“Have children” they said, “It shall forge a closer bond between the two of you.”
This often-repeated single sentence could not be more far removed yet closer to the truth.
It is one thing to dream about having children and it is a whole other ball game to actually have children. Sporting the latest fashion, relaxing in a relatively mess free environment whispering sweet nothings to one another it is almost idyllic to envisage the picture of mini humans, mirror images of yourselves running around playing. But, be warned that the descent of these adorable mini humans is directly proportionate to the almost immediate chucking out of the very circumstances in which you conjured up the vision in the first place!
There is perhaps no situation quite as trying for a couple as the first year of parenting. You tend to see each other at your most vulnerable and at your worst behavior at times. You are in an uncharted territory, traversing through rocky hills and treacherous waters whilst resonating a firm conviction which arises within and tells you each time that you’ve got this.
If truth be told I think parenting our trio has brought us closer as a couple. But please be forewarned these warm mushy feelings have been evoked in the time and space when my husband is at work and more importantly when all three children are still asleep at the same time. These feelings are prone to wildly oscillate in the face of hormonal changes and have a habit of adopting a completely different persona should a suitable stimulus make its presence know. And, there is no dearth of such thought-provoking stimuli in our domestic environment.
Having raised three kids with three very different personalities, I can sum up some of the things we did/accepted as ‘fait accompli’ during the first year with each of them. Some of the more gory, gruesome, blood curling details of the rawness of sleep deprivation, frayed nerves, and gut-wrenching exhaustion have perhaps been watered down with time.
These are just some of the decisions, that helped us through our first years of parenting. Hopefully they will connect with you at some level.
1. Stop comparing yourselves to others: Comparing ourselves as a couple, as parents or otherwise to others is perhaps the worst thing that we can do. Yet, fully aware of this on the cognitive level we still continue to compare at the emotional level. One thing is a fact, and that is that people tend to portray the best side of themselves and their lives publicly. This also leads to the portrayal of certain fallacies and false standards of so-called perfection.
As a parent the best you can do is look daggers at the person who insists on telling you repeatedly how well their baby sleeps straight through the night and then forget the conversation actually happened.
‘Be You and do You’. It is your family circle and do the best you can and follow your own heart and instincts. Very rarely if at all, will they mislead.
I vividly remember coming home completely shattered with extremely persuasive thoughts that repeatedly insisted we were completely messing up the parenting phase and screwing our children up for life.
What we did do though was accept that parenting comes with challenges. There are no universally applicable dictates’ and fool proof plans. No one is born a ‘father’ or a ‘mother’ and there are certainly no ideals in this world. And yes, sadly that also included dethroning my mother-in-law from the pedestal of perfection. But every battle fought must suffer with the unavoidable cost of certain casualties, right?
Nonetheless, it suffices to say we’ve been through our fair share of ups and downs, made our own mistakes during the first year and beyond. However, we did conscientiously make an effort to stop comparing our children to those of others and ourselves to the parents next door, the next lane and maybe even in another country.
In hindsight, all I can say is if we can steel ourselves enough to resist the urge to compare, we’d all carry a lot less negative emotional baggage.
2. Abstain from making social media and print media dictate your family dynamics – It is all too easy to get caught up in the sway of the fantastic images we come across on the internet, television and glossy magazine covers. Despite their overpowering appeal to the sense of sight, my husband and I were both unanimous that this was one source of information that is best avoided. From zealously propagated ‘must-haves’ to the ‘die-for’ trends – these were just few of the things we did not need to add to our already overflowing plate.
3. Stop taking on board unwanted and unsolicited advice – As new parents we were inundated with an avalanche of advice and ‘gentle nudges’ not only during my pregnancy but also thereafter. With my first one, being completely new to the phase, we were a pair of ears to anyone who wanted to preach. But since then, we’ve learnt to put our own points across firmly though gently. We’ve agreed to disagree on a number of things.
We’ve also learnt that berating one another’s ways does not really solve any problem. It was all down to the wholehearted acceptance of the other, with all their flaws keeping in mind that just as I was a ‘first-time’ mother my husband too was a ‘first-time’ father.
We’ve also learnt to keep our decisions as a couple strictly within the realm of our own ears. Often, with our first one we were over anxious and over eager to share every bit of information. What we did not realize was that this over sharing of information only brought a deluge of unwarranted feedback, cynical comments and pointed eyebrows, all of which we could do without. So a chin-up and mouth-shut attitude it was all the way!
4. We were the sole members of the ‘Me and You Parent Club’ – I will not say that my husband and I were ever the life of a party or the first ones to jump on to the dance floor or take the microphone and start crooning. Rather we were and maybe still are a bunch of introverts comfortable in our own cocoons. But despite this apparent and sheer lack of social skills we still had a decent number of friends.
