Editor’s note: Her Collective is opening its doors to questions from all women. It can be about relationships, trauma, love, life, motherhood and more. You can remain anonymous, of course. We promise not to reveal your information.
For our first Ask Her column, clinical psychologist Dr Lissa Johnson – who specialises in therapy, treatment, and counselling for individuals, couples and families – answers one woman’s question that is all too familiar to all of us…
I have three young kids including a toddler. Between work and the kids and life in general there is hardly enough time to sleep, let alone time to connect with my partner. My self esteem is at an all time low as I haven’t invested in myself for a loooong time and my mojo has gone AWOL. My husband and I are drifting apart because I have been putting my needs, and his, well and truly last. How do we get back to where we were before kids?
There would be few women alive with small children who could not relate to this on many, if not all, levels. Young children need round-the-clock sensitivity, attention, and physical and emotional care. There is no getting around the fact that this can be consuming and exhausting.
While understandable, seeking to recapture your life as it was before kids is a losing battle, and can end up exacerbating rather than relieving your stress. Riding the wild waves of change that come with parenthood, rather than swimming against them, will get you further in the end.
Through that process, you can nevertheless recapture closeness with your partner and an investment in yourself. What is most important is the spirit rather than the letter of how you relate to one another and yourself.
While ‘me-time’ and date nights can be wonderful, if they become yet another item on your to-do list that squeezes your time, during which you berate each other or yourself, they are likely to backfire.
To create a spirit of intimacy and care, focus on collaborating with your partner over the amazing and unpredictable adventure of parenthood, sharing the highs and lows, confiding your frustrations and longings, and navigating them as a team. Express your yearning for more time together in an appreciative rather than accusing way. Assume that there are things you don’t know about your partner and seek to find out. What is he struggling with? What are his fears, dreams, disappointments, hopes? What kind of family are you seeking to create together?
Have the same internal conversations with yourself, keeping an ear out for ways to begin attending to your own needs.
Look for little opportunities within your busy life to enact this spirit of collaboration and mutual care, as often as you can. Trust that as your kids grow up, these windows of opportunity will gradually expand.
As you go, bear in mind that, after love, the two most powerful contributors to children’s long term prosperity and wellbeing are parents managing their own stress, and the quality of the couple bond. A tidy house, ideal diet, enviable routine, cute clothes, fabulous parties, etc. all matter very little, if at all, compared to these three things.
If you are one of the many women shouldering more than your fair share of domestic and parental responsibilities, feeling crushed by the weight of that, and your most loving collaborative efforts to address this with your partner fall flat, couples counselling is worth considering. The earlier you get in with this, the more likely you are to turn your problems into vehicles for greater intimacy, connection and personal growth. All of which will be fantastic for your kids.