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When we found out that we were expecting Emmy, I told myself that I was going to be prepared this time around. Bensen was born two and a half weeks early, right before finals, and I was prepared, but not as much as I would have liked to be. Emmy was due mid-October so I set myself a deadline of September 1st to have everything done. She was born eight weeks early, during the last week of August and of course, my best laid plans went kaphooey.
If and when we have a third, I've joked with Joe that I'm doing everything that we need to do during the first month of pregnancy so I have the upper hand no matter when the baby decides to come. But the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized what is actually important to do before our family grows and what can be done later. Decorating the baby's nursery would be great, but Emmy turns two this weekend and her room still has nothing on the walls and she doesn't mind.
Six Things to Do Together Before Baby Comes
Sort Through Baby Clothes
Bensen was born less than twelve hours after my last baby shower and Emmy arrived a lot earlier than we thought she would. When Bensen came, I had some outfits washed and ready for the hospital, but the majority of his clothes were still in a pile in his room. We had to go out and buy clothes special to fit Emmy after she was born, and her small size bought us a little time to sort through all of the clothes that were sitting in bags in her closet when we brought her home.
I remember when we got our first newborn outfit when I was pregnant with Bensen. I held it up for Joe to see, his eyes got huge and he asked, "Do they really come that small?" Go out for dinner one night or order in your favorite takeout. After dinner, turn on your favorite playlist and start going through baby clothes together. We sorted ours by size and season, hanging them in the closet accordingly. The clothes that we'd be using right away got washed and put away in the dresser. We also picked which outfit we wanted to bring our baby home from the hospital in and which they'd wear for newborn pictures.
It's nice to cross something off of your to do list while spending time together, talking about the future and dreaming about how your lives will change for the better once your baby arrives.
Read Parenting Books
Spend time reading parenting books together and discussing the things that you learn. Talk about your parenting ideals, the way that you want to raise your kids, and how you'll adjust your relationship to keep it strong as your family grows. It might be fun to create a sort of book club, sitting down to read the books together each night or reading them separately and planning a date to discuss them after you're done. I'm sure every single parent can relate to the feelings that Chris Traeger (Parks & Rec) has when he reads every parenting book in he can find in preparation to becoming a father. I thought I'd share a few of my favorite books to help you get started.
Parenting with Love and Logic - This is one of the very best parenting books out there. It was required reading for one of the classes that I took for my major and I fell in love with the concepts the minute I read it. I also found this version for parents of babies, toddlers and young kids that I read when Bensen was about 18 months old.
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child - This book was written by John Gottman, one of the most influential men in the field of family studies. It's really great and I related to a lot of the concepts taught in it.
And Baby Makes Three: The Six-Step Plan for Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives - This is another Gottman book. John Gottman and his wife are well known for their research in the field of romantic relationships. They are the experts and this book is filled with great tips and information for keeping a strong relationship after you've become parents!
Babyproofing Your Marriage - I haven't read this book personally yet, but I've heard a lot of great things about it!
At least once a week, usually on Saturday mornings, Joe asks, "When will our kids be old enough to get their own breakfast and turn on cartoons in the morning while we sleep in?" Even with kids who sleep well and have a fairly predictable schedule, we seem to be awake a lot earlier than we'd like on the days when we have no plans. I've always been a get up and get things done sort of person, but I wish that I'd slept in more before we had kids. And more than just sleeping late, I wish we'd stayed in bed and been lazy more often. Some Saturdays we'll bring the kids to our bed and turn on Netflix while they enjoy dry cereal and a cup of milk, but they usually end up climbing all over us, so it's not very relaxing.
Enjoy Date Nights Out
The one thing that we didn't take advantage of enough before we had kids was the freedom to get out together often and do something fun for date night. We spent too many date nights at home on the couch watching Netflix and eating takeout when we could have been out doing something exciting, even if it was a free activity. Going out on a date takes a lot more effort now, and even if we do something free, we have to budget for a babysitter, unless grandparents are willing to tend. We have a lot of fun with our at home date nights, but we miss being able to go on a late night walk whenever we want, or to sneak out for ice cream or dinner on a whim.
Budget for an elaborate date night or two each month until your baby is born. Then find excuses to get out together, whether it's just to the grocery store, on a walk around the neighborhood, or for a late night showing of a movie you've been wanting to see. Family date nights are a lot of fun, but the two of you need dedicated time alone together to do something fun. Click here for tips to make date night happen and creative ideas for date nights at home after the baby arrives.
