Coping with new roles
Having a baby forces new roles on couples. It means sorting out housework, childcare and employment
Balancing paid work with being a parent is the reality for most partners. Most men and some women work full-time when their children are pre-school age. Others work part time juggling looking after the children with a reduction in hours.
Most will struggle to balance the needs of the children and partner with the demands of their job. And generally, most couples find themselves adopting more traditional gendered roles in ‘who does what’ in the house (which can come as a shock if they previously had a very equal division of labour).
Mothers often find themselves doing much more of the childcare than they had expected, and often much more of the domestic work too. Some women are happy with this, others feel deeply unhappy that the baby seems to have had so much more impact on their life than their partner’s. While they are stuck at home, feeling isolated and unsupported, their partner can still escape to the outside world and previous life.
However, men also resent changes in their life and not having the time to spend at home with their new family. Men may feel more pressurised in their role of breadwinner as on average, men’s working hours increase once a baby arrives.
Resentments can quickly build up as each partner feels stuck in a role, unappreciated for what they do and angry with the other for what they don’t do. This often adds to the other strains on the relationship.
If you go back to work, you may worry about how you’ll find the time to work, be with your partner, arrange appropriate childcare, spend time with your child and still have time for yourself. Parents feel they have to show that their work is not badly affected by the change, although this can be very difficult, if not impossible to achieve.
If you are staying at home, you may worry about being dependent on your partner or family, as well as whether you will ever have time for a life of your own again. Parents can also face lost career opportunities when they take time out to care for children, and looking after a baby can also limit further study, training or personal development.
Both men and women who work can feel emotionally torn – between expectations of becoming a parent and the satisfaction they find in their work.
Fathers can also resent work because it takes them away from the new baby and mother. They may feel they are missing out, with long hours at work opening them up to criticism for being uncaring fathers. As well as being under-valued at home, they may have to struggle through uninteresting work, exhausted – which can be dispiriting and stressful.
Staying at home
The parent who gave up work may miss the companionship, the outside interests and the money. If they worked before the baby, they may have no daytime friends or relatives nearby. They may become particularly dependent on their partners, building up high expectations of companionship and support – something their partners may not be expecting after a long day at work.
Resentments can start – an exhausted parent at home won’t be used to the constant demands of a baby and may miss the stimulation of work and colleagues. They may find themselves becoming increasingly bitter towards their partner for still having their working life. On the other hand, the working parent may feel their partner is having it easy while they’re putting in extra work to support the new family. Statistics show that fathers of young families in Britain work the longest hours in Europe, so their involvement with their partners and children may be minimal, whether they like it or not.
Worries about loss of income
Most couples experience a drop in income as they lose one income, combined with the expenses of bringing up children.
The responsibility of being the only wage earner may be heavy, especially if there are debts. On the other hand, being dependent financially on your partner may also be difficult. The most important thing is to face money problems early on, and get help if necessary, rather than let them grow.
Whose responsibility is it?
Most couples hope to have an equal relationship when it comes to childcare. But this can lead to tension as the couple try to balance the partnership needs with their individual needs. For women, this can be difficult, as being a parent is often still influenced by traditional attitudes and the practicalities of employment and childcare.
More and more mothers and fathers are combining a job with childcare, so balancing the two can become a big issue in the relationship. Who gets up to deal with the baby at night, or who takes a day off work when a child’s ill, can become ‘whose job is more important?’.
Not being able to balance these competing demands is a major cause of stress, and the relationship may bear the brunt. This may be made much worse when there’s no time to spend together as a couple. The CoupleConnection has lots of resources aimed specifically at helping new parents with the changes a baby brings – including a unique online course called ‘Changes for Me and Us’.