When you have a baby it can feel like your entire life has been turned upside down. Even if you attended ante-natal classes and read whole shelves of books while you were pregnant, nothing really prepares you for the bombshell that is the arrival of your first baby. Somehow we muddle through those early weeks, wondering how we will survive having this infant in our house but also wondering how we ever survived without her. Those early days are often a blur of tiredness, shock, learning, repetition and trying to find time to have a shower every few days. When the dust settles we begin to feel like we are getting the hang of this whole gig a bit. We get out and about a bit. We meet other new mothers and start to feel a bit less isolated and a bit more like a person. Not the same person we were before, but a person nonetheless.
There can be an unforeseen casualty in this early period though: your relationship with your partner is changed forever as you are thrown into being responsible for another person. That’s if you even remember that you have a partner once the baby arrives, what with all that cooing and bonding and sleep deprivation. Some parents manage this hand grenade without batting an eyelid. The rest of us struggle with sleep deprivation, the sheer bloody hard work that looking after a baby entails, the feeling that we are working All the Time, the loss of libido, the pressure from our husbands to have sex when we would rather be sleeping, the feeling that we somehow might have become the lesser partner in our marriage if we stay at home or if we end up working and still being responsible for the bulk of the domestic stuff, the loss of our identity, the feeling that we might have become less valuable in terms of our contribution to the economy or all of the above. For men they can feel like they have in one fell swoop become the least important member of their family, feel great pressure to be the provider, wonder what the hell happened to their wife/sex life/money/freetime or all of the above. The end result? Resentment, resentment, resentment. All round.
Once upon a time there was a father who never read books. He rarely read the paper. The only thing he read was Thomas the Tank Engine at about seven o’clock on weekend evenings. But one evening he spied a book on the table.
‘Another book to review about babies!’ he scoffed. ‘Baby-proofing your Marriage,’ he mused as he flicked through the first few pages.
An hour later he was still engrossed. ‘You should read this,’ he said.
‘I have to,’ I said archly, bridling at the implication that I, rather than he, could learn from it, ‘I’m reviewing it.’
‘The Five-minute Fix,’ he said predictably. ‘You see, that’s what it takes to keep a marriage OK.’
We could have come to serious blows over that. But it was a book my husband wanted to read so it must have been good.
Baby-proofing your Marriage is the warts-and-all truth about how having children can affect your relationship – and what to do about it. The authors have seven children between them and have canvassed the opinions of hundreds of parents to come up with a book that looks at how having a baby changes your relationship with your partner, understanding those changes and how to deal with them.
It’s a great book. When you read it you sit there, nodding in agreement with the authors, thinking thank God I’m not the only one who felt like that. New parents should read it. Expectant parents should read it – even though it might scare the hell out of them (still, forewarned is forearmed). If you’ve had a baby and everything is ticking over nicely in your marriage then you have no need for this book, but parents who have been in the trenches a while, particularly those who feel there may be niggling issues in their partnership with their spouse, will benefit from reading it. It covers the arrival of the baby(Baby … Boom), the who’s working harder? who’s giving up the most? questions (What’s the Score), the sex life of new parents (Coitus Non-Existus), the in-laws and outlaws issues, the More Kids, More Chaos/should we have another baby? question, and a final chapter on balancing priorities as parents. Each chapter starts with the problems parents can face, using the authors own experience and research and extensive quotes from parents who have been-there-done-that, and goes on to suggest practical, workable solutions like the Training Weekend (leaving Daddy in charge to see what looking after children is really like) and Good Enough Is Good Enough and Shortcuts Are OK [Sometimes] (where mothers lower their standards when Daddy is in charge). All are written with typical humour; of the Training Weekend one of the authors’ husbands says
honestly, I did think, ‘How hard can it be?’ I thought she was making a big deal over nothing. Turns out I didn’t need a Training Weekend; all I needed was one morning. I was dying. I just wanted it to be over.
My husband may be on his Training Weekend very soon.
Much of the book focuses on the resentment that can be felt when either or both of you feel that parenthood has knocked you sideways and your relationship is suffering. Whilst many of the sentiments about new motherhood are expressed in the blogging world, the emphasis in the book is more on the issues that wives feel about their husbands in their role as parent and vice-versa. There are not many bloggers who are candid about their relationships after a baby arrives because, well for many of us it would just seem downright mean. And perhaps lead us to the divorce courts. So we find support about pregnancy, childbirth, the arrival of a new baby, post-natal depression, work/life balance, but not so much about the problems within our relationships. This book fills that gap.
