This interview with my husband is a continuation of the series we began in October 2020. This time we are discussing on our transition to parenthood over the past year with the birth of our son (“Bub”) this past January. Transcript has been edited for content and clarity.
So to begin, we have an almost nine-month-old. Can you believe it has already been almost nine months since Bub was born?
That’s crazy… it both feels like so much shorter and so much longer at the same time. It feels like very recently we were bringing him home from the hospital, and he was just a tiny little baby. But it also feels like we have had him forever.
I can relate for sure. I want to avoid getting too intellectual with this, so let’s start really concrete: Describe a good day with Bub and what makes it a good day.
I think the reason I have a hard time answering that is because good days come in a lot of shapes and sizes—in general, but especially with him—and it is not something I can always predict. It is heavily dependent on his mood, his preferences, the weather: for example, if it is really hot I would avoid going on a walk with him, whereas if it were just me by myself the weather would not impact my plans as much. There are so many more factors I have to take into consideration. Even if it is just a few hours, I have to be responsive rather than go in with a plan. So what makes a good day with him, or just a good time, is any day when I can figure out his needs and wants and preferences and respond to them.
And at the same time, in the midst of all of that, also remember how lucky I am to have him. That’s what makes a good day, regardless of what we do. There are a lot of things I like doing with him, and those would often occur on a good day with him—going for a walk with him, watching him play, reading him a book, feeding him a meal—but those are not themselves, on their own, what makes it a good day.
How do you maintain that posture of responsiveness to and gratitude for him? What helps you to do that?
I feel predisposed to gratefulness; I am often reminded how lucky we are just looking at him… Seeing what he is doing, seeing his joy when he is with us.
But he is not always joyful. Sometimes he is fussy, sometimes he is having a tough time. You do a good job of modeling appreciation for him, and I learn from that example. But a big part of our relationship is helping each other respond to challenges; I see it as an opportunity when you need help with him.
An opportunity to be closer to me, or an opportunity to be closer to him?
Both. Stepping in or taking over if you are overwhelmed means he and I get to hang out, but it also shows you I am there for you. Paying attention to you and being grateful for you helps reinforce my attentiveness and gratefulness for him.
That makes sense.
That is at least one dimension of it. There is probably more.
What did you expect to be hard, that has been easier—or at least more manageable—than you expected?
I do not think I knew what was going to be hard…
Were you not worried?
I was worried but it was a very general worry. I was afraid of the unknown. I think I was worried about losing free time, and that has been an adjustment, absolutely. I am having to learn a very different relationship with my free time than I had before, that is unavoidable. In some ways I have substantially less free time, we both do; and the time that can be free time, even that has to take him into account, in that we need to negotiate it with one another or find someone else to watch him. But it has been good in a lot of ways: learning to work my own enjoyment, recreation, relaxation etc. around him, and you and your needs, has made me use the free time better. I am more attentive. I used free time unthinkingly in the past, now I need be more intentional. That has been an unexpected benefit.
What did you think would be easy that has ended up unexpectedly hard or complicated?
One thing that has surprised me and been challenging is how quickly he changes, especially in this early time. I will get into a rhythm that seems to be working for us, and then he will completely change. He will decide “I am not sleeping at this time anymore” or “I can’t sleep through TV any more”—that one was a big change… A lot of the challenges have had to do with sleep.
What he finds entertaining has changed, too. When he was very little, I could set him down and he would be contented for a long time lying on his play gym or a mat, just looking around. Now he will last five or ten minute and then become bored. Having to constantly adjust has been a challenge. I knew all this in theory but none of it really sunk in until he showed up. Theory and practice are very different, no more so than in parenting.
In terms of our relationship, I knew—because you alerted me to this—that staying connected and staying attentive to each other would be hard. And even though I knew that it would be hard, it was harder than I expected. Finding ways to spend time together intentionally—like taking walks, going out to dinner, having nice dinners at home—has helped with that. Also relying on the help of family.
Relying on external help was intuitive and essential—especially early on while I was recovering from the birth. Speaking of which, we are very lucky in terms of a lot of the resources we have as parents. Which of those resources, material or emotional, stand out to you as particularly notable or valuable?
The support of family has been amazing. They have been there for us consistently over the months, and their help has all been indispensable. For me, having the opportunity to work from home [because of COVID-19] has been really helpful; it means I get to be around and see him during the day, and help you, too.
We are super lucky that way. We also hired extrafamilial childcare, which neither of us had growing up, but I have really come to value.
That is true, we have a nanny, and that has worked out really well.
We also buy time in various other ways, like housekeeping or ordering out. I remember the first morning back from the hospital and we were lying in bed, I was still so weak I could barely move. I was wondering how we were going to get from point A to point B that day, and you suggested we order breakfast burritos, and that suggestion was like a miracle. I felt the biggest sigh of relief knowing that you did not expect me to cook or expect us to push through in some way.
Really? I am glad that was the right call.
Yes, that was a watershed moment, those breakfast burritos.
Lots of people do not have the money to order out or hire a nanny, but also lots of people do not have family who are willing and able to help them out. All these are signs of privilege.
That is definitely true, and it colors every aspect of our experience. We have a lot of options that are not available to many people. That being said, even though help is available, seeking it is not automatic for me. Parenthood has been a learning experience for me in ceding control—to let things go, to ask for help, to hope for help, to know we could not do this alone, or know how hard it would be if we tried.
Last one: How has my being a therapist made our experience of parenthood unique?
Probably how much we talk about our experience. This is not the first time you have asked many of these questions, and I think having occasion to reflect so much on our experience has been unique and helpful. A lot of what I have been saying in this conversation relates back to attentiveness and gratitude, and the opportunities to reflect help me to do that more and better—they are not just theoretically interesting, they are practical as well.
A good endorsement for marrying a therapist… Or maybe just having a therapist.
Janine Joly-DeMars, MS, LCMFT, provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office and virtually to those located in the State of Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Janine!