My wife and I were 24 when we had Tristan, our first child. We’d been married just over two years. I was in college, finishing my undergraduate degree, and working close to full time waiting tables. Mel was working full time at a hardware store. At the time, we felt pretty mature and ready to have a child, but thinking back, it feels like we were two children having a baby.
Our son wouldn’t sleep unless someone sat up and held him like a football. I’d spend half the night on the sofa, my right arm cradling my baby boy, elbow resting on pillows, head against a bookshelf. Around 2 a.m., Mel and I would change shifts.
I think it was the lack of sleep that really rocked our marriage. Or perhaps it was the fact that we were just scraping by financially, or maybe it was the demands of trying to be a young couple while also being new parents. Perhaps it was all of those things.
But whatever the cause, we’d never fought so much. Not ever. Not before having a baby, and not after.
We fought over the dishes. We fought over laundry. We fought over sleep. Everything. And we kept score too.
I remember both of us grocery shopping one afternoon. Tristan was in a car seat in one cart, and the groceries were in another. We got into a huge argument over breakfast cereal. I can’t remember what Mel called me specifically, but I remember it was something close to “idiot.” It was one of those moments that you often see, where a couple has an obviously tense conversation in public that you just 100% know, if they were at home, they’d be screaming at the top their lungs. And you know, it really was everything we could do to keep from yelling.
And over what? Cereal? Come on.
But that’s what a new baby can do to parents. People often say that having a new baby is life changing, but they say it like it’s a rosy wonderful thing. Don’t get me wrong; becoming parents is awesome, but that transition into new parenthood isn’t always sweet and wonderful. Or at least it wasn’t in my case. It hit my marriage like a garbage truck full of wet wipes, diapers, and spit up. I felt like what little free time I had was gone, and Mel did too, and we were both left fighting over scraps.
We were both exhausted and over-worked, and in with all those feelings was the sound of a child crying day and night. I remember feeling like Mel felt I owed her sleep, and I felt she owed me sleep, but the reality was, between working to make ends meet, school work, and caring for our child, there just wasn’t enough time for sleep. Our nights were interrupted, and once it was all said and done, we wanted to take our frustrations out on someone. We couldn’t take it out on the baby because he was innocent, so we took it out on each other.
During that first year, I don’t think we fought every day. But it was close, and when I think back on that time in my life, it feels like a fog of frustration and exhaustion.
Side note: If you had a really easy first baby, please don’t give me your advice and recommendations. Just count your blessings and move on.
But if you are like my wife and me, barely hanging on, I want you to understand that I get it. I went through it, and I understand. It sucks. It’s not easy, but please realize that what you are going through is normal. It happens to a lot of couples, and it will get better. The baby will begin to sleep… eventually. You will begin to adjust your expectations on free time and what actually constitutes a “clean house.” There probably won’t be a dramatic turning point when everything makes sense and the arguments stop, but gradually things will change.
By sticking it out, what you will realize is that you are learning how to grow together as parents. Because the reality is, being a happy couple before children doesn’t make you a happy couple with children. It’s a learning process that takes a lot of arguments, and a lot of compromise, and a lot of throwing the scorecard in the trash.
None of it is your fault, and none of it is your spouse’s fault; it’s just the reality of a new baby. It’s stressful, but once it’s all said and done you will learn how to better communicate and better love each other. And most importantly, you will learn to adjust your expectations.
I know this isn’t what most parents are hoping for. They always want some magic wand that will make them feel like they did before children, but it doesn’t work that way. Having children is totally worth it, and things will get better. You’ll find your footing again. And it will be worth it.
Even if things do kind of suck for a while.