From Husband & Wife to Mother & Father

Once again, I’m sitting here all reflective over our first year as parents. I’ve been thinking a lot about how becoming new parents took us from the single roles as a husband or a wife, to the dual role of being a spouse and a parent. For most couples, it can be a big adjustment. Responsibilities change. Priorities change. The dynamics of your teamwork changes. The harmonious sync you were once in is suddenly disrupted (in a good way) by this beautiful creature you created together. Looking back at our first year as parents, I feel full of joy, accomplishment, and a deeper love than I could have possibly imagined. And no, it wasn’t always easy getting there. 🙂

While I think there are many keys to making this transition work, I wanted to figure out what I thought was the single most important. The one thing that if asked, I would give as advice to new or soon-to-be parents.

My first thought was communication. Seems like a no-brainer. Without a doubt becoming parents requires you to be vocal, honest, and open about what your new needs are and how they can be met. This is uncharted territory, and the changes it brings will demand those lines of communication be open. Things you were once a master at, you may need help with now. Roles that you might have been comfortable with could easily be turned upside down. The more I thought about it though, I kind of felt like this one should (hopefully!) already be established. You’ve gone through turbulent times of change already. You’ve had your share of arguments. While none of them have ever revolved around children, if you’ve got a solid foundation of communication, my hope is you’ll be able to continue that on in your new life as a family.

My next thought was honesty. This one only hung around for a second. I personally tie this one in closely with open communication above. Parenthood changes you, and being honest about those changes and new needs are vital. Not only being honest with your spouse, but being honest with yourself as well. When you’ve always “had it all together”, sometimes unraveling a little bit with your new demands can be tough. Be honest about it.

Next up: being on the same page about your parenting style. How do you want to raise your children? What values, principles, and structure do you feel is important in raising your children? These decisions can be as big as bringing up children with or without religion to as small as what you want to feed them for dinner. What past experiences have shaped your parenting style? Are you on the same page or can you at least find a middle ground you’ll both be happy with? Super important, right? Definitely a top contender. Once again, however, I’m hoping (fingers crossed) this has been talked about in depth before children are even in the picture.

My winner: agreeing to work hard every single day for the betterment of your new family, and not comparing “who works harder”. Now before I dive in to my reasoning and explanation, I feel the need to preface this with the fact that I am a stay at home mom, and my experiences are deeply rooted within this dynamic of a husband that works outside the home for his family and a wife that stays home to raise their children and maintain the home. I can’t speak from experience about the dynamics of two working parents, but after talking with my Momtourage, it became clear that this is a common theme no matter the situation. Every parenting team has its own unique challenges to face.

My husband and I have been together since I was 16 years old. For our entire relationship, our “jobs” have been on an even keel. Our jobs evolved from high school students, to working college students, to starting careers in the workforce. We both had places to be all day, things to do, and paychecks to bring home. After our days at work, we would come home and each pick up our share of (what now seems so small) the housework. We were a team, working in harmony.

Then came beautiful little Tayler. We were fortunate enough to have the option of me staying home to raise her, and it was a decision we both wanted for the future of our family. For us, it made sense. For the first time, our “jobs” were very, very different. He was working an incredibly demanding job that I couldn’t understand, and I was working an incredibly demanding job that he couldn’t understand.

The essence of my “don’t compare who works harder” advice is rooted in that last statement. As much as you think you might, you can’t possibly understand the demands, stresses, benefits, emotion, and small nuances of each others’ jobs. So before you even start in your new roles, make a very clear and verbal agreement that you will always assume to be true for each other. Make a promise that you will both work your hardest, every single day, for the betterment of your family and marriage. And mean it.

He gets weekends off, my job is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

She doesn’t even have to get dressed in the morning, and some days they cuddle on the couch watching a movie together!

He gets to eat his lunch in peace. Most days I’m scarfing down food with a whining child pulling on my leg!

She doesn’t have a boss to answer to, or the pressure of being the sole provider of our family!

He doesn’t know what its like to hope every decision you make during the day is the right one for our child!

She gets nap time to do whatever she wants. A few hours of break during the day must be nice as I work my butt off!

He doesn’t see how much I haul ass during naps! My days are on repeat of laundry, dishes, vacuuming, and picking up!

She gets to spend quality time all day with our child during the week. I only get a few hours!

He sleeps peacefully through the night. You have no idea how exhausting it is to get up every 2-3 hours! And he says HE is tired?!

Does she not know I just got home and just need a few minutes to wind down?

Does he not see me cleaning right now while he continues to sit comfortably on the couch?

Does she not know how hard it is to deal with difficult personalities all day?

Does he not know how lonely it can be to have very limited adult interaction every day?

This list could go on and on, I’m sure. And I would bet you can relate to several of those. But stop. Stop now. Its a incredibly easy trap to fall into, and one that only breeds feelings of resentment, misunderstanding, and guaranteed rocky times ahead. It’s not a game with a winner. You don’t get a gold star. Even if it was a game, is it really one you would want to be playing?

