User Menu

Finding the balance is key to new parents finding each other again

When babies arrive, a loneliness can seep into our relationship without us knowing

Geraldine Walsh with husband Barry Walsh and children Allegra and Devin. ‘Becoming a parent is one of the bumpiest roads of our lives,’ writes Geraldine. Photograph: Donall Farmer

There’s a loneliness in parenting that is often overlooked. Not the usual loneliness you expect when your newborn is snoozing in your arms and the world suddenly seems a lot bigger and a lot scarier.

It’s not the loneliness that creeps in when the excitement of the first few weeks simmers down, visits from friends and family become less, and the house becomes eerily quiet but looms large with the enormity of the daily tasks that come with being a parent.

It’s also not the loneliness that comes with being somewhat isolated on maternity leave, when the norm of the daily commute, hot coffee and adult conversation is more welcome than ever.

Although all of this accounts for a very real isolation and loneliness, there is another loneliness we forget could happen as we carry on fulfilling the overwhelming nature of our lives with kids.

This loneliness often hits you sideways or creeps up behind you on a wet and windy Sunday afternoon. It’s the sometime lonely and unnecessarily empty feeling you may experience in your relationship. It can happen one month, one year or three years down the road. When babies and children enter our lives, a quietness and detachment can seep into our relationship without us knowing. From having little to no time for each other, arguing over the right way to parent, feeling frustrated and misunderstood, our relationship evolves and gets mixed up with the mountain of parental duties.

Drastically change

We know our lives are going to drastically change when the wonder of a baby appears, but this transition felt lonely to me a short while after our first baby was born. The change, upheaval and exhaustion of new parenting days meant the ordinary things we did to keep ourselves connected became forgotten about. They fizzled out. Simple things such as evening walks in late summer became non-existent because babysitters were few and far between. Movie nights with popcorn and a blanket became impossible with sleepless, crying, teething babies. Dinner dates and nights out disappeared along with every random, spur of the moment touch which had kept the flame of romance kindling. Being close almost felt like a privilege as time together was taken from us and if we found a brief moment we didn’t know what to do with that time anymore. We inadvertently allowed it to slide away into the vast disconnect that can happen for couples with newborns and growing families.

We change in ways we’re not prepared for and in ways no one can ever truly warn you about

It took me a while to understand why I felt lonely. Was it possible to feel some sort of divide with my partner after babies clung on? There may as well have been neon lights over the front door spelling it out for me, but those lights were not switched on. Becoming a parent is one of the bumpiest roads of our lives. We change in ways we’re not prepared for and in ways no one can ever truly warn you about because we are all different, reacting and coping differently.

Sting of loneliness

I felt the sting of loneliness as conversations slowed down, time together disappeared, and contact became minimal in those first few months and years. I didn’t recognise it as something to be concerned about. Things like holding hands, looking into his eyes for more than three seconds without being interrupted by one of the kids or, for that matter, having a conversation that lasted longer than 20 seconds without involving a discussion of someone else’s bowel movements or an unnecessary argument. We lost contact. Kisses and hugs became rare and drifting off to sleep without even saying goodnight became the norm.

Talking about how our relationship may be suffering because of this tiny, beautiful baby was not the done thing. I didn’t talk about it with friends, let alone my partner, who suffered in the same isolated quiet on the opposite end of the sofa. And so, there the loneliness sat as parenthood took over.

All relationships are hard work but throw a metaphorical grenade into the mix and things can blow up very quickly

Even though there were times when I felt lonely as we sat in the sitting room together, both of us exhausted from the mechanics of a stressful day, neither talking nor sitting beside each other, doing our own thing, relaxing in our own way, I knew that somewhere, amid the chaos of parenting, we were together.

No quick fix

There is no magic quick fix for keeping a relationship, post-kids, on track. It’s hard work. All relationships are hard work but throw a metaphorical grenade into the mix and things can blow up very quickly. Gathering the fragments doesn’t have to be difficult. Afterall, this is the person you love, admire and cherish. The person you started a family with. The person you want to grow old with, so you can watch the grey dash their hair, the wrinkles burrow into their forehead and their laughter lines deepen. Theirs is the hand you want to hold forever if only you get to reach for it every once in a while.

Creeping out of the silence and the loneliness that parenting can bring into your relationship needs a conscious effort. We recognised, albeit a bit later than we should have, that a disconnection occurred when we were so preoccupied with parenting. We also recognised that we needed to make our relationship a priority no matter how difficult it may be among a mountain of nappies, zero sleep and the daily grind of working and home life.

Simple things

From fighting about finances, ways to parent to who gets to head out for an hour at the weekend, parenting can get in the way of remembering we were once a couple so focused on each other. Simple things such as arranging date nights, talking when the kids are asleep, and even having sofa dates and curling up under that blanket with popcorn and a movie, can help in small ways to reconnect after a day of disconnect. Finding the balance is key to finding each other again and remembering that you are both there, in it for the long haul, together.