We know that there are few men who will refuse an offer of help, so this suggestion is mostly for women. We must fight the irresistible urge and basic instinct to do it all ourselves. This isn't easy to do. It's not just that we love and want to protect our babies; we also want to prove to ourselves (and others) that we can do it. Guess what? We can't do it all on our own, and we are not failures if we ask for help.
Furthermore, most women are delighted to be asked to help a friend with a new baby, because being asked is a vote of confidence, a sign that the new mom considers the potential helper to be a true friend. When you think about it, not asking for help deprives our friends of an opportunity to show how much they care.
At some point, call an end to the time-out and make some simple efforts to reconnect as a couple. Put a little distance between yourselves and the baby. Nothing radical -- the three miles between the baby and the local pizza place usually suffices.
The first post-baby date is terrifying for all new parents, though. The babysitter gets a three-volume treatise on how to change, feed, and burp the baby, and emergency numbers are printed in an EXTRA LARGE font on the fridge. It takes at least three attempts to get Mom out the front door as she remembers yet another vital piece of information: "He really doesn't like the second song on that Baby Mozart CD, so just skip that one." You finally make it to the restaurant and put in a quick call to make sure everything's OK.
Based on our extensive research, we've found that the non-baby conversation on these first dates lasts for approximately two minutes and thirty-six seconds. The dates themselves last only slightly longer, as both parents (or, most often, just Mom) are overcome with fear that the baby might be missing them. They drive home at breakneck speed to a baby who is, invariably, fast asleep, and has been since they left.
We've learned it is so important to pay attention to your adult relationship at this point, no matter how strongly the pull of parenthood distracts you. Try making it just the two of you a few times a month, even if it's just going to the gym or taking a walk together. If humanly possible, try to minimize the baby conversation. If you're like us, you'll vaguely remember that you had plenty to talk about before she was born.
It's rough in the big leagues. New parenthood will try the patience of a saint. Last time we checked, none of us were married to one. Are you?
We all need to make allowances for our spouse and understand that it's difficult for each of us. If you think your partner looks more beat up than you, try stepping in and give him or her a night off. Offer words of encouragement: "You're a great Mom/Dad. We'll get through this," instead of criticism: "Have you lost your mind? I can't believe you just put those clothes back on her when they have spit-up on them." -- at least sometimes.
We don't just mean the baby. Sleep deprivation can turn the sanest of women into bottle-wielding shrews, reduce grown men to tears, and cause both of you to turn marital molehills into mountains. Your ability to deal with everyday stresses and your partner's formerly-endearing quirks gets dangerously low when you're trying to get by on a wing and a prayer and a thirty-minute nap.
With the best of intentions, many first-timers try to share the division of baby labor "equally." If only one person is required to feed the baby, why is the other awake at 3:00 AM just to change the diaper? Surely one well-rested parent is better than two barely-coherent zombies?
The well-rested one can rally the exhausted one: make dinner, crack a few jokes, and take the baby for an hour or two. It should go without saying that Dad can occasionally take the baton so that everyone (i.e., Mom) gets a night or two a week of sound sleep.