What new parents fight about - and how to avoid the arguments

What new parents fight about - and how to avoid the arguments

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When you're disoriented, sleep-deprived, and cranky from acclimating to life with your baby, it doesn't take much to set off a big fight with your partner. Below, find the top five comments that can make any new parent's blood boil – and how to keep the peace instead.

"Can you get up with the baby? I'm exhausted."

With a baby's arrival, sleep suddenly becomes a thing to be shared, taken in shifts, and negotiated. This can be a shock to your system as a couple.

"What stands out to me the most was how possessive of sleep we got. We argued a lot about who deserved it more," remembers one mom.

Keep the peace: Try to stay away from the "I'm more tired than you" competition.

"No one can say who's more tired, because neither of you really knows. The reality is, if you're both feeling exhausted, you both need help," says Carolyn Pirak, a licensed clinical social worker and founding director of Bringing Baby Home, a program that focuses on relationship building for new parents.

If you can afford a babysitter, consider hiring someone on a short-term, regular basis so that you and your partner can catch up on rest. Or accept assistance from family members or close friends.

There's no shame in getting help so that you can both get more sleep. In fact, it's a responsible thing to do because it's good for the overall health of your family.

To avoid arguments over whose turn it is to get up, set up a "sleep trade-off" with your partner. For example, you could each get one weekend day to sleep in, take four-hour shifts throughout the night, or – if your baby is taking bottles – do one night on, one night off.

If one parent is working and the other is staying home with the baby, you may choose to arrange things so the working parent gets more sleep on weeknights but picks up the slack on weekends, when the stay-at-home parent can sleep later, sleep longer stretches, or take naps.

Remember that sleep deprivation can make people irritable, depressed, and more likely to argue. A few hours of extra slumber can make a surprising difference in your mood and outlook.

"Here, the baby wants you"

If your partner tensely asks you to take the screaming baby after just a few minutes, you may struggle not to let loose with a few screams yourself.

"As soon as our son needs something or starts crying, my husband hands him off to me," says one mom. "He'll only spend time with him when the baby's happy."

Keep the peace: Remind yourself that your partner isn't necessarily trying to shirk baby duty. As one father explains, "I want to comfort my child. But it's kind of hard when she's screeching as though I'm the devil."

Work with your partner to develop routines with your baby. This will cut down on the screaming-for-mommy phenomenon.

"My job was to give our son his bath," says Charles Neuman, a father of three. "Since it was my job, there was no discussion of it. I knew what to do, I always did it, and my son was used to having me do it."

Develop a routine for the baby hand-off, too. "If you meet your partner at the door and immediately give him the baby, it can be a setup for failure. The transition is too abrupt," says Pirak.

Instead, spend some time together as a family. Then calmly take your leave. If you do this on a regular basis, your baby learns to expect it and is less apt to protest.

Many fathers find that using a sling, carrier, or other babywearing device, which holds a baby close and snug to their body, can help ease mommy hunger.

But there are times when babies keep crying despite a parent's valiant efforts to soothe. That's okay. Encourage your partner to hang in there with your screaming baby. It's good practice and, in the long run, may help your baby accept him as a comforter.

"What do you do all day, anyway?"

Babies have only a few basic needs – but meeting those needs can easily fill your days. Dishes pile up in the sink, laundry remains unwashed, errands go by the wayside. The fact that a tiny baby can wreak such havoc on adult schedules is one of the biggest surprises of new parenthood – and it can be difficult for a parent who's away from home all day to understand.

"My wife would come home from work and immediately begin marching around the place, picking things up. She'd finally blurt out, 'What do you do at home all day, anyway?'" says Cary Levine, a father of two who stays home with the kids one day a week.

"It's true that the house was a mess – but after spending the last nine hours trying to feed and entertain a 6-month-old, the last thing I needed was a lecture."

Keep the peace: Getting defensive is a natural response, but it only makes things worse. "I'd immediately rattle off an array of excuses for why the house was messy, finally resorting to the 'How many fathers do you know that stay home?' line. We'd end up arguing," says Levine.

Instead, use "I" statements to tell your partner how this makes you feel. For example, "I feel defensive when you ask me that question." This can help defuse things until you have time to talk, says Pirak.

Wait until your child is asleep and you can have a calm, solution-focused discussion. This worked for the Levines: "I agreed to pay more attention to what needed to get done during the day, and my wife agreed to accept that the house might not be in tip-top shape when she walked in," he says. "Of course, after a month or so, we'd lapse into our old ways, but we'd just have another sit-down and refocus."

"But I cleaned up last week!"

A new baby means new chores – like diapering and feeding – as well as more of the old ones, like cleaning, shopping, and laundry. In fact, according to Pirak, caring for a new baby creates about 350 separate chores per week!

It's no wonder that parents feel overburdened and unsure of how to divide up the work in a way that feels fair to both partners.

Keep the peace: Don't fall into the trap of expecting your partner to read your mind and then feeling resentful when it doesn't happen. Instead, explain how you're feeling, once again using the good old "I" language. For example, "I'm feeling overwhelmed and burdened because of all the household chores."

Explain that you need help. Get down to the nitty-gritty specifics. Instead of a vague "You need to clean up more," try "Can you fill the dishwasher while I run a load of laundry?"

Setting up a regular system for chores can be particularly effective. "I'm in charge of vacuuming, dusting, and dishes," says Neuman. "My wife, Erika, is in charge of cooking, general straightening, cleaning the bathrooms, and the children's laundry."

"I'll be right back!"

"I'm just going to check something on the computer," says your partner, ducking into the bedroom. When he emerges 45 minutes later, he can't understand why you're fuming. Or she goes out to do a "quick" errand, which somehow turns into a series of super-errands.

"My husband would take off for hours," says one mom. "He'd go shopping for something, wouldn't be able to find it, go to another store...and all I knew was that he was gone while I was stuck with the baby. I got mad about it a lot."

Whether on purpose or by accident, "the great baby escape" happens when new parents desperate for "me time" steal a few moments – or hours. But for the parent left behind, it's anything but minor.

Keep the peace: Using "I" language again, express your feelings to your partner. For example, "When you spend time on the Internet while I'm caring for the baby, I feel left out and like I'm being taken advantage of." Present your concern as a problem to be solved, rather than as something your partner has done wrong and should feel guilty about.

Then come up with a plan – together – so that you can both have time to pursue your individual interests.

The Levines tackled this issue by making a calendar to track and schedule their time spent at work, doing childcare, being together as a family, and doing things alone.

"Scheduling family time seems silly, but it preserved the notion of having time when we were all together and really focusing on the kids, as opposed to trying to multitask, which is always a disaster," says Alyse Levine.

Additional tips for keeping your post-baby relationship strong

Don't supervise: If it's your turn to take a break, take it! Don't use the time to advise your partner on how to handle the baby. Remember, there are lots of ways to soothe and entertain – and if your partner's style is different than yours, all the better for your child's flexibility.

Have a date night: Sure, you love your baby. But it's important to have some couple time too.

Show appreciation: A little acknowledgment can go a long way. So express your gratitude for things your partner does, like taking out the trash, making the baby smile, or bringing home the bacon. It will make him feel good – and will likely have a boomerang effect.

Get professional help if you need it: Couples counseling can be extremely helpful. Some insurance companies will help cover the cost, or try your place of worship or local social service agencies for low-cost or free counseling.

Watch the video: Should Parents Engage Their Young Teen in Arguments? (July 2022).


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