Two weeks after the honeymoon, my new husband cornered me outside the door of our condo and whispered in agony, “The kids never go away, do they?”
I looked at him with all the empathy a former single mother of two small children could muster and shook my head, “No, they are pretty much around ALL THE TIME. Better get used to it, babe.”
Adjusting To Parenthood
I really did feel sorry for my husband that day. It’s a big adjustment for a single (i.e. self-absorbed and not used to sharing) 38-year-old man to get married and instantaneously have two children. Within a year, I was pregnant and then there were three munchkins running around creating havoc.
But to his credit, my husband adjusted admirably and I have watched in both delight and trepidation as fatherhood has transformed my sweetie into a more loving, sacrificial and humble human being even though, by his own admission, it’s been excruciatingly painful at times. The truth is that kids affect even the best relationships because kids create stress. But it’s truly up to the couple to determine if the little stressors will be a blessing or a curse.
The Problem With Marriage: It Requires Attention
There is an antidote to the “grass is always greener” adage about relationships; it’s called “the grass is greener where the lawn is watered.” If you take care of your marriage along with your children, both will flourish, but if you neglect one for the other, the marriage will inevitably wither.
The biggest shocker when the stork arrives may be the overwhelming demands of children on one’s time, resources and sleep. While this may seem obvious, it’s still surprising how many people are baffled at what this actually entails. Sleep isn’t guaranteed, emotions become fragile due to lack of sleep, and sexual relations (also due to lack of sleep and post-partum recovery) generally take a nose dive during the toddler years.
Kids Or Marriage? Finding The Balance
There is an erroneous assumption all couples make as they stand at the altar and say “I do.” They believe their romance will stay the same throughout every day of their marriage. And it would, if they would continue to woo and romance each other for the rest of their days. But generally, couples who spend a great deal of time meeting each other’s emotional needs in the early years refocus all their love, time and attention on the children, leaving their marriage high and dry.
The husband (feeling neglected) starts working longer hours and the wife glares at her husband each evening as he arrives home late while simultaneously blowing kisses to the baby (her new love). Little junior replaces daddy’s spot on the bed next to mommy and the Internet becomes daddy’s new girlfriend now that he’s been booted to the sofa. Sound familiar?
In an age of child-centric parenting and skyrocketing divorce, many couples forget the best gift they can give their children is a strong and stable marriage. Kids need to know that their parents adore not only them, but each other as well. A child’s sense of security grows as they watch their parents display love, with all its imperfections, struggle and willingness to choke out an “I’m sorry” (even when we aren’t).
Invest In Your Marriage
Because I’ve been through a divorce, and don’t want another, there are certain non-negotiables in our marriage that we implemented right from the get-go.
My husband and I intentionally spend time alone catching up, usually over a long rambling walk where we air out both the good and bad. I make an effort to meet his sexual needs and he tries hard to emotionally connect with my complicated female heart. We vacation together without our children and remember who we are without the munchkins interrupting every 30 seconds. We affirm and admire each other and we go to counseling on a regular basis. We are honest with each other and try to always put our marriage first, even before the children. All of this requires time, effort and a hearty dose of unselfishness, but the return on that investment is a marriage that has lasted through teenagers, tragic loss, infertility and a major health crisis.
Marriage isn’t for the weak, and it’s no walk in the park once the children enter the picture, but I believe it’s a worthy endeavor. And if done well, marriage can be one of the best witnesses to a world desperately in need of something to believe in. Love at its core is radical, sacrificial and a choice made every day in the trenches of dirty diapers and temper tantrums.
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