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Making It Work

Reconnecting With Your Partner Without Leaving Baby

From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 1, 2009, pp. 36-39

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine New Beginnings, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of New Beginnings to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I'm not having problems with breastfeeding or daycare, but with my husband. He wants us to go out -- alone -- one night. He's worried that our marriage is suffering because we don't have time to ourselves. I feel guilty enough putting our son in daycare so I can work. I can't bring myself to bring him to a sitter so I can spend time with my husband. Does anyone have any ideas on how we can reconnect without leaving our baby? Or even some reassurances that our marriage will survive this?

Mother's Response

Finding time to be partners with your spouse when you have young children is always a challenge, but it is very important. A happy marriage is one of the best gifts that we can give our children.

It sounds as if your husband is feeling a little shut off from your attention and you are already feeling stretched thin between work and your son. The first thing you might make time for is a long talk with your husband without any distractions -- is he just feeling the need for some "grown-up" time for the two of you to be together? Or is there something else going on with him? He may be reluctant to voice feelings like being "neglected" or "playing second-fiddle" when he knows in his mind that a baby has so many needs, but some partners can't help but feeling this way, especially if you spent a lot of time together before baby.

Getting the whole picture will help you better find solutions. You can then discuss different ways that you two can work to reconnect as a couple. Can you go out after your son has gone to sleep? It might be a later dinner than you normally have, but if your baby is sleeping, he won't miss you. A "date night" in is easy to do and can meet both your husband's and, more importantly, your son's needs. After your son has gone to bed, make a special meal -- complete with candles and favorite music?for just you and your husband (or order-in and save on clean-up time). You can also try other small things throughout the day/week to keep close: quick phone calls (if possible) just to check-in on how your days are going; making time every night, even if only 10 minutes, to talk to each other about whatever is going on at work or at home; an extra-long hug and a reminder to him about how important his support is for you and your son right now. He might then be able to reciprocate and give more back to you, too, if he feels like you two are working together.

Learning how to balance a marriage within the needs of the larger family is an on-going process and it's not entirely up to you or to him, but to both of you. If you each talk honestly, agree to compromise, and understand that this time in your lives is temporary, you can work through it.

Kym Porter
Silver Spring, MD, USA

Mother's Response

Once or twice a month my husband and I have a "date-night-in." We feed the children a simple dinner, and once they're in bed we have a nice dinner for just the two of us, and then watch a rented movie. We've really come to look forward to these evenings!

Rene Drake
Cheyenne, WY, USA

Mother's Response

I would suggest that you think creatively about what you can comfortably give your husband so that he doesn't feel so needy. Perhaps a quick call during the day that lets him know how much you appreciate him and/or miss him, or a hug before you leave for work in the morning. In other words, instead of seeing his request as another demand on your time and energy, see it as a desire to be closer to you and respond in kind.

As a matter of fact, the more I think about this situation, the more I notice how a mother's love is almost always unconditional (how many moms divorce their children?) as opposed to the love of spouses, which is often conditional (just look at the high rate of divorce). Noticing this difference between conditional and unconditional love is very important, because when you say "I love you" to your partner, he's liable to notice from your tone and other subtle tip-offs what you mean.

The golden rule is really important here and what I wish for you is that your husband will convince you that he loves you unconditionally. Good luck to you and your family!

Deborah Wunsch Bach
Haifa, Israel

Mother's Response

I think that you first need to find out from your husband if his need is more time with you, or if it is time with you outside of the house. These are two completely different scenarios.

If he just wants time with you, there are lots of creative ways to carve time for yourselves at home without leaving the baby. If your baby goes to sleep easily and stays down on his own, then have a late-night romantic meal together at home after your baby goes to sleep. As the weather gets warmer, perhaps you would consider having a babysitter come to the house while you are there -- then go have a nice time together outside with a table set up in the yard. If your baby really needs you, you'll only be 10 feet away, and otherwise someone else is supervising him.

If your husband really misses going out on a date to a restaurant with you, is there a way to do that during the weekday? Do the two of you work close enough together and/or have flexible enough work schedules that you can meet somewhere for a slightly longer than usual lunch hour and have a nice meal together once a week or twice a month (whatever your budget and work schedule will allow)?

My husband and I have only been out on a date a few times in the eight-and-a-half years since the first of our children was born. For us, it hasn't been an issue and we've been blessed to have close friends who are happy to take our children the odd time we do go out somewhere.

