When you’re pregnant, everyone says life will change. I remember people telling me that and thinking, “Duh… I know. We’ve waited and worked hard to get pregnant. We’re ready!” But no matter how ready you think you are, no matter how much prep you do, you’re not. Besides birth and the physical aftermath of pregnancy (which is a huge change in and of itself), there were changes in my relationships that I wasn’t prepared for.
First, my relationship with my husband changed. There’s a reason people say not to do anything drastic for the first 18 months after you have a child. I didn’t expect the competition in parenting or that lack of sleep would turn me into Satan. I didn’t realize the reality of the intense need a child has for his mother or that my relationship with my husband inadvertently would take a back seat while I’d strive to meet my infant’s every need. I became a massive Type A junkie, strung out on control overload, certain I was always right and that things should be my way or the highway. (Okay, I still think this way some of the time.)
Needless to say, this way of being led to our fair share of fights, some more major than others. One, in particular, at our son’s seven-month mark, made me take a hard look at myself and put me in check. Doing so has made me understand that I’m not the only (and far from the perfect) parent and that I need to allow my husband to be his own parent and make his own successes and mistakes without me hovering all the time. Being more inclusive (and thus more respectful), especially when it comes to decision making (even when I think my husband won’t care or have a clue) has helped a lot. We are growing. Still, things did not go down as planned before baby arrived. Shocker!
A baby can easily eat up your relationship space with yourself. Even though I’m past the post-partum stage and I have only one child, I still find it challenging to have a relationship with Me, Myself, and I outside of my Mom and Wife spaces, respectively. You know that single, carefree person who did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted? She’s buried somewhere among the piles of hats worn each and every day.
I’m ashamed to admit that it took almost a year and a half since our son arrived to do my eyebrows…a small thing that makes me feel “put together,” and I still haven’t made it to a yoga class or any kind of exercise class for that matter. It would be nice to do things outside of the house, with other people (minus my lovelies), even if they’re total strangers!
I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to make this kind of time for myself. Shades of my single self emerge every few months in gatherings with girlfriends, which I love. Work has also been a Godsend in this regard. As much as I fantasize about being a stay at home mom, it offers me a get-away from my pint-sized shadow and endless “to-do” list. I can go for a walk on my break and/or shoot the breeze with colleagues. The effort it takes in getting out of the house to experience my non-mom and non-wife selves is majorly rewarding! I end up being happier, more content, and more present for my family. Oh, and I sing the “It’s Not Fair” song far less, something my husband appreciates.
One of the “after-baby” changes I find that I’m most reluctant to come to terms with is the changes in my friendships, particularly with some of my child-free friends. While these relationships subtlety changed when I got married, the subtlety became more pronounced after our child’s arrival.
I have a friend with whom we’ve seen each other through thick and thin over the last ten years: crazy relationships, family dramas, and life celebrations. Prior to my pregnancy, we made it a point to retreat together in Lake Tahoe at least once a year and meet up a couple of times in between. Once my son arrived though, the frequency of our interactions took a nosedive. This is understandable. She had major life changes going on while I had a major life change.
Despite these changes, I find myself a little peeved because, “Hey you’re my best friend and you haven’t even met my son! And I’m sorry I have to schedule time to talk to you, but I have to if I want to hear anything you have to say and have a focused, adult conversation. Why can’t you get this?”
And I think maybe she’s frustrated because, “Hey, I have needs too, you know! I have all this s*** going on, and it’s serious, and why can’t you be there for me when I need you to be? What’s happened to you?”
I know it’s neither of our intentions to make each other feel frustrated or neglected or even hurt. It’s sad for me as I watch us grow apart as life takes us in different directions. I feel guilty and wonder what I could do differently. This isn’t my experience of all child-free friends. Having my own family has brought me closer to some friendships that I made years ago and has also deepened some of my work relationships. One of my other friend’s advice, who also happens to be child-free: you just have to let it go. Grrr….not ready.
Dads Feel It, Too
And finally, it’s not just women becoming mothers who experience this. Men becoming dads experience this too. At least I know this to be true for my husband. Several times this past year he’s realized that his circle of friends who he actively hung out with while single, and a little less often after marriage, were meeting up and doing things. Finding out about these gatherings after the fact made him incredulous that he wasn’t invited. He still gets a little hurt when these discoveries happen, and I wonder with him if it’s because he has a family now. “Perhaps they think you don’t have time?” I offer. Nevertheless, he makes a point of going out to see them to let them know he’s still alive. And even if he can’t make every invitation, he’d still like to be invited, just to feel part of the group.
I find in these situations that people assume good intentions, and those assumptions leave us parents by the wayside. Sigh. Life changes. We grin and we bear it. And when we can bear it no longer, we put ourselves out there either to reconnect with old friends or to make some new ones, with and without children, to validate every aspect of ourselves.