I recently read an interesting article called “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage.” It’s true that in my personal experience parenting is harder than marriage. I was a bit blindsided by the adjustment of children. But do they really kill the marriage if we let them?
People hinted that the first year of marriage would be hard, but Josh and I didn’t find it particularly difficult. Our lives meshed well and we were compatible roommates and lovers. The testing didn’t come until the first child came.
People said that children would be tough…but this time they were right! People also said it would be the greatest thing ever. They were right too!
But how does becoming a parent affect the existing marriage? Whether parenting is difficult or amazing or both, it changes you and your spouse.
There is a shift of focus when you have children. It goes from focusing on your spouse’s needs to focusing primarily on the child’s needs….and small kids can have a lot of needs! This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it could be difficult if you’re blindsided by it like I was. It’s a natural progression. I look back on me and Josh’s first years of marriage and when we were dating. Those years were special because it was just us! We were able to fully focus on each other and dream. Things are different now – they’re actually a lot deeper, but those first years were fun!
When the focus shift happens, it’s important to not fall into the trap of letting your child become your whole world. A fellow blogger Phylicia writes a great article on this and pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter. Yes they are awesome and you love them indescribably! However, it’s not healthy for you, your child, or your spouse to become completely absorbed. There’s an intricate balancing act to learn. When both parents are totally focused on the children and neglect one another, there will be nothing left of the marriage when the kids grow up and move out. Make an effort to keep that connection alive throughout the parenting years. We all have many life roles. “Mother” is one of my roles now. But it is just one of them. I’m also a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, an employee, a coworker, a writer, a runner, a documentarian, an artist, a child of God. What are your roles, and how will you preserve them in parenthood?
I probably couldn’t have told you until I had babies that acts of service was one of my main love languages. My love for Josh reached a whole new level when I saw him become a father. He lays down his life everyday for me. He shows me incredible love indirectly by baby-wearing every weekend so I can sleep in, and reading books to Malachi so I can cook or go for a run. You don’t truly know the quality of someone’s character until they’re bouncing a baby in the middle of the night without complaint. It stretches Josh, I’m sure. I try to serve him the same way. There’s endless opportunities to show one another love through daily acts of service. For us this powerful love language was untapped before! It has definitely drawn us closer together.
Adding a new family member adds new stress, for which it helps to be prepared. Lack of sleep, raging postpartum hormones, and a crying baby are enough to push almost anyone to their edge. Josh and I never really got on each other’s nerves until we had Malachi. The situation really brings out the best and the worst of ourselves. Recognize that this is normal and doesn’t mean your spouse is horrible and your marriage will fall apart. Babies are a very new, stressful, adjustment at first and it doesn’t help that everyone else just oohs and ahh’s over them rather than asking how your emotions and your relationship is doing. Be patient with one another. Give lots of grace. Forgive one another for things said in tired frustration. With time a new rhythm will emerge and your family will learn to function smoothly.
Alone time can take a backseat during the small-child rearing years, especially the first year after baby is born. This isn’t something we need to hide or sugar-coat. There are lots of nights when sleep is more appealing than intimacy. Have reasonable expectations. Josh and I talk about this a lot. As long as we’re on the same page and communicating, we know the other doesn’t feel neglected. Sometimes we’re so busy with the kids, guests, and potlucks, we honestly don’t have time to miss each other! We make it a point to check in with each other, and make alone time a priority at least once a week. However, it all goes back to thinking long-term. Our main expectation is lower now and we’re okay with that because we realize it’s only a season. Our kids will have phases when they need us 24/7 and they’ll have phases when they’re independent. There will be plenty of time later on for date nights every weekend and uninterrupted one-on-one communication every night. Right now this is our reality and we’re fully embracing it.
Not all intimacy is from being together. I feel incredible freedom and trust when I’m not with Josh all the time. I feel supported when he stays home with the kids, allowing me to work part-time and get out of the house. It might sound counter-intuitive, but I find that getting away from my hubby and kids periodically gives me a chance to miss and appreciate them. It’s easier to notice the sweet smiles of my children and the integrity of my husband when I take a step back and look in like an outside observer – without a toddler clinging to my leg and a baby crying to be held. This goes for both spouses. Exercise trust with one another and give each other chances to briefly escape the daily duties and rekindle that appreciation. These breaks not only refresh the spouse getting the break, but they also help me and Josh appreciate each other’s unique contributions when we’re together as a family!
Another huge thing that brings us together is making long-term goals. Kids are a commitment. Josh and I are completely committed not just to one another, but to raising our kids together. We sow seeds in their lives everyday that we want to see through to fruition. It’s difficult sometimes. We won’t see the profit of investments like discipline and education right away, but we’re going to stick it out and celebrate every victory along the way.
Parenting can be monotonous and feel unfulfilling at times. But you don’t change the world in a day. You can create a family mission statement and work toward it everyday inch by inch. Ours is summed up in these words: Simplicity, Generosity, Hospitality, leading to Community.
It’s not one big life-altering thing, but a hundred little choices everyday that hopefully add up to our family vision. One of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” By having a vision for where we want our life to go, Josh and I are able to focus on our family, but also on how we fit into the larger picture of God’s plan. We’re excited to grow old together and see our long-term visions come true.
This is totally our experience and I can’t speak for everyone. Challenges, stressors, and life changes like having kids have the potential to affect marriages for good or for bad. We don’t have to fear this. Everyday I’m given chances to choose love or to choose selfishness. When I choose selfishness my relationship suffers – that’s what has the potential to kill the marriage. But when I choose love my relationship is enriched.
Becoming a parent isn’t a death sentence for marriage. It has the potential to allow you to grow and serve your spouse in ways you never could before. For Josh and me, parenthood has changed us, but in powerful and positive ways. It has changed who we are as individuals, and who we are as a couple. But we are more than our children. Our identity is not completely wrapped up in them. Our relationship is why our children are here! And our relationship is what will remain when our children are grown and moved away. The change of focus and the building of life-long goals together has brought us closer than ever before!