Charles:* “Mary and I were thrilled with the arrival of our baby daughter. But I lost a lot of sleep in the first few months after she was born. We had all sorts of plans for how to deal with her, but all of them quickly vanished.”
Mary: “With the birth of our baby, my life was no longer my own. Suddenly, everything revolved around the next bottle, the next diaper change, or the next attempt to quiet the baby. The adjustment was immense. It took months before my relationship with Charles returned to normal.”
MANY would agree that having children is one of the greatest joys in life. The Bible describes children as “a reward” from God. (Psalm 127:3) New parents like Charles and Mary also know that children can change a marriage in unexpected ways. For example, a new mother may focus on her baby and be surprised at how her body and heart respond to each whimper of the newborn. As for the new father, he may marvel at the bond formed between his wife and the baby, but he may also worry about suddenly being left out.
In fact, the birth of a first child may be a catalyst for a crisis in a marriage. An individual’s emotional insecurities and a couple’s unresolved issues may surface, exposed and magnified by the strains of parenthood.
How can new parents adjust to the hectic first few months when the newborn requires all their attention? What can a couple do to maintain their intimacy? How can they handle any disagreements about parenting? Let us examine each of those challenges and consider how Bible principles can help a couple to meet them.
CHALLENGE 1: Life suddenly revolves around the child.
A new baby consumes its mother’s time and thoughts. She may feel a deep sense of emotional fulfillment in caring for her baby. Meanwhile, her husband might feel neglected. Manuel, who lives in Brazil, says: “My wife’s shift of focus from me to our baby was the most difficult change for me to accept. Before, it was just the two of us, and then all of a sudden, it was just my wife and the baby.” How can you cope with the upheaval?
A key to success: Be patient.
“Love is long-suffering and kind,” says the Bible. Love “does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5) When a new baby arrives, what can both husband and wife do to apply that counsel?
A wise husband proves his love for his wife by educating himself about the physical and mental impact childbirth has on a woman. If he does so, he will realize why his wife may be prone to sudden mood changes.* Adam, who lives in France and is the father of an 11-month-old girl, admits: “My wife’s mood changes are sometimes difficult to deal with. But I try to remember that her frustration is not really directed at me personally. Rather, it is a response to the unfamiliar stresses of our new situation.”
Does your wife sometimes misunderstand your attempts to help out? If so, do not quickly become offended. (Ecclesiastes 7:9) Instead, patiently look for her best interests, not your own, and you will avoid getting upset.—Proverbs 14:29.
On the other hand, a discerning wife will try to encourage her husband in his new role. She will involve him in child care, patiently showing him how to change diapers or prepare feeding bottles—even though he may seem clumsy at first.
Ellen, a 26-year-old mother, recognized that she needed to make some adjustments in the way she treated her husband. “I had to become less possessive of the baby,” she says. “And I had to remind myself not to be too picky when my husband tried to apply my suggestions about caring for the infant.”
TRY THIS: Wives, if your husband performs some child-care task in a different way than you do, resist the urge to criticize him or to redo the job. Commend him for what he does adequately, and you will build his confidence and encourage him to give you the support you need. Husbands, cut back on nonessential activities so that you will have as much time as possible to help your wife, especially during the first few months after the baby is born.
CHALLENGE 2: Your relationship as a couple weakens.
Exhausted by fragmented sleep and unexpected crises, many new parents struggle to remain close. Vivianne, a French mother of two infants, admits: “At first, I was so focused on my duty as a mother that I almost forgot my role as a wife.”
On the other hand, a husband may fail to recognize that pregnancy has taken a toll on his wife—both physically and emotionally. A new baby can consume time and energy that both of you formerly used to remain emotionally and sexually intimate. How, then, can a couple ensure that their helpless, lovable baby does not become a wedge that drives them apart?
A key to success: Reaffirm your love for each other.
Describing marriage, the Bible states: “A man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.”* (Genesis 2:24) Jehovah God intended that children eventually leave their parents. By contrast, God expects the one-flesh bond between a husband and his wife to last a lifetime. (Matthew 19:3-9) How can appreciating that fact help a couple with a new baby to maintain proper priorities?
Vivianne, quoted earlier, says: “I thought about the words at Genesis 2:24, and that verse helped me realize that I had become ‘one flesh’ with my husband—not with my child. I saw the need to strengthen our marriage.” Theresa, the mother of a two-year-old girl, says: “If I start to feel distant from my husband, I make immediate efforts to give him my full attention, even if only for a little while each day.”