The authors are women but they have gone to great lengths to include the male point of view. This adds immeasurably to the book. It avoids the book sounding like one long moan about men and makes the solutions that they suggest equitable and workable. To resolve the problems of ‘Scorekeeping’ the authors suggest having expectations and planning – having a set division of labour with penalties for violations. It sounds very dry but I was intrigued. Many of the scorekeeping issues they raised resonated with me. I’m always working. And if I’m working I don’t expect to see anyone else sitting with their feet up. When I do, I start Scorekeeping. Needless to say I may be trying the solutions that the authors suggest.
Did I say how much I like this book? But – it has a few flaws. I dislike the title: its use of the word ‘marriage’ excludes those who are not married and its use of the word ‘baby-proofing’ implies that your marriage is something you need to keep your child out of rather than encompassing the changes that the baby’s arrival will bring. Certainly the word ‘baby-proofing’ is not indicative of the content of the book as the authors focus on making the most of family life rather than protecting yourself from it and using that term is doing the book a disservice. However it is a snappy title as far as the publishers are concerned and I couldn’t come up with a good alternative (How to Keep Your Partnership on an Even Keel After You Have a Baby didn’t quite cut it).
Because the book is written by three mothers there is a ‘cosy’ feel to it. They use examples from their own marriages and laugh at themselves and each other. It takes away the preachy feel that so many other parenting books have. The quotes from parents also add a personal element to the book although one or two grated with me: ‘I read about all those mums who are depressed. I don’t have time to get depressed – I’m too busy surviving. I don’t even have time to think about getting depressed.’ – Erin, married 11 years, 3 kids. As if you only get depressed if you have too much time on your hands.
But the biggest mistake in the book is including the Five-Minute Fix, in which the authors suggest that a five minute weekly blowjob can transform your marriage. Not only does this suggest an element of whoredom and a lack of equality (why not suggest the husband performs oral sex on his wife instead?) not to mention returning to an era of 1950s housewifely duties (the perfect wife should be a madonna to her children, a maid in the house, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom, right?) but in their cost/benefit analysis the authors flippantly table one benefit as ‘He will think he is one lucky bastard and look down with superiority at all the poor sods around him.‘ against the cost ‘mild feelings of compromising yourself. These will pass.‘ Granted, it is only two pages in the whole book but it detracts from the sensible, striving-for-equality tone that the book manages elsewhere. The next section ‘Get Out of Mummy Mode: Reclaim Your Sexuality’ is a good deal more helpful and could have mentioned in one line ‘if you are too tired for sex or can’t face it, a blowjob/handjob/asking your husband to perform oral sex now and again, if you feel up to it, will make your husband very happy.’ The idea was clearly based on the wife not wanting to be ‘invaded’ and for the husband to achieve satisfaction – for want of a better word – but the implication in the book is that if you don’t make at least some effort in the bedroom, even if you don’t feel like it, why should he around the house? They write ‘a friend of ours told us about it, and believe us…. we were totally disheartened.’ Me too.
But don’t let these minor points detract from the success of the book. It is focussed, funny, written in well-broken sections and offers helpful suggestions for tackling a whole range of problems that the arrival of a baby might inflict on your marriage.
My favourite quote from the book? This:
The sheer volume of work is especially painful for couples who, having waited until their thirties to have their first child, have the second one very quickly afterwards….If a first baby is a hand grenade thrown at a marriage, then a newborn and a toddler are a full-frontal assault, complete with machine guns, heat-seeking missiles, and stealth bombers.
‘One night, I came home and my wife was still in her pyjamas, with a baby in one arm and a toddler in the other, crying hysterically, “Why did we ever get married and why did we ever have kids?” ‘ – Dan, married 9 years, 2 kids.
And I don’t know many mothers who haven’t been there.
And now, your turn, tell me what surprised you most about your relationship when you had children? (You can write anonymously if you don’t want to give your url!)
(I received a free copy of this book in order to review it. I was free to say whether I loved or hated it.)