As my hairstylist tackled my severely overgrown roots last week, she reminisced of her time on maternity leave. “My husband was off for a month, and it was like a vacation for him,” she said. “He went for runs every day and hung out with his friends. My mom was there to cook for us, and he never changed a diaper.”
This wasn’t the first time I had heard a tale like this from a fellow mom. “I got up to feed the baby every night and wanted to punch my husband in the face as he slept peacefully,” recounted a girlfriend of mine. “Your husband changes diapers?!” asked another in shock.
Since when is taking care of a baby solely the mother’s responsibility? Just because you have a baby doesn’t mean your body can suddenly function on less than an hour of sleep at a time. My husband helped to create this needy miniature human, so he is sure as hell going to help care for him. Luckily, he stepped right in as soon as the epidural was placed for my unplanned C-section and has been by my side, helping every step of the way. These are our tips as to how we, the couple who said we would never have kids, have unintentionally gotten into a pretty comfortable groove for taking care of our little munchkin without wanting to murder each other.
1. Divide and Conquer
We never had a parenting plan before we brought the baby home. I had scrolled Pinterest for nine months and thought my perfect little mini-me would immediately lie in his new crib in his freshly decorated yet impractical room and doze off to dreamland while my husband and I stood and lovingly smiled over him.
Somehow in those early days, we got into a sleep-deprived groove similar to a production line without ever speaking a word. I pumped; he fed. I changed; he cleaned up the diaper mess. I bathed; he warmed the hooded crab towel. I washed bottles; he rocked and sang. I was exhausted; he got up and fed. He got the projectile diarrhea; I ran for paper towels.
Don’t try to do everything on your own. Let your significant other help. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking, “Can you do this while I do that?” You both end up with a lot more rest, a lot more sanity, and a lot more time spent with your baby.
2. It’s OK to Take a Break From the Baby
I lock myself in the bathroom every night while my husband snuggles with the little one. This is my time. I scroll Pinterest, check Facebook, and zone out. I firmly believe that taking even an hour for myself each day has saved my sanity in these weeks of colic fits.
3. Hormones Are a Nasty Bitch
If you explain this to your significant other before you have a screaming, crying fit as you throw the gazillion pieces of a Dr. Brown’s bottle across the room because he didn’t offer to carry the laundry basket in from the garage, you’ll be better off than we were. With this being my first baby, I didn’t know what to expect postpartum aside from what I had read and what friends had told me.
I underestimated the power of these vicious devils, and my poor husband got caught in the crossfire. After a few meltdowns over him not sweeping the floor or asking me how my incision was healing that day, I finally apologized and explained that my hormones were making me crazy. Now he understands and let’s me have my tantrum, and when it’s over, we get back to business. Someone has to keep their cool and keep the baby alive during these moments, and the more prepared your significant other is, the less of a shock it will be when you’re having a meltdown.
4. Appreciate One Another
Take the time to say “thank you.” With a newborn, everyone involved is exhausted. At least one of us always has spit-up on us, and at least one of us always got less sleep than we needed the night before. It’s easy to go through the motions and fixate on your new addition. Simply telling one another that you are appreciative serves as a reminder that you’re both on the same team with the same goal.
5. There Are No ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ Duties
We don’t have assigned parenting tasks when it comes to our baby. Maybe this won’t work for some people, but we just tackle things as needed. We change equal numbers of diapers and wash equally absurd quantities of Dr. Brown’s pieces. If something needs to be done, whoever isn’t busy doing something else does it. I think this has been the key to keeping the peace in our house because it prevents both of us from feeling too overwhelmed.
6. Have a United Front
We have each other’s back—100 percent of the time. Breastfeeding blew. I stuck with it for six weeks through a tongue-tied baby, exclusively pumping every two hours, thrush, and mastitis until I was done. When someone asks why I’m not breastfeeding, my husband has my back and starts telling them about how much we love our automatic baby formula preparation device and how we can feed the baby and be back asleep in 30 minutes total.
When someone questions him taking off an entire month for paternity leave, I tell them how much fun we had bonding with our baby. When other parents act as if we gave our 2-month-old a plate full of uncut grapes when we tell them he loves to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, we have the same response. We’re on the same page, even when we aren’t. Even if he disagrees with a decision I make about our baby, we discuss it in private. Opinions are like assholes and everyone has one. When it comes to other people’s judgements and advice, we will always have the same response to combat the negativity that seems to creep in when you aren’t parenting exactly the way someone else thinks you should be.
I’m not sure where the idea originated that women should be 100 percent responsible for caring for a newborn. Maybe we feel guilty that our significant others have to wake up early and put in a full day at the office, so we take on all nighttime duties even though we get up at the same time they do to start our daily routine with the baby.
Maybe we feel obligated to give our significant other some time to relax after a long day at work, even though we don’t allow ourselves a moment to relax between feedings, tummy time, cleaning spit-up, diaper changes, and sleep training during the day. Just because women have a little time off from work after the birth of a baby doesn’t mean that our bodies and emotions have been through any less of an obstacle course.
We, as mothers, absolutely must take care of ourselves, both physically and emotionally, in order to be our best mommy selves for our children. If that means sleeping in on Saturday while my husband gets up with the little one for a few hours, I will do it without the least bit of guilt. It’s better than him being woken up by the frantic cries of our baby and finding me snoring on the tummy time mat between the baby and Mr. Peek-a-boo elephant.
So, it goes without saying, that when my husband walks through the door, mumbling about a tough day at work, I greet him by handing him his son whose eyes light up and lips curl into his chubby cheeks with the biggest smile—and he happily begins daddy duty. We both made this amazing little human, and we are both responsible for taking care of his every need—and each other.