To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part. Or until I pop a pillow over your face because the baby is awake for the fourth time tonight and you carried on snoring while I got up and did yet another feed, one eye barely open and pure rage coursing through my veins, providing just enough energy to stay awake until baby finishes feeding. In some ways I guess I should thank you, but instead I’m spending these early hours plotting to kill you, dear.
I’m just joking, of course (sort of). The Bearded Manc survived the newborn stage unscathed but let’s for a second appreciate what weeks on end of ‘team no sleep’ and crazy post-partum hormones can do to an ordinarily nice girl who previously went through life without murderous tendencies. This situation occurs in nearly every two parent household I’ve ever encountered, so I know you’re right there with me when I say that I wanted to gently strangle my dearly beloved (The Bearded Manc), on many occasion in the first few weeks of having each of my babies until they started sleeping through.
I remember talking to one of my best friends when she and her Husband had their first child and I clearly recall saying that ‘you’ll never irritate each other or bicker like you will do now but don’t worry ‘cos it’s normal’. They looked at me and then each other – understand that their babe was only 3 days old so they were still coasting that beautiful, smug wave of ‘we made a person’ – before guffawing and shrugging it off. Fast forward a week and my friend confided that they were in fact annoying the life out of each other and isn’t it funny how the ‘little things’ now seem magnified beyond all proportion and impossible to live with? Hahahaha. Delirious laughter. We’re all fine.
And that’s the thing about having children. Prior to kids, in the before-time when all you had was reckless abandon for life, the toilet seat being left up was nothing. Along comes a baby and all of a sudden, you ‘cannot live like cave people anymore‘. In the before-time, it was all cuddles and snuggles, but when you haven’t washed your hair in a week, you have eyebrows like Frida Khalo (nobody can rock a monobrow like Frida) and you’ve got on three day old leggings which undoubtedly have food on them and a fruit of the loom t-shirt from a ‘fun run’ (what an oxymoron) you did in the before-time, all you want from life is to be clean. Like, properly clean. I think it takes a good three months to get to the stage where you feel genuinely clean on a daily basis, especially if you have more than one child under three.
So what is it about parenthood that makes a marriage/partnership so testing? Well, aside from the unreasonable little person screaming bloody murder for all manner of things every couple of hours, it’s the sheer lack of sleep, of course. It’s not rocket science, is it? Night after night of broken/hardly any sleep is bound to make a person cranky and irritable or resentful of the one who did, the un-encumbered one. Even if you both have as little sleep as each other, it’s no better. Then everybody has the ‘ump and no one has the ability to be rational over a bowl of spilled Weetabix.
So we must allow the other person the chance to be present and let them take over sometimes, especially when we are exhausted. Go have a nap. It’s ok, they are a parent too and just as well equipped as you are. I know it’s hard, I’m the worst at taking a step back. I constantly nag but I am also totally unable to relinquish control. A true martyr to the Motherhood cause and it’s not fair. Not only am I depriving The Bearded Manc of shared experiences but I am also harming our relationship by effectively saying that I do not trust him to parent as well as I can, which of course he can. He’s a fantastic Father and I wouldn’t want to share this journey with anybody else, but that doesn’t prevent my inner control freak from poking its ugly head out to say hello, tutting and gesticulating at every turn. It’s a bit of a self-righteous arse.
How can that be healthy in a marriage/partnership and how do we stop it?
Well, I am by no means an expert. My marriage isn’t perfect but it’s perfect for me and what I’ve learned from being simultaneously ‘Mummy’ and ‘Wife’ is to start by being more forgiving. We must pause before we speak, curbing a few of those tut-tuts that escape all too easily and break the pattern of chastising every little faux pas, while recognising that we too make mistakes. We should allow a moment for our brain to realise The Other is trying and if we give them a chance, they will do just fine. We need to allow ourselves a few moments to breathe, alone, without a child being physically attached in some fashion. It’s ok to have a minute to recharge that big’ol brain and regain some mental strength. We should accept that there are some things that will not change. One parent is more likely to wake before the other when baby cries. One parent more patient and one more fun. One may adapt to Parenthood more easily while the other needs a bit more time and that’s ok because it’s a totally unknown world and it takes a lot of getting used to.
Once we start making these allowances for ourselves and our partners, we can let go of some of the irritations. Although don’t get me wrong, if you’re doing all the work, without any support from your partner, make sure you let them know that it is not acceptable and set some ground rules from the get go. Don’t be taken for granted because nobody will thank you for it and it does nothing for your self-esteem.
Give each other a chance to be the best parent possible. Allow yourselves room to grow into the role. Be patient. Be kind. Be supportive. Try not to be judgemental (although sometimes that’s really hard when your partner has dressed your child in clothes from the ‘too small’ pile and the kid looks like something from a Victorian workhouse), but try anyway. Remember why you love each other and how that love was the reason you wanted to create a mini version of yourselves. Let your children see how formidable their parents can be when they work as a team, and show them how to love in the hard times because it’s not enough to only love in the good times when it’s easier to do so. Don’t be bitter. Be honest, forgiving (without being patronising) and enjoy what you jointly created. Watch it grow. It’s magical.
All that aside, I’m off to nag at The Bearded Manc for seeing the washing pile and not bringing it downstairs – is there anything more annoying than someone ignoring stuff on the stairs? But before I do, lets take a moment to reflect on the parents raising tiny humans without the support of a partner, tackling all of the sleepless nights, dirty nappies, financial burden and tantrums alone. There can’t be a harder job. Stay strong, folks!