I’m currently on parental leave from my relationship.
“Have a baby!” They said. “It’ll be amazing!” They said. “Holding that baby for the first time will make you fall in love with your husband all over again,” they said.
Now, I knew absolutely nothing about babies prior to having my seven-month old son, but I’m not completely naive. I knew there would be sleepless nights. I knew there would be crying (the baby and me). I hoped to breastfeed and I knew that if I did that would physically tie me to the baby’s location for a while. I knew there would be less time for date nights, dinners out, seeing friends, movies, dancing and parties. I was as prepared as I could be.
But I didn’t realise I was signing up to relationship parental leave. Fast forward to the post-baby period and there is zero time for adult conversation. If we do manage to grab a rare moment then days filled with sitting on a play mat building colourful block towers on repeat so the baby can knock them down on repeat doesn’t make for scintillating chat.
There is no time or, honestly, desire for sex; sleep is way too precious and, sorry guys, for breastfeeding mums it’s the Sahara Desert down there. Meals are eaten in shifts while one of us is settling the baby who just woke up. Nice clothes get vomited on, splattered with food or milk, drooled on or sucked (yes, everything including your sleeve goes in that baby’s mouth).
Babysitters… well, your neighbour’s 15-year-old daughter isn’t confident enough to babysit a less-than-one-year-old child (and fair enough too). Plus, if you do go out and the baby wakes up to find a ‘stranger’ trying to resettle him then there goes the rest of the night’s sleep.
Listen: On This Glorious Mess, our podcast about family life, we’re rounding up your funniest parenting stories. And Liz has a doozy. (Post continues…)
When I was pregnant, I remember laughing while reading out to my partner a viral Facebook post that was written by a mum about the impact having a baby had had on her relationship. She said something along the lines of, “every now and then I shave my legs, mainly because I feel sorry for him”. Well, hallelujah sister. Keeping the baby alive, fed, happy and/or asleep first, relationship second. That’s just how it goes. We are ships in the night.
Anyway, given that I only have an exactly 36-minute long sleep cycle to write this article in before my baby wakes up, I had better get to the point.
According to the Journal of Political Economy, women (and I am being deliberately gender-specific here) who take career breaks in order to take on unpaid caring roles to have and raise children lose 17 per cent of their lifetime earning capacity. Yes, forever. That’s the career cost of children.
So what is the impact of a ‘we-just-had-a-baby’ relationship hiatus on a relationship’s future potential? What is the relationship cost of children?
Some days, I would argue that the cost can be so high that it’s scary. If you are lucky enough to have a baby who hates sleep as much as ours does, you’ll understand me when I say my partner and I are married during daylight but we get divorced most nights. Hormonal mood swings, sleep deprivation, the need to recover from physical trauma while at the same time being needed relentlessly, parenting in shifts… the difficult truth is this: having a child is hard on your relationship.
In the spirit of not giving already-parents postnatal depression, soon-to-be-parents a feeling of dread and aspiring-parents a lack of aspiration, let me say it’s not all relationship doom and gloom. It’s true that watching your partner be an amazing dad fills your soul up to the brim and is a proper aphrodisiac (remember catching sight of a ‘hot dad’ when you were in your 20s? This is like that on steroids).
There are moments of utter joy and utter hilarity. You’ve created a club that only you, your husband and that baby are members of, where only you three who attend those middle of the night meetings can understand and belong. And that club is like nothing else.
So perhaps this is the key to the relationship cost of children: those inevitable bumps you experience while on parental leave from your relationship will be offset some days by previously unimaginable relationship highs. And as a result, the net relationship cost of children is not a cost at all, but a saving grace that you can put in the relationship bank for the hard days.
And by the by, I didn’t write this in 36 minutes. My baby linked sleep cycles and gave me a whole 72 minutes to myself this morning. I felt like screaming it from the rooftops so everyone could share my delight, but instead I sent a text to my husband telling him I love him.
Tessa Manning is a small business owner, addicted renovator and mum. She finds time to write when stuck in traffic, standing in the shower or breastfeeding her baby.