Monday, March 25, 2013

Marriage After Baby

I mentioned this in my 30th birthday post, but marriage with young children is hard.

Ben and I especially struggled in the weeks and months after Will was born. Navigating new parenthood is disorienting enough. But add on a colicky newborn and post-partum depression, and we had a lot of stress in our house for the first 6 months year of Will's life.

I used to feel so isolated because NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THE HARD STUFF. Being a mother is incredibly rewarding. I love my child with all my heart and soul. But parenthood isn't all sunshine and roses. And it took a toll on our relationship.

I tried opening up about our struggles. But everyone else's marriage was "stronger" and "better" and "OMG, so much more meaningful" after kids. Yet Ben and I were getting divorced at 3:00 AM when the baby was up for the fourth time in five hours and neither of us had slept in over a week. I seriously thought we were the only couple this was happening to.

So I found this column honest and spot on. While reading, I was actually nodding my head and chuckling in agreement. I literally could have written this myself, so here's my augmented commentary:
  1. Affirmative: Sex and wine fix almost anything.
  2. We spend many an evening with me on my MacBook and Ben on his iPad. But if we're sitting on the couch right next to each other, I consider this a win.
  3. I don't know how anyone raises kids without grandparents nearby. My in-laws live 20 minutes away and are always willing to pitch in. My own parents visit 1-2 times a month, which is a blast for Will and wonderful rest for Ben and I. Grandparents rule.
  4. For the love, pay your babysitters well. This is not the time to bargain shop. We usually pay $8-10/hour, depending on how old the sitter is.
  5. I also despise the term "date night". But do it. Regularly.
  6. We're really bad at this. But to make your marriage a priority, you have to see yourself as more than a parent. You have to be a partner first.
  7. We really try to limit screen time in our house, but sometimes Super Why is a freaking lifesaver.
  8. I'm better at going out with friends than going out with Ben (and visa versa). Partly because we don't have to arrange a sitter if one of us is home. But we really have to work on making more time for each other.
  9. We rock at making "someday" plans. When we go back to Italy, when we finally take that beach vacation, when we can afford to re-do the basement. Shared dreams and a vision for the future help keep us connected.
  10. Yes. For the love. Just shut the door.
  11. Ben and I check in with one another quite frequently throughout the day. Nothing too crazy, but it's always nice to touch base via phone call or text message, if even for a minute.
  12. I think it's important for us to sit down and eat dinner as a family, but this is a good reminder that we can occasionally eat after Will goes to bed and just be adults for a bit.
  13. I'm known for being crabby as hell when I'm hungry. Sometimes in the middle of the fight, Ben will ask me if I need a snack. More often than not, I do.
  14. Taking a breath and apologizing goes a long way. I read once that the least pissed person should take responsibility for de-escalating an argument. Usually, if one of us softens, so does the other. It makes resolving the issue so much easier.
  15. We literally had the kitchen counters fight last month. I think this woman is me in a parallel universe.
  16. Will's bedtime routine is sacred at our house. I know some people think we're way to rigid, but getting him to bed on his schedule makes everyone's night better. I desperately need those 2-3 hours of child-free time after he goes to sleep. It makes me a better mother and a better partner.
Things have gotten better for us as Will's gotten older. Partially because he's not so stressful anymore (colicky newborns are hell on a relationship), and partially because we're more confident in our roles as parents. Parenthood was so disorienting for us in those first weeks and months, our marriage had to take the back burner until we could figure out how to keep Will alive and thriving. Luckily, we're doing a pretty damn good job of it now.  :)

Our marriage is not as easy and care-free as our pre-child days, but we're definitely figuring out how to be married with children. Taking time to connect and reminding ourselves that we're partners (not just parents) has been essential.

Above all else, I think it's important to be mindful of your relationship and remember that it needs regular care and cultivation. What do you do to help sustain your relationship when you also have young children?

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