guys or dinner with the girls, it's important that each parent has some time set aside each week to do the things they love. Parents should discuss plans ahead of time so that one can be home and allow the other to go out without worry.
8. Couple care. Your relationship with one another is also a top priority. You can't just put it on the back burner and expect to return to it in 20 years. Whether you have a date night each week, or simply put the baby to bed early so that you can have adult time, it's vital to keep the flame burning between the two of you. It's not only important for your relationship, but in the long run, if you're happy together, it's good for your child.
9. A new perspective. Baby's early months are full of firsts -- for the child and parents, alike. Take the time to notice your partner in his or her new role. Whether he's changing a dirty diaper or she's nursing, these new nurturing roles have a way of opening up parents' eyes and they often say they've fallen in love all over again.
10. Team work. Remember that you're on the same team. Whether the husband is filling in at home so his wife can go out for an hour, or the wife is up for a late-night feeding so the husband can sleep, the end goal is to help each other and make a strong, happy family. That involves a lot of give and take, but countless happy couples will tell you it's well worth it.