Tips for making the most of your parental leave
2. Keep prioritising your relationship with your partner.
Don’t be under any pretence that having a baby will put a huge amount of stress on your relationship. Also don’t forget that your baby is the product of the love within your relationship. You were a team first, and to keep both of your sanity, you now need to be a team more than ever before. This means talking about the roles you can each play to best support each other, and continually reassessing and updating these roles as your child’s and partner’s needs change over time.
In the early weeks and months, you can best support your partner by taking charge of many of the household duties to allow for your partner to rest and focus on the baby. This means organising meals, cleaning dishes, washing clothes - all the domestic stuff. Can’t cook? Now’s the time to learn. Not sure whether to sort the washing by likes and darks or thicks and thins? Well there’s no time like the present. This is a stressful time for your partner and will only be made all the more stressful if she feels like she has to care for you and a newborn. This sounds ridiculous to even have to say, but sadly my wife and I have known of dads like this. One dad that we know of would refuse to lift a finger from his computer game controller to help look after his child as this was considered mum’s job. Even when his partner asked for help when it all became too overwhelming, his response was to belittle her saying ‘I thought you were stronger than that’. That’s not just being a bad father. That is emotionally abusing the mother. Dads- if this might be you, it is a sure way to end up losing both your partner and your children.
One principle that we have as a foundation for our relationship is a belief that to love the other person is to serve them first. This means looking out for their needs before our own. It is easy to be selfish when you are tired, which is why it has been even more important to live out this principle of serving each other all the more since our baby was born. Since dates are few and far between these days, we have had to find new ways to put our relationship first. We have had many move dates at home on the couch. Being at home, I have also been able to plan and prepare some exquisite meals washed down with some stunning wines, all prepared and eaten in the comfort our own home. We might have been eating a little later (it’s difficult to start cooking during bed and bath time), but having a child doesn’t mean that the romance has to be over.
Another aspect of putting your relationship first is to keep communicating and agreeing with each other about the ever changing needs of the baby and what roles each of you are taking on when you are at home. Does your role as the primary career include when your partner comes home from work? What about in the middle of the night? Does this change on weekends? Changing nappies and doing all the mundane and monotonous chores through the week can get incredibly tiresome. If you don’t define each other’s roles and set expectations with each other, it can be easy to either end up arguing about the simplest things like whose turn it is to change a nappy, or even worse, to hold grudges and build resentment by not talking about your frustrations. The challenges you face as primary carer as your baby nears their first birthday will be very different to the challenges your partners faced in your baby’s first few months of life, so you need to talk to each other about them. And just as your baby’s needs and overall development changes at an accelerated rate during their first year, each of your needs as parents will change frequently as well.
One final way you can serve your partner as the primary carer is to keep them in the know as to how to respond to your baby. The most important year in terms of your child’s brain development is the first year. They will go from being unable to move or communicate (other than that all too familiar cry of course) while your partner is primary carer, to being able to crawl or even take their first steps, and perhaps say (or sign) their first words while you get to take your parental leave. If your partner doesn’t get much face time during the week, they may find it difficult realising that they now have trouble connecting with or getting a response from the same child they reared from birth. Serving your partner and being an involved partner means playing an important role in helping your partner maintain a healthy and involved connection with your baby.