The Ultimate Balancing Act! Being a Partner as well as a Parent.
The author Leo Buscaglia once said, “Like any other living, growing thing, love requires effort to keep it healthy.” And – hey – who are we to disagree with a man who was widely known as ‘Dr. Love?’ That’s way cooler than any of our nicknames.
His words particularly ring true for parents.
It can be difficult to balance being a mum or dad with being a partner. Far too many relationships are sacrificed at the altar of muslin cloths, breast pumps and episodes of Peppa Pig.
So how do you keep the fire burning? How do you balance those two roles? How do you wear two (metaphorical) hats – without losing your head?
Make time together (alone!) a priority
Parent life sometimes feels like a constant exercise in firefighting. When the kids finally go to sleep, it can be hard to summon the energy to do anything but eat, check your phone and go to bed yourself. You both kinda recognise the value in spending ‘quality time’ together – but it’s so easy to just promise to do it tomorrow or next week.
Relationship expert Dr. Logan Levkoff believes date nights should be enshrined in your calendar like any other event. “Carve out time for your relationship,” he says. “Mark it on your calendars, just like you would a work meeting or doctor appointment — it’s just as crucial.”
Try picking a night that’s your night to watch a movie or box-set (try Netflix), get a takeaway, or play a game together. You can check out some great ‘at-home’ date night ideas here, which offer quality time together without the babysitter.
Build – and enforce – bedtime routines
Many babies are receptive to a bedtime routine from around 6-8 weeks (although you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you find this is too soon). Building a routine will help you reclaim your evenings together as soon as possible. And just as importantly, it helps build good sleep habits, which are crucial for children’s long-term development, looking way ahead to school age.
“Research shows that children who sleep for one hour less than they need perform at school the next day as if they are two years behind in cognitive development,” explains Dr Laura Markham, clinical psychologist and the author of ‘Calm Parents, Happy Kids: The Secrets of Stress-free Parenting.’
“The effects are temporary, but if insufficient sleep continues, their learning will be impaired. Equally, if you are exhausted it’s harder for you to cope.”
She recommends gradual changes rather than overnight transformations. “Push your child’s bedtime back in 15-minute increments until they routinely wake up naturally.”
RELATED READING: Seven steps to creating a successful baby routine
Keep open the lines of communication
Research suggests that communication is the most important factor in a happy marriage – and communication problems are the 2nd biggest cause of divorce. It may sound trite, but just talking to each other is something that can become challenging on the milky-sick covered battlefield of parent life.
We don’t necessarily mean talking about today’s baby bowel movements or how many bottles to prepare for overnight – but, equally, it doesn’t have to be overly deep. Therapist Bob Navarra suggests couples simply ask questions about their day-to-day life in order to learn more about each other’s world and maintain a sense of connection.
But this is a broader point. In the sleep-deprived, anxious world of the parent, small things can erupt and become huge flashpoints if they’re left to fester. It’s really important to talk through your feelings. It’s easy to bottle things up when you have kids in the mix – but this obviously isn’t healthy.
It’s old marriage advice, but it’s extremely valid: don’t go to bed angry! A simple ‘I love you’, or ‘goodnight’ will help thaw any ice.
Use your support network (or book a babysitter!) to get some alone time
As much as you love spending time with your kids, time alone together is really important – a lifeline back to the distant world of the non-parent.
Your support network – grandparents, aunts and uncles – will often treasure the opportunity to have your little one sleep over at their house. It gives them some time to connect – and you a crucial night off.
Even if you don’t have any family members who can watch your kids, a babysitter is worth the investment to give you some time alone out of the house. If you don’t have any recommendations, try sitters.co.uk to find trusted sitters in your area, by entering your postcode.
Consider the small, unexpected gestures
When your core function becomes ‘keeping a tiny human happy and healthy,’ it’s easy for other tasks to slip by the wayside. There are days when you feel a huge sense of achievement just to have done the dishes or cooked a square evening meal – so doing anything unexpected is way out of the question!
However, some experts say that the small, unexpected gestures are the best at bringing couples together.
“Big gestures require big effort and are less likely,” explains Scott Stanley, Ph.D., coauthor of Fighting for Your Marriage. “Instead, focus on the simple things that matter to your partner. If your partner takes a walk every day after dinner for 15 minutes and you’ve stopped doing it with him, start it up again. We all know the little things that we could do on any given day that our partners appreciate. Do them.”
For example, it can cost a miniscule amount to buy flowers or prosecco for mum, or a 4 pack of beers for dad – but the thought goes a long way. It’s just the sort of gesture of appreciation and affection that we all need from time to time.
It’s difficult to juggle the dual responsibilities of parent and partner; but, by prioritising the stuff that’s really important, it is possible to be great at both.
The important thing to remember is that just as your kids influence your relationship; your relationship greatly influences your kids. Nurture your relationship with each other and a happier life, and happier children shall follow.