Those dynamics though changed drastically during the first year of becoming parents.
It was as though there had been a subtle shift in the sands of time and unbeknownst to us our number of our erstwhile friends had steadily started dwindling. Perhaps they weren’t to blame in entirety as well since our lives, focus of attention and topics of interest had become starkly divergent. And this divergence had taken with itself the common ground we’d shared before.
The truth of the matter is that my husband and I had become the only two members of our social group or parent club whichever way you choose to put it. But if I am entirely honest with you, I’ll also tell you that this phase brought to the forefront a completely different facet of our personalities. We became best friends as well. We were the only ones who could see the irony in our lifestyle and in the choices, we made. We were also the only two who could humor the other one up. And truthfully, we are the only two who get each other’s weird jokes!
As lame as it may sound on paper with a hand on my heart I can safely say there is no bitching buddy I have who is better than my husband. And when the ‘new parent’ stage gets a little wobbly, connect, connect and then connect some more with one another!
5. There is no shame in saying ‘I can’t do this…’ – If we think hard enough and are a hundred percent honest to our own selves we shall also have to accept that our own back breaking loads are sometimes the result of our own doing. As human beings we have our own share of idiosyncrasies that are as unique as our personalities.
I am not in a position to opine on anyone else other than ourselves but I can truly tell you that I wanted to do everything myself. Perhaps in some vain corner in my heart I felt that no one could do it as well as me. No one could perhaps soothe my baby as well as me. Or, that my house should always look spic and span.
But in hindsight, accepting that we have a new baby who is the center of our universe made accepting the pain of the occasional overflowing laundry basket and piled up dishes a bit more bearable. It is, and it should be a priority to put your own rest and self-care over the relentless striving measures we undertake to attain false levels of perfection.
And as a couple who were new parents, acknowledging, accepting and openly saying ‘Right, I can’t do everything’ in a way made us appear more ‘human’ to each other. We agreed to split chores and alternated waking up with the baby. Sometimes, my husband brought them to me to feed at night.
We were two people on a journey together. Getting up to be with the baby at night did not make him ‘more’ of a father. And not springing to action like a jack in the box every time, did not make me any ‘less’ of a Mom. These babies were ‘ours’ to love, cherish and raise. There was no place for ‘me’ and ‘you’ sort of egos here.
6. Share, share and then share some more – When you have been through pregnancy and labor holding hands, you have virtually seen each other at your vulnerable best and worst. But no one can tell you what having a baby is like until baby comes home!
My husband and I became parents when I was twenty five. By today’s standards I was a relatively young Mum. If I went through a hormonal roller coaster my husband also rode his own whirling dervish. Open communication, patient ears and oodles of coffee was what got us through many a heart to heart conversation.
It is always easy to assume that the other half in a relationship should automatically understand or should get the point in question. On some occasions this might happen. But many a times things do need to be clearly stated. And thoughts and feelings are best discussed out into the open rather than being bottled up only to explode later in a more violent way.
Many a sleepless night we have spent talking to one another. In a period of time, which was an emotional see-saw our conversations and open communication channels have helped us through. Though there are also times when the chandeliers have been shaken to their very core!
7. Bring the date nights home – If you are looking and waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself then as a new parent the chances of having one spring a surprise is very rare. And if you do get a chance then go all out for it. As for us, our families are overseas and constantly hiring baby sitters was a very expensive proposition. And to be honest, I have this weird over protective mother in me who did not really want to leave her baby with a babysitter in the first place.
This led us to two choices. Either we could put our own lives on hold for God alone knows how many years or we could make the best of what we had under the circumstances.
We decided to choose the latter.
So late nights became date nights for us at home. And we really did make an honest effort to try and find clothes that didn’t contain vestiges from a baby spit up or worse! We got food from outside and enjoyed the few hours of peace we got when the baby slept. While I nursed though these date nights were strictly alcohol free. For me the reason was obvious for the hubby, well he gave it a miss to accompany me with a cup of coffee.
This is a tradition we’ve continued when our second and third was born as well.
The list of things we did then are perhaps endless. Some well thought out and some spontaneous and developed on the spur of the moment. But one thing we were sure on and that was that neither of us was doing the other a ‘favor’ by parenting. We were two equals who had formed their own whole, no matter how wonky that ‘whole’ looked to outsiders.
But we’ve had beautiful memories during the first year. Lots of moments which shall forever be etched in the folds of our minds, hearts and souls to be perhaps revisited in the future.
And before you know it, you will soon be blowing out the candles on your kid’s first birthday.
And does, parenting get easy thereafter?
That we’ll leave for another discussion.
One thing though, you’ll both be one hell of a strong couple for any force to reckon with!