I guess any new parent could look at the title of this article and say, “sure, easier said than done” or “I don’t even have time for myself and you think I can pay much attention to my partner?” Well, true, parenting a newborn, particularly the first time around, is emotionally and physically taxing and an all-encompassing and endless task – bathing, changing diapers, dressing, feeding, responding to the baby’s cries, worrying and visits to the doctor take up most of the parents’ time. I remember when my oldest child was born. She was colicky and the doctor said, “Don’t worry, the nonstop crying should only last about three months.” He reassured my wife and me that some sleep opportunities would return – and he didn’t necessarily mean at night.
OK, I didn’t sleep much during the first three months, trying to give my wife a little respite from her all-day exhaustion. I was a doctoral student at the time, and I recall falling asleep in one my doctoral seminars. This was not surprising since I was also working full time and doing some private clinical work. It was a course in family therapy and I had a wonderful family therapy professor teaching this small seminar of 10 students. I was embarrassed one evening when the professor, came over to me as I began to fall asleep during her seminar and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Are you OK?” she asked. I looked up and, in a somewhat embarrassing daze, muttered how sorry I was. I explained that my wife and I were new parents and we were not getting any sleep at all. To this day, I will never forget her astounding words to me at that moment. “It’s OK, go back to sleep,” she said. And I did.
I guess our obstetrician was quite wise when he asked my wife and I at our postnatal meeting, “Have you gotten a babysitter yet and gone out on a date?” We both looked at him and wondered if he was serious. But intuitively we knew that this physician was giving us very good advice. So in spite of the extreme exhaustion we both felt and all of our anxieties about leaving a small infant with a babysitter for even a few hours, we bravely ventured out together on a cold February night, hoping we had chosen the right baby-sitter.
We sat in a coffee house and talked about many things, but what I recall, looking back at that moment in our lives, was the realization that becoming a threesome did not mean you had to forget about being a couple. In fact, we realized how essential it was to try to focus on the dyad part of this new triangle. Sometimes we succeeded more than other times, but we never lost sight of the goal.
ALMOST 30 years later, I sit writing this article about my professional advice for new parents. In fact, a client who visited my clinic last week got a bit of this advice in his session. “Take your wife out, no excuses,” I stressed, “and try to do it at least once a week.”
He had been complaining that while very happy with his marriage and his kids, he was a bit down and felt his needs were not always being met. The kids were a 24/7 task and between running his own business, his wife working full time, getting the kids up in the morning, dressed and taken to kindergarten or day care, and getting them to sleep at night, there wasn’t much time left for him. Clearly, going out more frequently with his wife was one of those unmet needs.
I quoted some new research that found a positive correlation between couple stability and satisfaction in a marriage and having a night out with one’s spouse. I knew that I had earned my fee when this guy looked at me and agreed that I had given him some very good advice.
My point here is simple. Yes, having a new baby, especially your first, is both an exciting and rewarding life experience.
And, as couples who have gone through the transition know, a baby brings so much joy and happiness to all of the family members. But caring for a newborn, and I would extend this to very young children, is a 24/7 on-call duty and it can be exhausting.
Some young couples are lucky enough to have their parents (the new grandparents) nearby or certainly within driving distance to enable a well-deserved break. Most grandparents welcome the opportunity to fill in and take over for an evening to enjoy their grandchildren. Whenever possible, take advantage of this gift. But when those extended family support systems are not in place, and for the immigrant population this is quite common, hire a babysitter.
Do your homework carefully; get references for the sitter so that you can relax and not worry too much about leaving your young child(ren) with them. But do it – go out with your spouse. Try to do it once a week. The reward is simple: you’ll get a small break from caring for your child, and reconnect with your spouse.
The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist practicing in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.