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Starting a family is exciting. However, no one is prepared for all the changes that come with adding children into the mix. Your relationship is going to be tested as you figure out what “normal” means now. It can seem impossible to invest attention and energy into your marriage. However, with just a bit of effort, the two of you can become even closer.

What You Expect of Yourself

The reality of not enough sleep can leave you feeling you will snap if even one more thing has to be done! Before the baby (or two or three) things like having a tidy house or baking cookies for a social event may have been something you took for granted. Give yourself permission to say “No” to those things.

What You Expect of Your Spouse

It isn’t only the expectations you put on yourself you need to consider. Your spouse is going through as much change as you are, as you each try to figure out what it means to be a parent. Common areas of conflict include household chores, caring for the baby, getting time away, feeling neglected and parenting styles based on childhood experiences. When there are disagreements and unmet expectations, talk them through. It’s time for the two of you to define how your family will work and how the chores will be divided.

Here are some ways to show each other you appreciate all they do:

  • Make an effort to make each other feel special.
  • Commit to time for the two of you.
  • Take time off from parenting duties.
  • Plan for a regular date night.
  • Make an effort to make your time together special.

It may seem like a lot of work but investing effort in your relationship will reinforce your foundation and allow you to keep working together as loving partners and parents.

Dealing with Changes at Home
But what if your marriage doesn’t work out as planned?

When separation, divorce or remarriage occurs, parenting becomes co-parenting, and what is a tough job can seem unbearable. Everything is more complicated and you are likely, at times, to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Co-parenting can be a breeding ground for hostility and conflict. Feelings of anger, sadness and bitterness can be intense.

With all the extra juggling, it’s easy to forget that, at these times, children’s needs intensify. They have been robbed of security and stability, their loyalty is being tested, and they are often bewildered, frightened and distressed.

Studies show that there are no fixed formulas. Specific arrangements do not guarantee success. What does work is for children to have these three things:

  1. Parents who are not in a state of conflict. Remember the rule: not within earshot. Your co-parent may call and say, “Can you pick up the kids from school tomorrow? I know it’s my turn but I have to work late.” However infuriating that is, don’t shout “NO” in front of the children and hang up. Resolve conflicts away from children and without involving them. Children know more than we usually realize, and they’re sensitive to hostility.
  2. Good relations with both parents. If your children come back from a weekend with their co-parent looking upset and telling you how mean the co-parent is, resist the urge to make negative statements. Instead, take time to seek information. Talk to the co-parent: “The kids seemed upset yesterday. Can you tell me what happened?” If the problem is chronic, try facilitating a family meeting where everyone is encouraged to work through issues. On special occasions, foster thoughtfulness e.g. by helping your child make a card or buy a gift for his or her co-parent.
  3. Stability in the home(s). A stable home life is your child’s lifeline. Develop routines and consistency. Make sure you and your co-parent agree about chores, rewards and discipline. Pledge to never threaten or direct your frustration at the children. Know that creating peaceful and compatible homes decreases stress for everyone and provides children with a protective cushion.

The golden rule of co-parenting is this: Let your children’s well-being be your guiding light. Children are resilient and can flourish in a co-parenting arrangement. It can be hard work that demands constant communication, but your children are the beneficiaries. They learn that conflicts can be resolved, and they feel loved and cherished. Those are the best gifts you could ever give to your children.

Not matter your situation, being a good parent demands untold commitment and requires you make countless decisions every day — about babysitters, schools, friends, bedtime and homework routines. It’s not a glamorous job, but it promises the greatest reward one could ever ask for: a child’s love.

 

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