Carolyn Hax: For first-time parents, a short course in what to expect

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 4

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn!

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’m about to have a baby and wondered if you had thoughts on some things my husband and I should discuss before the baby comes. We want to be on the same page about parenting stuff before the chaos kicks in. Right now we are both clueless about what to discuss, neither of us having any baby/parenting experience.

Impending Parenthood

Oh my goodness, you’ve ordered a pot roast at a tapas bar. But, er, okay:


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Talk about the fact that you are both, simultaneously and almost unrelentingly, going to be too stressed or just plain tired for whatever it is you need to do at the moment (feed baby, change baby, bathe baby, persuade baby to sleep, make funny faces at baby, clean up house after Hurricane Baby, etc.). And, there will be no, “There! Done!” moment to propel you forward, because the next chore will pop right up at you like Pez. And it will be a while before your baby can give back in its little baby ways, like coos and smiles.

And so, both of you will spend a lot of time wishing the other would just take up some of the slack, possibly even resenting each other for not seeing how badly you need help.

If you’re doing this right, both of you will feel you’re giving all you’ve got — and recognizing that in the moment might be the single best thing you can do for your baby and for your marriage. Think of it as a sports cliche, because there’s little that can’t be condensed into an NFL broadcast staple: You both need to give 110 percent.

Not just that — you also need to notice and praise each other’s 110. Thanking each other is a way to bank marital goodwill that you will often need.

Keep this in mind, too: Every moment, good and bad, does pass, so it’s okay to focus during the worst ones just on staying afloat.

Congrats and good luck.

Re: Parenthood:

I think the biggie for those early days is feeding. If you’re nursing, decide in advance what he’s going to do. Will you handle nights alone all the time? Will he change diapers and get the baby for you? Will you all sleep in the same room, you and baby together in another? If you’re going with formula from the start, are you alternating night wakings? The rest of it, you can cover as it comes up. Really, just know who is doing what at 1, 2, 3 and 4 a.m. You don’t want to be ironing that out on the spot!

Anonymous 2

There will be some things better decided as they get to know their baby (and themselves as parents), but, yes, conversations do go better at 11 a.m. than they do at 1 a.m.

Re: Parenthood:

I find a great way to frame the conversation is to discuss how you were raised, what you want to emulate, and what you never want to do to your kids. This highlighted differences between me and my husband quickly, so we were able to discuss some of our differences.

Anonymous

Thank you — I stuck to the immediate challenges, but this is an intelligent start on the longer-term ones.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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