So, you’ve had your first baby. Congratulations! This is a beautiful time. It’s also a time of high stress and conflict and it definitely means you’re going to argue more often and intensely than ever before.
Listen, becoming a new parent opens you up to a whole new world of joy and fulfillment. However, in the early months of their first kid’s life, the stakes are raised considerably and with that comes stress, uncertainty, and the near-constant appearance of squabbles. Newborns are fragile, vulnerable and totally reliant on rookie parents frazzled by the exhaustion that comes with a newborn’s sleep schedule.
“Everything is harder to deal with when you are sleep deprived, which the vast majority of new parents experience on a nightly basis,” New York City Psychotherapist and parent coach Olivia Bergeron said.
When two sleep-deprived adults live in close quarters, isolated from the world as they face the new and daunting challenge of keeping a baby alive, fights are inevitable. “We may start lashing out at those around us, notably our partners,” Bergeron said. “We know yelling at a baby is pointless; yelling at our partners, however, becomes an easier outlet for our frustrations.”
But while tempers will rise, they don’t need to boil over. We asked dozens of parents about fights from the early months of their kids’ lives and ran the scenarios by Bergeron and Aaron Anderson, owner and counselor at the Marriage and Family Clinic in Colorado. While the fights ranged from trivial to existential threats to marriages, the relationship and parenting experts said that new parents can resolve or avoid them altogether. And look on the bright side, new parents: college is only 18 years away.
The Fight: Dad Doesn’t Want Baby in the Bedroom. Mom Does.
Why It Comes Up: While newborns breastfeed, the burden of care falls heavily on mom. She’ll want the baby close to her in the bedroom, which interferes with an exhausted dad’s sleep.
Advice For Ending It: Compromise and look to the future. Keep the baby in the bedroom but make it understood that she won’t be there forever. “Once a child sleeps through the night, there’s really no point to have in the bedroom anymore,” Anderson said. “Every little squeak or squeal will interrupt sleep and at over-protective parents are being enabled by us.”
The Fight: When Should We Cut the Baby’s Hair?
Why It Comes Up: Some kids’ hair grows fast and while one parent might be wary of scissors or doing anything to change the baby’s natural look, the length can seem like a problem.
Advice For Ending It: This one doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. Parents have to figure out their values and negotiate from an informed perspective. “We assume things are just done a certain way because that’s how we were raised,” Bergeron said.
The Fight: Should We Pierce the Baby’s Ears?
Why It Comes Up: A common disagreement we heard from multiple parents of different backgrounds and cultures body was the appropriateness of modifications and piercings. While one parent might think it’s natural to pierce an ear at eight months, the other might be more piercing gun-shy.
Advice For Ending It: As with haircuts, the answer for this conflict will vary by individuals. It may not be easy to resolve but it might be a good teaching moment about how you or your partner might be approaching parenting decisions without due consideration. “We may not question our way of doing things until a partner starts pushing back with their own assumptions about what’s normal when raising children,” Bergeron said.
The Fight: Be More Careful with the Baby
Why It Comes Up: The baby always smiles when dad throws her in the air and catches her. Mom’s way less of a fan, though. She thinks it’s reckless and puts the baby in danger.
Advice For Ending It: Anderson said that parents often come into his office with disagreements about whether one is being haphazard or the other is overly-protective. It’s tricky because the parents won’t be able to tell who’s right or wrong on their own. The key often involves relying on a third party. “You need to talk to people that you know are going to give you real advice and not just the advice you want to hear,” Anderson said. “That could be your parents or friends who are parents that know a little bit more than you do.”
The Fight: One Parent Needs the Other to Constantly Update Them While Parenting Solo
Why It Comes Up: Parental leave doesn’t last forever. Eventually, one or both parents has to go back to work and pay for all the new baby stuff. But the separation makes the absent parent feel powerless and vulnerable, so they demand minute-by-minute breakdowns of what happens when they’re gone.
Advice For Ending It: The working spouse needs to trust the one at home and remember it’s his or her baby too. “There’s no real obligation to tell him where you’re taking the baby in a trusting relationship,” Anderson said.
The Fight: This Apartment Ain’t Big Enough for the Three of Us.
Why It Comes Up: One parent thinks the place is too cramped for a growing family but the budget-conscious parent wants to tough it out to save money.
Advice For Ending It: Without knowing the details of your finances, no one can give you hard and fast advice. Just remember that transparency and honesty about money is vital for every relationship.
The Fight: How Much Do I Have to Listen to my Mother-in-Law?
Why It Comes Up: A mother-in-law’s been a parent for a long time and wants to share her wisdom and experience. One spouse has their doubts.
Advice For Ending It: Be open to their advice but don’t feel obligated to blindly follow it. You have the right and obligation to discover what’s right for your kid. “You can bring up that your parents have said this, but you should present it more as a negotiation,” Anderson said. “This is what your parents might have said and this is the advice they’re giving. Is this what we want to follow? This is how we want to raise our kids?”
The Fight: Which Experts do we Trust?
Why It Comes Up: Mom and dad studied up for their new roles as parents. The problem is that they read different parenting books and the baby-rearing advice varies wildly.
Advice For Ending It: Work together to create a mix of techniques that’s right for your family. “It’s really up to the parents to decide which method they want to use and how they want to raise their child,” Anderson said. “But it needs to be a collaboration.”
The Fight: One Partner Stops Taking Care of Themself
Why It Comes Up: Babies require a lot of attention and effort. For new parents, showering and personal maintenance falls by the wayside.
Advice For Ending It: Communicate in a healthy way and be sure to request and not shame. “You can make requests, such as asking your partner to see a therapist, for example, or make requests to your partner about showering if they haven’t showered in a couple of days,” Anderson said. It’s all about voicing clear, helpful genuine concern from a place of love.
