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Reality Check: Tag Team Parenting

Q. My husband and I loved being a couple before we had our baby; now we often feel like a parenting tag team. How can we stay close to each other and the baby?

Being a happy couple is part of being good parents; the two aren't mutually exclusive. The reason it may seem as if they are is that the learning curve of parenthood is steep right now -- so steep that nearly every other aspect of your identity fades into the background for a time. For some couples, it's six months; for others, it's a year or two.

But even while you're in the throes of new parenthood, you can carve out moments (and I mean moments) to remind you of the fact that you're a couple as well as a couple of parents. Every day, or at least every week, be a little selfless and a little selfish. This won't come out anywhere near fifty-fifty -- more like eighty-twenty or ninety-ten, in favor of your baby. Being a little selfish might mean that after spending all day and part of the night caring for your child, you get to take a hot bath. So invite your husband to sit on the edge of the tub to talk while you soak. If your baby won't fall asleep without you, bring your husband into the snuggle too.

Tag-team parenting is efficient, but doing things together counts for a lot. When Madeline, our 10-year-old, was a baby, my husband and I used to take her out on evening stroller walks. While she gurgled to passing strangers, we got to review our day. Long car drives, with a sleeping child in the back, were precious opportunities for conversation.

Of course, hiring a sitter and going out for dinner can have a powerful restorative effect on a relationship. But so can a morning hug, the offer of a bedtime back massage, or a mug of coffee handed to your spouse. These gestures and others nurture your inner couple, cost no money and next to nothing in effort, but pay off in spades now and in the future.