Editor’s Note: Sally Tannen, Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center and new Grandparents Center, is back with more expert advice. With Valentine’s Day approaching, she’s turned her focus to marriage with little ones. Here are a few of the questions Sally is asked again and again at the Parenting Center. –Mia Weber, Executive Editor, New York Family
ASK SALLY: Marriage with little ones! Happy Valentine’s Day!
Q: My husband and I used to talk about ideas and passions and saving the world. Now nearly every exchange seems to involve some aspect of our baby’s bodily functions! We miss our pre-kid connection. We miss each other. Any advice?
A: To not miss each other, you need to make time for each other. Time together — alone and undistracted — is essential for remembering why you married each other in the first place. Be intentional. Make a regular “date night” a priority. Doing so means allowing someone else to take care of the baby during those hours, and is something I strongly encourage. I encounter many new moms at the Parenting Center who don’t feel ready to have anyone but a grandparent care for their child. But it’s healthy for the baby to get to know other grownups. And it’s healthy for you and your husband to regularly make time to be couple- not child-centered, so you can reestablish and nourish your connection on a purely adult level. Your marriage will benefit, and so will your parenting.
The takeaway: Make time for couple time. Stir, repeat.
Q: My husband and I both have intense jobs, and agreed that we would equally share childcare responsibilities for our twins. Yet I inevitably end up handling the lion’s share of the work. My husband has earnest intentions, but I still end up resenting him a bit for not taking on more. How can I stop the situation from escalating?
A: Balancing and sharing the demands of parenthood when both spouses work full-time is a universal challenge. Even when dads are greatly involved, it’s often moms who handle more, planning and taking charge of everything from doctor visits to replacing the missing mittens. Good communication with your partner is critical. Talk over a glass of wine, and at a time when you’re not annoyed! Don’t run off a list of frustrations and disappointments, but discuss together all that needs to be done and how you can better share the responsibilities. It’s important to recognize that sharing means giving up some control, something many women work hard to hold onto in the early years of parenting. A mom who genuinely wants more help from her partner needs to understand that there are multiple ways to get from point A to point B. Your husband may do things differently. He will do things differently. But if a shared goal is achieved, that needs to be okay.
The takeaway: Good communication with your spouse is essential. And be clear-eyed that accepting help involves giving up control.
Q: My wife and I vowed we would never let our child sleep in our bed, but the exhaustion of sleepless nights with a crying baby wore us down. And wow, that slope is slippery — our son is 2 years old now, and he won’t sleep unless it’s in our bed with us. Our own sleep is taking a hit, our intimacy has been impacted, and we can’t believe we let this happen. Help!
A: Co-sleeping is, indeed, a slippery slope, and the longer you allow your child to spend the night in your bed, the harder it will be to break the habit. Once a child is out of his crib and able to get up and around on his own, it’s particularly important for his parents to establish a goal and agree upon their method of getting there. There are different approaches, but one is to simply bring your son back to his bed — again and again, and consistently. Walk him back to his bed, without talking, without engaging, and certainly without negotiating. Tuck him in, say “Mommy/Daddy loves you, and we’ll see you in the morning.” Repeat as needed — if it’s 10 times in the same night, it’s 10 times. The exhaustion of doing so will have a payoff, and quickly. As in all things, changing or shaping a behavior requires commitment, repetition, and consistency. And if it feels like tough love, remind yourself that all three of you will be healthier for it.
The takeaway: It’s never too late to break a habit. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. And to be effective, be unwavering.
Q: Why is everything going to hell the second time around?! My husband and I were happily surprised at how easy it was to still feel like a couple after our first child was born and growing — we were a couple with a baby! Now we’ve had our second, and it’s a totally different experience. Our daughter just turned 2, the baby needs what a baby needs, and my husband and I are like ships in the night. What happened?!
A: The transition from new parenthood to full-blown familyhood can be a jarring one, with a second child leaving you overwhelmed in ways the first one didn’t. Caring for a baby with a toddler underfoot presents entirely new challenges. The struggle is such a common one, we designed our “Now That You Have Two …” class at the Parenting Center around it. Right now, your toddler needs more attention than the baby, whose demands are considerable but basic ones. The combined toll of managing it all can be exhausting, and most couples in your situation do a lot of tag-teaming to keep it all together. Things will ease as your toddler grows — your whirling dervish will become a little helper, the baby will sleep for longer stretches, and your family will find its rhythm. For now, you and your husband should continue to divide and conquer as needed on the most important things, and I’d encourage you to let some less important things slide. Modify your expectations, but don’t let couple time be among the casualties. Stay connected, support each other, laugh often, and ride the wave together! This is just one chapter in your story.
The takeaway: Managing multiple little ones can leave a couple feeling more like joint caretakers than marital partners. Make couple time a priority. And know that the days will get easier.
Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center and new Grandparents Center, Sally Tannen has been supporting early childhood parents, building community, and creating and offering activities and classes for babies, kids, parents and grandparents for thousands of NYC families for more than 25 years. A mother of four and grandmother of three, Sally’s personal experience continues to enrich and inform her work. To learn more about the 92Y, visit 92y.org!