The Fight: The House Is a Mess!
Why It Comes Up: Babies — surprise, surprise — need attention and effort. That eats into how much time and energy you have to do dishes and scrub floors.
Advice For Ending It: Healthy communication is key here. Anderson cautioned against attacking your partner for a perceived failure to clean won’t get you anywhere and instead says to find a middle ground that works for you both in terms of who is responsible for what and what kind of mess is acceptable.
The Fight: No Son of Mine Will Play with a Girly Toy
Why It Comes Up: A dad wants his son to conform to gender roles and play with toy toolboxes and trains. But the kid might like cooking and mom thinks it’s fine.
Advice For Ending It: Remember who the toys are for. “The toys are for the kids, let the kids decide whether they like it or not,” Anderson said
The Fight: Why Do You Get to Sleep So Much More Than Me?
Why It Comes Up: Babies will keep parents up all night no matter what. But if a breastfeeding moms rears dad snoring, resentment builds
Advice For Ending It: Draw a schedule that allots equal burden and responsibility between parents. And make sure to create that schedule during the day. “Acknowledge you both need rest and work out a schedule ahead of time,” Bergeron said. And ahead of time means during the day. Discussions at 2 a.m. are a recipe for disaster.
The Fight: Why Can’t I Find the Baby Gear I Need?
Why It Comes Up: You’re tired and there are dozens of unfamiliar baby items of which you need to keep track. Your spouse is on edge and feels like they need a specific thing right now.
Advice For Ending It: Making sure there’s a place for everything and that everything is in its place can help make sure the fight ends before it starts. “Have designated locations for baby gear,” Bergeron said.
The Fight: How Could you Lose The Pacifier?
Why It Comes Up: Babies are unforgiving about their stuff. Even if it’s something they seem to not be able to live without, they’ll inevitably throw them away, drop them or otherwise make it disappear. And when it’s suddenly missing, the baby cries and parents snipe.
Advice For Ending It: If the baby likes it, double down. Bergeron says having more than one of baby’s favorite things on hand can be a lifesaver. “Get multiples of high use items like pacifiers,” she said. “Amazon is your friend here.”
The Fight: A Nervous Mom Doesn’t Trust Dad and Does Everything Herself
Why It Comes Up: When anxious, demanding people have kids, their anxiety reaches a fever pitch and they need to assert control by doing everything themselves. They end up exhausted and resentful of their partner, who feels shortchanged for not being trusted as a parent.
Advice For Ending It: The nervous parent needs to let go and let the other parent take over, and be patient if they don’t do everything perfectly at first. “You’ll reap the benefits over time,” Bergeron said. “Discouraging participation because something isn’t done to your standards backfires.”
The Fight: The In-Laws are Constantly Underfoot
Why It Comes Up: New parents find it impossible to turn down free help. But they’re trying to raise a baby, not live out an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.
Advice For Ending It: Bergeron recommends insisted on short visits where relatives are out of the house as much as possible, particularly in the early months. Consider your wife’s needs: While she’s nursing, she’s probably hesitant to host your parents for a weekend.
The Fight: Why Aren’t We Having Sex?
Why It Comes Up: Women go through drastic physical and emotional changes during pregnancy and childbirth and sex often tumbles down their list of priorities. Men’s bodies and priorities, meanwhile, largely stay the same.
Advice For Ending It: You gotta be patient, man. “Physical recovery after birth can often take time,” Bergeron said. “Many new moms have zero desire to be touched after having another person on their body all day long.” Bergeron advises giving her as much time as she needs. “Find other ways to connect — in and out of the bedroom,” she said.
The Fight: The Baby is Ruining Our Relationship
Why It Comes Up: Becoming a parent changes you dramatically but your needs and expectations for a partner will largely remain. You want to feel connected to your spouse but when you’re caring for a baby, it’s hard to make maintaining that emotional connection a priority.
Advice For Ending It: You don’t have to talk about your feelings but you do have to express them. “Look each other in the eyes and find out what’s going on in each other’s worlds,” Bergeron said. “Massages, cuddling, hugging — all are ways of connecting physically when exhaustion is ever present.”
The Fight: We Spent How Much Money?
Why It Comes Up: Kids are expensive. If you’ve never had one, the cost of diapers alone will render you speechless.
Advice For Ending It: Figure out your priorities and remember that babies aren’t brand-conscious or averse to used items. “They don’t know or care about brands,” Bergeron said. “Try to cut corners by accepting hand-me-downs from parents with older kids. Discuss when certain purchases are particularly meaningful and compromise when necessary.”
The Fight: When One Spouse Thinks Raising the Baby Isn’t Work
Why It Comes Up: Being a new parent means dealing with sharply rising expenses and, since America doesn’t have paid parental leave, can entail a steep drop in income. If one spouse isn’t bringing money into the formerly, the working one can grow resentful.
Advice For Ending It: Remember that housework is work. And it’s far from easy. “Staying at home with a baby is definitely work — with no meal breaks, time for chats over coffee, or even a chance to use the bathroom,” Bergeron said. “Missing out on adult interaction all day when charged with caring for a baby can take a toll.”
The Fight: Holding on to Pre-Parent Hobbies
Why It Comes Up: Parenthood requires people to change and sacrifice but sometimes one parent isn’t ready and problems arise.
Advice For Ending It: You don’t have to change everything about yourself but you’ve got to get your priorities straight. “You don’t want your 40 year old spouse to still act like they’re 20,” Anderson said. “When you have children, you should change. Kids bring a new perspective to life and a new perspective to yourself and you look at your spouse differently, seeing them interact with your children and that’s good.”