Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Q: I'm pregnant with my first baby and deciding whether I will return to my job after the baby is born. I'm the last among my friends to start a family, so I have seen friends choose both paths.
NO ONE seems totally happy. My friends who stay home are bored, strapped for cash and fighting with their husbands. My friends who work are busy, stressed and fighting with their husbands. I love my husband, but who knows how parenthood will change our relationship?
I am very excited about this baby but worry that what I'm seeing means life is about to take a turn for the worse. Can you set me straight?
Grass Is Greener?
A: The fighting-with-spouse aspect of child-rearing is not inevitable. These aspects, however, are:
You will be tired.
You will have responsibilities (diapers, feedings, play) that are boring, repetitive, relentless, mildly irritating, rewarding mostly in the long term and of great consequence to your bond with your child.
You will be faced with things you have no idea how to handle.
You will have bad moods for one of these three reasons, and they will be exacerbated by the other two.
You will not agree with your husband on everything.
You will disappoint each other.
Each of you at times will think you're the one doing more work.
Daunting, yes, but not hopeless as long as you both agree to put everything you've got into this. That means not rolling over and making it the other person's turn to get up unless it actually is. It means seeing what needs to be done and doing it, instead of hoping the elves take over. It means communicating — "I do plan to do the dishes. I just need to sit for a second."
When both of you can plainly see that neither of you is taking advantage of the other, then you can use these other, highly effective fight-pre-empters:
• Recognizing the other person is tired, too.
• Occasionally giving the other person time off, even when it's technically your turn.
• Admitting when you're faced with something you don't know how to solve.
• Apologizing when you let your spouse down and forgiving when he lets you down.
• Leaving it alone when you disagree on something small — it's okay for kids to have different experiences with different parents — and taking it sit-down-and-talk seriously when you disagree on something big. It's not okay to disagree on so much that your kids (at surprisingly young ages) learn to use you against each other for leverage. It's also not okay when one parent insists on something genuinely risky (texting while driving, say).
• Finding family-workable ways to deal with your bad moods. Will a walk do it? A trip to the gym? Ice cream for breakfast one day will not derail the train. Make sure you both have outlets.
• Scheduling time, regularly, to remind yourselves why you like each other. Date night, a favorite show or team, etc.
Parents who support and appreciate each other tend to like each other more, of course, but so do those who adapt under pressure instead of martyring themselves. If you believe the workload is out of balance, then revisit your choices; don't just wear them down into ruts.