I think the most important thing, no matter what you arrange, is to keep the lines of communication open. Let your husband know how much you love and appreciate him even if you aren't able to show it in the same ways that you did before children. He might be feeling that your baby is more important to you now than your relationship with him, and so it's important to let your words say what your actions are not always able to at this season of your life.

Margo Trueman
Ridgecrest, CA, USA

Mother's Response

When, in any given day, are children most likely to be content in their own activities for more than five minutes at a stretch? Well, when they're sleeping, obviously. Parents often reach for the sophisticated, grown up and, frankly, often impossible "after bedtime" time for adult-only conversation and connection, usually when they're already exhausted.

Have you tried the peace of dawn? Speaking as an inveterate night owl, it wasn't until I figured out that, after the children went to bed, even if I wanted to have a connecting conversation with my husband, I was too exhausted to manage it. We'd sit and stare at the TV or magazines or computer screens until we were too tired to move. No wonder the conversation dried up a bit in those years. Then, something surprised me: my husband, it turns out, appreciates breakfast made in the morning, and an adult to talk to about the morning news before he goes to work. Our children, being bred night owls, too, left us entirely alone for this. When I was really tired, I'd go back to bed after he left, but some mornings I just enjoyed the quiet and solitude until they got up. Yes, I had to go to bed earlier...but I should have been doing that anyhow.

If you get up half an hour earlier every day, you'll have spent three and a half hours every week in couples-only time...more than that if you let the children sleep until they wake naturally on the weekends.

One other simple tip: make compassionate eye contact. It is possible to build and maintain a connection through eye contact over the heads of the children, no matter what else is going on. Shared experiences are bonding -- it really is not just about time alone together.

Linda Clement
Victoria, BC, Canada

Mother's Response

My husband and I had a date for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Sure, it is not the same as a night on the town, but was a great one on one special time together. And breakfast is less expensive than dinner. Another mother told me she tried the idea, and just brought the baby, leaving the older siblings at home.

Dee Russell
USA

Mother's Response

This is a challenging issue for many moms -- not just working moms. You don't say how old your baby is, but I know that the guilt of leaving my child while I work has continued right through toddlerhood. Here are a couple of ideas that worked for my husband and me, and maybe you can adapt them to suit your family situation.

First, when my son was very small (less than six months old), we would go out to "family-friendly" restaurants with him in the sling or chest carrier if he didn't fall asleep in the car seat. That would give us a few minutes of "grown-up" time to eat without the pressure of having to cook a meal and clean up afterward.

Another idea is to bring in a sitter (we hired our neighbor's teenage daughter) for a couple of hours one evening. We would have her watch our little guy while we had an at-home date. That way, if our son got fussy or needed to nurse, I was still right here (just in the other room), but my husband and I could eat a meal, talk to each other, or watch a video. We never tried it, but depending on the weather, you could use the same technique to have a backyard picnic with your spouse.

A final possibility would be to have a trusted relative (for us it was my mother or an adopted grandmother around the corner) be with your child at home while you take a "quick" date -- for us, it was two hours or less. I still felt a little guilty, but the few times we tried it, our son was asleep when we got home.

If none of these ideas appeal to you and/or your husband, rest assured that some adult alone time is not that far away. Your baby will only be little like this once, and for a shockingly short period of time. Try your best to enjoy it -- and if the only time you and your husband get is after the little one goes to bed, try not to fall asleep in the first 10 minutes. (That is still a fairly common occurrence around here, and our little guy is almost two). Your relationship can survive the neglect it suffers while there is a newborn in the house -- just remember to speak with extra love and understanding to each other.

Beth Cohen
Mt. Pleasant, SC, USA

Mother's Response

Perhaps you can try to understand what needs are behind your husband's request. Maybe he is feeling left out and unneeded because of the nature of the relationship between you and your little son. Or maybe he just wants some attention for himself, which can be given without leaving the child.

I would suggest that you have an honest, accepting conversation with your husband about what each of you is feeling. Have a brainstorming session to see what other ideas you can come up with for feeling reconnected with each other. You could create a romantic evening at home after the baby goes to sleep. Look for new activities that mom, dad, and baby can do together, such as something in nature, sports, or drama, or perhaps a family play group.

You might also need to be honest with yourself in terms of whether or not you are using your relationship with the baby to avoid dealing with issues between you and your husband.

Marriages can and will survive all of life's challenges if the partners decide they want it to and invest in making it happen.

Donna Ron
Ein Harod Ichud, Israel

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