A sunny afternoon in late February, as I sat in my father’s garden celebrating his birthday, there was a car horn at the gate. Everyone looked at each other puzzled until my brother said that he had invited a friend. That was the day I met him: my partner, the father of my child.
It’s been eight years since that unplanned meeting, where he greeted everyone but me, and to this day says it was the nerves that kept him from addressing me (though I don’t believe it). Eight years, three months, one child, and two countries later, we’re still deeply in love. We are raising a fiery little human together that combines both of our personality traits into a ball of energy with an interesting flair for the dramatics.
Within months of meeting him, I went from a carefree 21-year-old with no intentions of being in a relationship to embarking on a romantic adventure with a man who made me laugh, made me feel safe, and understood me. Falling in love is euphoric, risky and emotionally draining. It can be exhilarating but over the years I have realized that falling in love isn’t the secret to happiness. It’s more of a stepping stone towards happiness, towards a relationship that fulfills you. The secret to happiness in a relationship isn’t falling in love, but finding ways to stay in love, even more so after having a child.
Once you have a baby, you become painfully aware that your life now revolves around this little helpless being who needs you and who despite having a pretty simple existence (eating, sleeping, pooping) needs round-the-clock care and undivided attention. Consider your world officially rocked, your relationship included.
If someone tells you that their relationship didn’t change after having a child, they’re not being honest with you. Things will change. Change isn’t a bad thing – at least not always. One of the things that eased my mind going into this was that we were from the same country, which meant we understood each other on a different level. However, we still come from different families and backgrounds so finding a middle ground to combine both our lifestyles through parenting was key.
I barely remember the blur of days after we brought our daughter home from the hospital. Between hormones and lack of sleep, I had never felt so out of it. I was lucky to have my mother around during the day, guiding me through something so foreign to me: taking care of another human.
The evenings were joyful as I had even more family around helping to lighten the load. Then came the nights when it was just two new parents and a baby – I opted to take most of the night duties because he had work the next day. This seemed fair in the beginning but after running on a few hours of sleep over weeks coupled with the physical demand on my body, I finally cracked and begged for his help.
He agreed without question, and this opened up the door for us to actually have a conversation. I quickly realized that I was the one who had chosen to make this decision – trying to be “rational” turned out to be a completely irrational decision.
This brought on a change in the way we communicate. We had lived with each other for four years, understanding each other’s needs and wants without too many words or long explanations. But now our needs had changed, there is a third small human involved, and this meant relearning how to communicate with her in mind. There was now a need for more help, the need to share the load, and the need to be more involved.
As we worked through that, another challenge came along. Being young new parents, our social obligations began to change as well. The hours previously used for socializing, relaxing, and household chores were sharply reduced, and this can change the dynamics of a relationship.
I was the homebody in the relationship, and it didn’t affect me much, but my partner was the social butterfly and found this a bit difficult. It was then that we reached a new issue of compromise. We decided that we would either go somewhere baby friendly with the goal of getting her home before it got too late or we would alternate going out to give each other a break.
This seemed like a great solution until a friend asked me “How are you guys?” I naturally rambled on about how we were great and all the fun things about being parents, but she corrected me and explained she meant how we were, as a couple.
It is easier said than done that “communication is key,” because as you come across new challenges, you realize just how many layers there are to communication.
When I first got pregnant, we didn’t really talk about how things were going to change once we had the baby. Sure, we talked about diapers and daycare and discipline, but not how it was going to change us as people. And once the baby came, my partner went straight back to work and when he would come home, he would have to wait for my attention or attempt to talk over a crying baby.
Our challenges stemmed from not having the time and attention for each other like we did before. When we sat back and took stock, we realized just how little time we actually spent together, just the two of us. Once again blessed by my mother being very close to me at all times both physically and emotionally, I was able to rely on her more to become our one and only babysitter. Having the opportunity just to relax alone, whether going on dates or just actually catching up on a TV series was the rejuvenation our relationship needed to remind us we were still a couple outside of being parents.
As the years have gone by, now being parents to an almost five-year-old, we have struggled with the ever-changing life of being a couple and parents, but in our relationship, we don’t just love each other (and of course our child), we like each other too.
While being my romantic love and the father of my child, he is also my best friend. Best friends communicate and get enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning from each other’s company. They bring out the best in one another; they gently tease one another; they have fun together. Neither of us has set the other up for failure, and that is rooted in friendship and the reason why I’m confident that our love will last no matter what the world throws at us.