I think Matt and I are at our best when we recognize that we both work extremely hard, in very different ways. I know he is doing his absolute best to provide for our family. He knows I am doing my best to raise our daughter and keep our home running smoothly. Instead of comparing, try and make it a habit to fill those moments with praise (even if at times it takes everything inside you!). It is nothing short of amazing what a little recognition and gratitude for your efforts can do in your marriage. Think about what kind of work environment you work better in. Is in one that recognizes and acknowledges your efforts? Or one that continually tells you all that you’re doing wrong? It could be in the form of a note left on the bathroom mirror that says, “Your work ethic amazes me – I appreciate your long hours at work for us”. To a simple statement of, “I don’t know how you do what you do – thank you for getting up with our daughter all night. I’ll try and give you a break this weekend!”. Go out of your way to acknowledge those big and small things each other do. Not only does that habit make one another feel appreciated, but it gets you in the habit of continually recognizing those little ways your spouse contributes.

I would be lying if I said finding that new balance is easy. And I’d really be lying if I said it happens overnight. It will take time, and there will be some trial and error of what works for you both. It is a continual, never-ending work in progress.

But as you work through these new dual roles you’ve both taken on…

Communicate.

Be honest.

Be vocal.

Be a team.

Empathize.

Don’t compare.

Believe the best in each other.

Remember you’re both working hard.

Give frequent praise and recognition.

Look for the little things you both do.

Be proactive.

Put each other first.

Help when you can without being asked.

Ask for help when you need it.

Forgive quickly.

Be kind.

Love.

And enjoy watching your partner blossom into a parent.

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Sign It To Me Baby

I can still remember when I was babysitting for a new, first time mom. As her precious baby napped upstairs and I watched TV in the living room, I picked up and skimmed through the Baby Sign Language book on her coffee table. Showing my age, knowledge, and maturity here, my thought was a mental scoff followed by, “These moms today are crazy! Trying to get babies to do all these crazy things so early!”. Oh, Erica.

Several years and a baby of my own later, I now fully understand why that mom was interested in baby sign language. The benefits are many – for both you and for baby. I’ll dive into those in a minute.

When Tayler was about 5 months old we started consistently using two signs that I thought would make communication easier for us – “milk” and “more”. I knew 5 months old was a tad early, but I also knew it would take us awhile to get used to using the signs consistently. To help us try and remember, I printed some of the basics off of the internet and taped them up in the kitchen. Every time it was time to eat, we would sign and say “milk” several times. Every time she ate solids we would sign and say “more” before putting more on her tray.

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Two months went by, and then Tayler began to smile and get excited when we would do the signs – she knew what they meant and things were starting to click! Fast forward to 8.5 months, and Tayler began to use “milk” on her own without our prompting and “more” followed right behind! Our consistency was paying off and we were giving Tayler the tools to communicate her wants and needs long before she could tell us.

 

I’m far from a baby sign language expert, and I can only speak from my experiences and what I’ve learned along the way, but here are a few of the benefits if you’re considering implementing baby sign language with your own children:

  • It eliminates some of the guesswork that comes along with raising small children. Trying to figure out what your child needs can be frustrating at times. All you want to do is give them what they need, but its not always easy to figure out when their only communication tool is crying. Giving them the tools to communicate things like “sleep”, “more”, “drink”, “hurt”, and “help” give you the language to stay on the same page.
  • It reduces fussiness. You’re not the only one that can get frustrated when trying to figure out what your child needs. You can imagine how challenging it would be to need something and have no way to say it. When you’re able to meet your child’s needs it keeps them happier and more content. 8 months old to 2 years old is a significant time frame – spend it communicating!
  • Its a great bonding time. Practicing signs together gives you and your child a language to communicate within and learning it together can be very rewarding for you both. It’s fun, allows you a sneak peak into each other’s minds, and strengthens your relationship in the process.
  • Its developmentally beneficial. Before your child can verbalize language, sign language allows them to flex their communication muscles. It builds vocabulary, self-esteem, and can act as a stepping stone to full speech. The associations they make through signing serve as a mental jungle gym!

(And despite the myths that learning sign language delays verbal speech – research strongly proves that’s not the case!).

If you decide to try it, a few general tips:

  • Start as early as 4-6 months – make sure they can hold their gaze at you for a few seconds
  • Start with just a few signs you know will be most beneficial
  • Consistency consistency consistency. Say it and sign it every time.
  • Include any other caregivers if possible.
  • Add a few more at a time once they start to mimic the initial signs
  • Be patient – it’ll take a few months and you usually won’t start to see them signing back till at least 8 months
  • Have fun with it!

Now that she’s really getting it I bought a Baby Sign Language kit to use that comes with pre-made flashcards. While I do use it and like it, I was finding that a lot of the pictures on the flash cards didn’t look like the ones she sees or uses. For example, “drink” was in a glass. She doesn’t drink out of glasses, she drinks water out of her sippy cup. There was a picture of a tiny dog, which looks nothing like the big goldens we have here. The picture for “bed” was a toddler bed, not her crib. So I decided to make some of my own.

I killed two birds with one stone and downloaded an app called “Animal Zoo Flashcards and Games”. It not only has pictures of animals so we can practice the sounds they make (you can customize them and record your own sounds if you want!), but they have a stack of flash cards for “My Photos” which I use for some of our sign language flash cards. I took pictures of the next signs I want to practice, and made my own stack!

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I’m sure I have a lot to learn as we continue our sign language journey, so I’d love to hear your experiences!