Editors Note: This is a four-part series of articles that examine the pressures a child places on your relationship and some of the things to try and remember, especially when times get tough.
There seems to be this misconception that having a baby brings you and your partner together, to the extent that some people mistakenly believe that having a child will save their relationship.
I can categorically say, it will not save your relationship, in fact, quite the opposite, having a baby has the potential to destroy relationships, even ones that seem rock solid. Adding a child into the mix will test you and your relationship in ways you could not have imagined.
In the first week or so our daughter’s life, my husband and I were operating in mission mode – the mission: conquer NICU and win baby back. We were like a pair of navy seals in our ability to sense the other’s movements and needs. We were working as if we were one.
And even once that mission was successfully concluded, we remained tight, but that’s because I was wounded and he was dragging me to safety from the front line, “a soldier never leaves a man (or wife in this case) behind”. He was still in mission mode: Rescue my wife and get her back in action.
When the cracks of our relationship began to show was around about the four-month mark, when I was getting better and the third party support was starting to peter out. But the cracks yawned when I went back to work.
Men and women seem to be somewhat wired differently when it comes to children and of course, that is, in part, a biological thing as our earlier ancestors divided the work quite explicitly – men hunt and protect the family and women gather and raise the family.
But this biological wiring in modern times can be exasperating for mothers and for fathers. Mothers are no longer solely responsible for child rearing and house-keeping and fathers are no longer solely responsible for putting food on the table.
But norms and stereotypes have been slower to change than society’s operational structure. So, men still feel pressure to bring home the bacon and women still feel pressure to look after the home – even though these roles are no longer defined so cleanly between the genders. And this results in a pressure cooker of resentment that builds and builds and builds until once in a while – if by once in a while you mean almost daily – one or more of the partners explode and aim this pent up pressure and resentment at the only target available to them – one another. Suddenly, you go from partners in arms to enemy’s battling it out for acknowledgement or relief.
Your relationship ends up caught in the middle as the two sides wage war in the shadows, stealthily laying traps for the opposition to fall into and then screaming “I told you so!” as they laugh with bitter validation. These guerrilla attacks often play on the most futile and puerile of offences.
“I woke up every night this week to settle her.”
“I cooked dinner five times this week and you only cooked twice.”
“I also have to work late, why is your job more important than mine?”
“You never appreciate all the things I do around here.”
“I have changed a hundred times more poo nappies than you.”
“I never get to have a nap, why should you?”
“I don’t get to go home and chill with the baby at 3 pm every day.”
And all this sounds like is a whole lot of, “Me, me, me, me”, “I, I, I, I”, “You, you, you, you” and not a whole lot of “us, us, us, us”. This kind of warfare is almost always drawn out and often ends in ceasefire, not victory.
As long as you and your partner never really get to the heart of the battle – miscommunication and misalignment on expectations, roles and responsibilities. This war will wage on.
And inevitably the fighting spills out of the bedroom’s closed door or the hushed tones in the corridor or silent eye rolls and bird flips from the couch at the receding back of your partner. This is when you realise the cost of your war.
My husband and I were driving home from the shops one Sunday morning and our daughter was singing in her car seat – probably almost two years old. He and I had been rubbing each other the wrong way all morning. And with each spark came a volley of barbed comments. Until we were no holds barred raging against each other. In our fury, we forgot about our little girl sitting in the back seat and we unleashed the fury and pent resentment we had been cooking for however long.
We were shouting, swearing, nastily laughing and being plain revolting to one another – over something so unimportant I cannot even remember now what the fight was about.
“Stop it, mommy. Stop it, Daddy. Please Shush.”, sweetly and clearly spoken from the back seat to extinguish our rage and hurt like a bucket of ice cold water on molten steel. Our two-year-old knew we were being unkind to one another, knew that our turning on each other was a bad thing and that seeing the two people she loved most, hating on each other was really upsetting to her. Our resentment was not just hurting our relationship but hurting the product of our love and partnership – our child.
We have been trying to get back to our navy seal-ness and shake free of our guerrilla war habits. We are trying to communicate better and more openly, cauterise or amputate, don’t let anything fester. We have begun to address and agree on our expectations, roles and responsibilities.
We are currently in a time of peace, we have laid down our arms and raised the white flag. We are focused on trying to build our family and life – a family and life that works for both of us and fulfils both of us. A team needs a mission with shared goals and one battle plan from which to execute. If we keep the mission in sight maybe we can prevent ourselves from turning on each other.
Because war is only one red button away.
Leigh Tayler is a writer, a Leo, a feminist, a fan of The Walking Dead, a lover of all things unicorn and nearly succumbs to rage strokes on the daily. Oh, and she also happens to be a mother to one small feral child. She wears her heart on her sleeve and invariably tells it like it is, the good the bad and the ugly. She juggles her writing, her family, her sanity in-between a demanding career in advertising. She has no shame in sharing her harebrained and high-strung anecdotes on her experience of motherhood, no sugar coating, no gloss, just her blunt truth with a healthy side order of sarcasm. Find her on her blog, The Ugly Truth of Being a Mom.