Recently a friend asked me what I would tell couples about how to survive sleep deprivation. And oh, my goodness, I still remember the sleepless nights myself, and my babies are now 18 and 21! Those first few years of their lives still linger in my mind as a blurred haze of lack of sleep and, of course, they still wake me up these days when they stroll in the house well past my bedtime.
I actually think that surviving sleep deprivation is the ultimate metaphor for surviving parenthood. There is no job that will stretch you beyond your comfort zone more. No doubt, bringing home that little bundle of highly anticipated joy forever changes the landscape of a couple’s life, sleep and all! So I am offering a bit of perspective to consider that might help you think in a new way about being parents, lack of sleep, and other important aspects of raising up good humans.
Following are 6 important realities couples need to embrace about having children:
- Children are needy. One of the hardest transitions for couples hits when they bring home a baby and realize that their time is no longer exclusively their own. Babies and young children need constant attention, support, and love to survive, which means that the attention, support, and love that used to be freely available for your partner now has limits. The adults in the family move into second position and this can feel like a loss even though it makes complete sense. It’s okay for couples to admit to each other that they miss the way things were when it was just the two of them. It’s okay for partners to feel like they aren’t getting the attention they want. And, it’s okay to be tired from the demands of meeting the needs of your child.
Then, it’s important to accept that it may take some time to find a new balance, a new normal in how your relationship functions. Parents of young children often feel stretched and as a result, need each other more than ever during this time. It takes time to find a new rhythm and while that is happening you can feel a bit disconnected. Reset your expectations of how you are going to meet each other’s needs throughout this season of life. Turn toward each other in little moments and remind each other that you are still there for each other even if what you have to give right now is less than before.
- Children are not convenient. Setting this expectation right off the bat can save so many moments of resistance. Those yummy, squishy little bodies of love will ask for your attention and action at moments when you really would rather be doing something else. At the very time when you want to run in quick to the grocery they will have a melt down. When you have an important meeting the next morning they will get the flu. When you are trying to have a critical phone conversation they will need to go to the bathroom. When you are trying to payoff your credit card they will create an unexpected expense. This is the nature of having kids in your life. If this frustrates you incessantly, you are either resisting reality or signed up for the wrong job.
Building great human beings comes at a cost to your time, schedule, preferences, and finances. They strategically pull you into the now and will delight you with their presence if you can see through their eyes, not yours, the importance of them. Couples that can jointly agree to this reality can relax into parenthood, even in the most inconvenient spaces. Encourage each other in these times and find a way to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
- Children are their own people. By the time your little one has reached preschool the basic framework of their personality will be set in motion. Who they are in the world and how they relate to others is evident so early on it is crazy! Yet, I have met many parents striving to make their child some version of a person they think they should be. Now, I am all for teaching manners and social graces, this is linked to relationship success going forward and is a life key. Also, blossoming emotional intelligence and exposing them to a variety of experiences is essential to long-term growth. But expecting them to become something to make you or you partner happy will create conflict and resentment, with your child and as a couple. Decide, as a couple, to release your child to be who they are supposed to be in the world. Look at the early signs of their personality and foster that person in them.
- Children are expensive. In 2017, to raise a child to age 17, will cost a middle-income couple close to $234,000, according to the Department of Agriculture. So how many children do you have or do you want to have? You do the math. Often my husband and I laugh as we think about the vacations we would have taken if we didn’t have our kids! There is no doubt a child puts financial stress on couples. And financial stress is a top source of conflict in relationships. Nothing is worse than being tired and cash strapped. I encourage couples to talk openly about finances with each other instead of taking their frustration out on each other or worse, allowing the worries to grow into a big pile of unaddressed junk. Even if you are just getting by, some financial education can be life changing. This is one of my favorite resources www.davidbach.com.
- Children are forever. Even though children bring challenges, they are clearly a long-term asset and an investment in your legacy as a couple. They will take you from a “we” to an “us”. They build your tribe, carry your name, make you laugh and cry, well you up with pride, and hold your hand as you age. It can be difficult during sleepless nights and snotty noses to remember just how incredible it is to be given the title “parent”. Not everyone carries that title. And for those who do, the stakes are high. You and your partner have the unique opportunity to set forth into the future your footprints for generations to come. Anything that valuable only comes at a cost and with hard work. Next time you are tired, stressed, and inconvenienced by your future remind yourself of what you are building. Patience, loving kindness, grace, mercy, and good humor are traits that are modeled and then carried forward.
- Children are a gift. I am afraid in our society today we can feel like children are a right. They aren’t. They are souls that found their way to your care, believing that you are the best match in this world for their growth. When we are given a gift, something we desired but didn’t know if we were ever going to receive, we treasure it. I know it isn’t always easy to maintain this mindset. But a mind set in this direction will help you maintain perspective. You and your partner have received an extraordinary gift by being given a child to love and care for which is why I think they so often demand that we are with them in the “present”.
Be sure to read Part Two to this blog that gives you 6 more tips on how to stay connected to your partner while meeting the needs of your little kiddos.
Until we meet again—Love each other well