7 Ways to Manage Quarantine Life with Your Partner (and a Newborn)

It’s been an interesting two months of living the isolationist lifestyle at home with my husband. The first was my ninth month of pregnancy. The second was our first month of life with a newborn. To top it off, my husband, who works as a sound engineer for Broadway musicals, has watched his entire industry take an indefinite hiatus.

This probably seems like a recipe for severe marital stress and disaster. But here we are — 60 days in — and so far, nobody has gotten hurt. And since both of us had time to shower and eat breakfast this morning (and it’s only 7 a.m.), I thought I’d share some of the tips we’ve stumbled upon to help us get here.

Resetting Our Operating Mode

To compensate for these losses, we’ve attempted to create a new version of normal for ourselves in at-home quarantine mode with a newborn. This transition has been easier said than done, and it’s involved a lot of communication, empathy, and new at-home behaviors for both of us. Here’s what we’ve come up with:

7 Ways We’re Managing Quarantine Life with a Newborn

#1: Look at it like a video game.

In one sense, we lucked out: Our baby arrived after a month we got used to stepping all over each other at home. By then, we’d already established some semblance of a new routine that included mask-wearing, grocery shopping, and respecting each other’s personal space. When we added a new human to the mix, we needed to keep doing all of that, plus a little more — essentially “leveling up” our skills incrementally. By looking at it as a game, rather than a debilitating set of circumstances, it’s helped our frame of mind stay happy and healthy along the way.

#2: Be explicit about each other’s goals.

When we understand each other’s goals, then we can work together to make them happen. One note: These don’t need to be lofty goals. In fact, it’s almost better if they aren’t. (It makes them more achievable.) In our case, he might want time to go for a run, or I might just want to take a shower. It’s been an incredible mood lift when we each accomplish just one basic thing for ourselves.

#3: Troubleshoot problems like a technician.

I’ve learned to adopt this same approach when dealing with things on the home front. Everything from crying babies to dirty dishes in the sink can be isolated as its own form of troubleshooting. By reminding ourselves to decouple the emotional reaction (ie: “If he leaves dirty dishes in the sink one more time, I’m going to kill him!”) from the problem-solving process (“Hey, what reminders can we set for ourselves to remember to empty the dishwasher?”), we’ve been able to move toward solutions (“How about every night before we go to bed, we turn on the dishwasher?”). It’s also a great way to remember that we’re part of the same team.

#4: Check in at the end of each day.

After a catastrophic meltdown happened the first time, I asked my husband to debrief with me at the end of the day and talk it over. Now, we’ve been doing this every day, and it’s been a great way to reset. After dinner, we ask each other, “How did things go today?” While this can sometimes be a time to vent a little (“I spent all morning trying to get this baby to nap — and she just refused!”), they have been most helpful when we make decisions about what to change for the next day. Since implementing these check-ins, we’ve already created a few new at-home policies that really help to ease the tension, such as shortening how long we spend cooking so we can spend more time together, and creating a way for me to let him know when it’s a “bad nap day” for our baby so he can give me an hour-long reprieve in the afternoon.

To start each day, we ask each other: “What would you like to accomplish today? After dinner, we ask, “How did things go today?”

#5: Make weekends stand out from weekdays.

With a quick, 10-minute brainstorm, we came up with a bunch of new ideas that we’ve already put in place. To be clear, none of these are monumental or game-changing. We decided for instance that, on weekends, my husband doesn’t spend time in “work mode” during the days, that we do at least one activity all together, and that we watch movies vs. our regular TV programming. We also decided to seek out one new cultural activity to participate in each week — from browsing a museum online to listening in on a symphony performance. Again, we’re going easy on ourselves here: Our first “cultural” activity was watching the 10 all-time most watched YouTube videos.

#6: Acknowledge each other’s shifting roles.

When I notice my husband is in “work mode,” I try to respect that by not interrupting incessantly when he’s at his computer. If he has a work question, I answer it like I might address a colleague. But when he’s on a break — even though he might be sitting in the exact same place — then we pick back up on our couple’s banter. One other thing that’s gone a long way for both of us has been to acknowledge things we appreciate, such as when the other helps take out the trash or clear out the fridge.

#7: Find ways to add a little levity.

So, in the weeks leading up to our baby’s birth, we each wrote down dozens of shared jokes, stories, and fun memories together on little scraps of paper, then mixed them up and tossed them into a jar in our living room. This “emergency memory jar” has been a game-changer. Whenever one of us is feeling really down, the other person can essentially “pause” the insanity by reaching into the jar and reading one of the random memories. Does this change the fact that our baby has morphed into a red-faced, angry “Jack Jack mode” (see: The Incredibles) caricature of herself? Absolutely not. But it gives us a second to think back to something happy, to breathe, and to remember that we’re in this as a team. Sometimes that’s all it takes to reset in that moment.

With two months down (and likely many more to go), we’ll keep iterating on this new at-home operating mode. But I hope some of these ground rules inspire you and your partners, families, roommates, and even pets to make the most of the quarantine times.

Originally published at Dry Erase.

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC