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The portion of your paychecks that used to fund concerts and funky new earrings will now be going to diapers, day care and the college fund.
When money is tight, the smallest purchasing decision can become a battle, especially if only one of you is working.
“When you go from being equals to one of you staying home, there’s an unspoken dynamic that money is power,” O’Neill says. “It’s very subtle and hits couples hard. It takes work to find a new rhythm in your marriage.”
Have a Pre-Baby Budget Summit
Crunch numbers to figure out how your new expenses, everything from diapers to life insurance, will affect your budget, then negotiate what you’re going to cut. Understand how your spending habits and attitudes differ, because these differences will be amplified big time.
Spend Less on Frills
“For some women, planning the nursery is like planning the wedding all over again,” O’Neill says. Be practical. Go with a seasoned friend to Target or Babies “R” Us and have her point out which items are must-haves and what’s fluff. “Use your baby shower wisely,” O’Neill advises. “Encourage friends to get together for big-ticket items, and steer away from the cute little outfits.” They’re expensive and quickly outgrown. This approach should leave you with money for an occasional date night.
Plan to form a Parents Club
If you click with other parents-to-be at your child-safety class or breastfeeding seminar, get their e-mail addresses. You’ll feel less stressed and bored if you visit each other when you’re all in the throes of new parenthood. “A parenting club is a much less expensive way to get some time out of the home than hiring a babysitter,” Tessina says. “And as your kids grow up, you have this automatic playgroup.”
Caring for an infant is such an all-consuming task that in your “free time,” you’re lucky to make it to the supermarket. Doing something purely for yourself can feel like an outrageous indulgence. But when you deny yourself or your partner R & R, you’re likely to start resenting each other.
Pick the one Activity Critical to your Sanity or Identity
And make it happen. “Hand in your martyr badge,” O’Neill says. “Assert yourself, and say, ‘This is what I need.’ ” Set the schedule in writing, and make sure it’s equitable so your partner gets the same opportunities.
Lower your Expectations
Three-hour bike rides aren’t going to happen. For the first three months, you’re both going to be treading water, not living. “In the middle of month three, you can start reclaiming some of your own life,” O’Neill says. Still, don’t try to relive the past. “It’s over,” O’Neill says. “Surrender to the chaos and wonder of parenthood, and embrace it wholeheartedly.
Save this list!
What if, despite your best intentions, your relationship becomes a never-ending snarkfest? Put the following tips into action, says psychologist Tina Tessina, Ph.D.:
1. Ask for specific changes in behavior rather than make sweeping character indictments. Instead of, “You never do anything around here,” try saying, “Please buy more baby wipes when you notice we’re getting low.”
2. Apologize ASAP after a nasty zinger or false accusation.
3. Don’t try to mind read. Instead, ask, “How do you feel?”
4. Paraphrase what your partner says. For instance: “You’re angry because you think I don’t watch the baby enough on weekends. Is that right?”
5. Limit your statements to two or three sentences, and give your partner a chance to respond.
6. Avoid going tit for tat. Instead of, “You think I left the kitchen a mess? You left it worse yesterday,” focus on how you can solve the problem.
7. Hold hands and look at each other, hard as this may be in the middle of a fight.
8. Let go of the past, and solve one problem at a time.
9. Take a 20-minute break if a fight becomes too heated.
10. Finish with, “Is there anything else we need to discuss?”