If you are a husband, what can you do to strengthen the marriage? Tell your wife that you love her. Back up your words with acts of tenderness. Make a conscious effort to allay any feelings of insecurity that your wife may have. Sarah, a 30-year-old mother, says: “A wife needs to know that she is still valued and loved, even though her body is not what it was before her pregnancy.” Alan, who lives in Germany and is the father of two boys, sees the need for providing emotional support. He says: “I have always tried to be a shoulder for my wife to cry on.”
Understandably, the arrival of a baby disrupts a couple’s sexual relationship. So a husband and wife need to discuss each other’s needs. The Bible states that changes in a couple’s sexual relationship should be made by “mutual consent.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) That requires communication. Depending on your upbringing or cultural background, you might be reluctant to talk about sexual matters with your spouse. But such conversations are vital as a couple adjust to the routines of parenthood. Be empathetic, patient, and honest. (1 Corinthians 10:24) You and your spouse will thus avoid misunderstandings and will deepen your love for each other.—1 Peter 3:7, 8.
A couple can also deepen the love they feel for each other by expressing appreciation. A wise husband will realize that much of the work performed by a new mother goes unseen. Vivianne says: “By the end of the day, I often feel as if I have accomplished nothing—even though I have been busy caring for the baby constantly!” Despite being busy, a discerning wife will be careful not to belittle her husband’s contribution to the family.—Proverbs 17:17.
TRY THIS: Mothers, if possible, take a nap when your baby is sleeping. By thus “recharging your batteries,” you will have more energy for your marriage. Fathers, whenever possible, get up at night to feed or change the baby so that your wife can rest. Regularly reaffirm your love for your mate by leaving notes for her, sending her text messages, or talking to her on the telephone. As a couple, make time to have one-on-one conversations. Talk about each other, not only about your child. Keep your friendship with your spouse strong, and you will be better able to handle the challenges of parenthood.
CHALLENGE 3: You disagree about parenting.
A couple could find that their backgrounds cause them to argue. A Japanese mother named Asami and her husband, Katsuro, faced this challenge. Asami says: “I felt that Katsuro was too easy on our daughter, while he felt that I was being too hard on her.” How can you avoid working against each other?
A key to success: Communicate with your mate, and support each other.
Wise King Solomon wrote: “By presumptuousness one only causes a struggle, but with those consulting together there is wisdom.” (Proverbs 13:10) How much do you know about your mate’s approach to raising children? If you wait until your baby is born before discussing specific child-training issues, you may find that you end up struggling with each other instead of dealing with the challenge successfully.
For example, what answers to the following questions have you agreed on: “How can we teach our child good eating and sleeping habits? Should we always pick up the baby if it cries at bedtime? How should we react to potty-training setbacks?” Obviously, the decisions you make will be different from those of other couples. Ethan, the father of two, says: “You need to talk things over in order to be on the same wavelength. Then, together, you will be able to respond to your child’s needs.”
TRY THIS: Think about the parenting techniques that your own parents used when raising you. Decide which of their attitudes and actions you would like to imitate when raising your child. Also decide which, if any, attitudes and actions you want to avoid repeating. Discuss your conclusions with your mate.
A Child Can Change a Marriage for Good
Just as a pair of inexperienced skaters need time and patience to find their balance on the ice, you need time to adjust to your new roles as parents. Eventually, though, you will gain confidence.
Childrearing will test your commitment to your marriage and forever change your relationship with each other. However, it will also give you the opportunity to develop valuable qualities. If you apply the Bible’s wise advice, your experience will be like that of a father named Kenneth. He says: “Raising children has had a good effect on my wife and me. We are now less self-centered, and we have become more loving and understanding.” Those sorts of changes are certainly welcome in a marriage.
Names in this article have been changed.
Many mothers suffer mild bouts of depression in the weeks following childbirth. Some experience a more serious condition known as postpartum depression. For information about how to identify and deal with this challenge, see the articles “I Won My Battle With Postpartum Depression,” in the July 22, 2002, issue of Awake! and “Understanding Postpartum Depression,” in the June 8, 2003, issue of Awake! published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. These articles can be read online at www.watchtower.org.
According to one scholarly work, the Hebrew verb rendered “stick” at Genesis 2:24 can ‘carry the sense of clinging to someone in affection and loyalty.’
During the last week, what have I done to show my spouse that I appreciate what he or she does for the family?
When did I last make time to have a heartfelt conversation with my spouse that did not revolve around child rearing?