Diaper and baby care commercials, cards of congratulations, well-meaning friends and relatives will tell us that having a baby is pure bliss, a heaven-sent bundle of joy, a gift worth all the sleep deprivation, dirty nappies and intensive feedings.
We do love our children. But what they can do to our marriage is another story.
Thanks to sleepless nights, new expectations and the demand of bringing up twins while holding down a job, it is no wonder parenthood to a new mother like me feels like being hit by a truck filled to the brim with cement.
The shift from lovers to parents can rock the foundation of any marriage. Suddenly we find ourselves taking on traditional, stereotyped roles that may clash with our thoroughly modern expectations. A working mummy trades the office, wise cracking colleagues and designer handbags for tandem breast feedings, bottle washings, endless diaper changes and mountains of washing. A husband faithfully attends pre-natal classes, cuts the umbilical cords and supports his wife in her new role while grappling with what fatherhood means to him.
We're both doing more, communicating less and feeling vastly unappreciated. Modern marriage makes matters tougher: Having children later in life, when the fatigue factor is higher and job pressures are bigger than they probably were when we were in our 20s.
Ain't it true then that parenting is the toughest job you'll ever love? That is the case for me.
Parenthood can sweeten and strengthen our relationship also. The benefits of putting our marriage first is demonstrated in our daily actions of appreciating each other instead of criticising, speaking to each other kindly as oppose to unkindly, being organised so that we are not frazzled and keeping the channels of communication open.
In the face of overwhelming stresses of parenthood coupled with careers, these are some of the steps we have undertaken:
How will you split your household chores and errands? What will you do for childcare - in our case, daddy drops them off and I pick them up. That means both our cars need 2 toddler car seats each. Who will do the cooking, ironing, mopping, gardening, washing up, etc.? These seemingly small details can loom large in any relationship especially when you do not have any backup except yourselves.
Break the silence about parenthood's downside
New babies are the cutest little bundle of joys but it isn't all kisses and cuddles. Feeding, changing, bathing and entertaining a little one can stretch your physical, emotional and mental resources beyond the breaking point. Find time to talk about your frustrations, fatigue and even moments of anger. Be specific, be supportive and dare to be honest. These feelings are normal - not a sign that you are a bad parent. Admitting them, accepting each other's feelings, and working together to solve the underlying problems and keep you feeling saner - and closer.
Don't blame yourself or your spouse for marital blips
You're both exhausted and grappling with new identities, new expectations for you and your spouse, and virtually no time for personal pleasures. Don't feel guilty, personally responsible or blame the other for the downturn in marital bliss. It's a given. You are only responsible if you don't turn it around.
Understand the definition of a good marriage
Parents who admire, support and agree with each other's parenting styles when their children are babies tend to have happier marriages. Couples who criticised or even undermined each other's attempts to parent their young child (children in our case) were less likely to be happy. It may seem that a good marriage relationship protects the couple, but parenting can change a lot in how husbands and wives relate to each other. Importantly, the issues you confront in parenting aren't typically the kind of issues you confronted before you have children. That can make a big difference in your relationship. The fix? Admire everything you can about your partner's parenting (this is easier said than done and therefore focus on the positives) and discuss areas where you disagree.
Weave a support network
Comparing notes with other parents of children of the same age as your own can provide emotional support and a reassuring sense that no matter how busy and crazy things are, it's probably just normal. You will far less likely blame your marriage and much more likely to find solutions -and feel good about what you're doing together.
Gathering of friends and neighbours willing to help with meals and errands when you are faced with circumstances beyond your control are a marriage life saver. Say yes if someone offers to cook you a meal you can pop into the freezer, do your food shopping or watch your babies for an hour or two while you go test drive a family car (that's what we did when they were newborns). Don't be afraid to ask and accept help.
Accept the unexpected
Nothing could have prepared us fully for the enormous changes parenthood brings. Plan to give yourself some slack, to be surprised and even shocked.
Turn down the criticisms and turn up the admiration
There is endless amount of work to be done, in fact it does not ever end! If you are keeping score and think that you are doing the bulk of the work, stop often and praise your spouse. Appreciation breeds appreciation. You will also probably start noticing all the ways your spouse is helping out (even if it means putting the tub of butter back on the same shelf it was removed from, really).
Quality time for us
We made a decision right from the start to implement a routine for our children and to not have them co-habit with us in the Master bedroom. Through persistence and consistency, we have been able to achieve quality time for us 99% of the time.
Now, over to you. Share what you do in your marriage and parenthood journeys.