Take a Trip Together
I see a lot of couples taking a babymoon together during the second trimester of pregnancy and I've always loved the idea. With our busy schedules and limited resources, we didn't make that a priority before we had our first baby. When we found out we were pregnant with our second, I knew that I wanted to plan some sort of romantic getaway, even though Joe had surprised me with a few nights away for my graduation just a few months before. We generally get away for our birthdays in October, and since that was when she was due, I knew we were going to miss it so I planned something early. Unfortunately, we found ourselves in labor and delivery the weekend before the surprise getaway I'd planned and I had to cancel those reservations from my hospital bed.
We've been getting away together multiple times a year ever since our second anniversary. Before we had kids, we'd plan at least three weekend getaways a year. Now we try to escape twice a year for one or two nights. Not every couple can leave their kids overnight while they're young, especially if you don't have family nearby to help you out. Plan a getaway for before your baby arrives. It can be a quick romantic stay at a local bed and breakfast, or a week long adventure exploring somewhere you've both always wanted to go.
Take a Prenatal Class
One thing that Joe and I never did before we became parents was take a prenatal class. I was deep into my degree when I was pregnant with Bensen and crammed 12 credits into the semester before I was due so I could get more done before becoming a mom. Joe was running his lawn care business and we were both busy with our full time jobs. Our schedules opposite each other and no matter what we did, we couldn't find a time to take a prenatal class at the hospital together. I always joked that if it were offered online, we'd be set.
If you're like we were and having a hard time committing to consecutive weeks of classes, I have good news for you! I recently found out about an online prenatal course for couples, put together and taught by a registered labor and delivery nurse! Hilary has been a labor and delivery nurse since 2001 and has taught prenatal courses in-person. When Hilary told me about her courses, I couldn't stop telling her what a great idea it was and how much I wish I'd known about them when we were pregnant with our kids. The good news is, you can take advantage of them now!
I highly suggest taking Hilary's Full Deluxe Prenatal Class for Couples. If you aren't sure which course would be the best fit for you, click here to check out all of the details and compare what is covered in each course.
We've been through two births now, each one different in many ways. Even though I've experienced childbirth, I plan to take Hilary's course the next time I'm pregnant because I want to be more prepared for all of the possible scenarios we might find ourselves in. I also hope to be a better team in the delivery room and after because of what she teaches from her place of expertise.
Bonus' for Parents Who Already Have Kids
Take a Small Trip as a Family
Just like you might take a romantic getaway, just the two of you, it would be fun to go on a small trip as a family. You could plan something big like Disneyland or a smaller scale staycation at a local hotel, doing fun activities nearby.
Don't Make Any Big Changes
We knew that we wanted to transition our toddler out of his crib sometime around when our baby was due. Making transitions like potty training, a new room, etc. too close to when your baby is due or too soon after can be too much change for other kids. We like to give enough time between each transition for our kids to adjust and also to save our own sanity while we're dealing with the struggles that those changes bring.
Get a Gift for the Kids
One of my favorite things every time my mom had a new baby was getting a gift "from the baby" when we went to the hospital to visit. Not only does it make older siblings feel happy, but I feel like it helps smooth that transition and helps the older kids see the new baby in a more positive light. Having an active toddler around with a new baby who needed a lot of attention, I also learned to have a lot of new books, activities and projects on hand for while I was nursing, pumping, or just needed a break.
Plan Alone Time
A month after we brought Emmy home from the hospital, I started to notice that Bensen was acting out to get my attention when I was distracted with the baby's needs. Being a preemie, Emmy needed a lot of my time and that was hard for my 16 month old to understand. I started planning monthly dates with him so that he'd feel special and know that I still loved him. One month we went to the local pumpkin patch and picked pumpkins, then decorated them later in the week while I was feeding the baby. Another month we went out for ice cream cones. The activities were simple and took place between feedings, but they meant the world to my toddler.
I also looked for little moments each day when I could focus completely on him. We went out to play in the snow every morning while baby sister was napping, read books together after his nap time, and I tried to sit down and talk to him while he was eating, even if I had a fussy baby in my arms while doing it.
The one thing I hope every couple remembers is that they're in this together and tackling parenting as a team. Don't wait until the baby is here to start being a team, start practicing beforehand. Preparing for your new baby together will make sure that you're on the same page with parenting. If your expectations for life after baby are clear beforehand, you can focus on loving your little one and loving each other more easily.
Photography by Sadie Banks Photography