I remember when I was about 9 months pregnant with my first child. My husband and I were lying in bed talking about how excited we were to meet our son. We had just switched off the TV, and the remote control was sitting there beside us. I joked that pretty soon the remote would be our son, and we’d be gazing at him as he lay between us.
And then I burst into tears. Part of it was that I was 9 months pregnant and a raging hormone machine. But I also realized that those nights of lying there together, just my husband and me, were about to be over — forever. Well, at least for the next 18 years.
My husband and I are high school sweethearts and married young. By the time we were expecting our first child, we had been together for 13 years, which seemed like a lifetime then. The idea of changing our dynamic frightened me to the core. Add to that the myth I’d heard since I was a little girl (probably about the time that my own parents divorced) that having kids wrecks marriages.
You’ve heard that myth too, haven’t you? It’s the myth that when a child enters the picture, the parents become so absorbed in child care — the sleepless nights, the relentless needs of their children, and all the stress attached to this — that they allow their marriage to fall by the wayside. Or, that the parent-child relationship begins to trump the marriage relationship and one or both parents become jealous.
This makes sense to some extent when you think about it. I know for sure that for some, having kids is the catalyst that breaks apart a marriage. Child care, especially in the early years, can be incredibly intensive, both physically and emotionally. It can drain parents’ resources and make them vulnerable to anxiety and depression. And yes, there are aspects of the parent-child bond that can trigger jealous feelings in a partner.
But here’s the thing they don’t tell you about marriage after kids: If you start out with a deep commitment and understanding of one another, and if you face parenthood as a team, having kids can actually make your marriage stronger.
I remember those nights when my first son just would not sleep. The exhaustion was taking its toll on both of us, and my husband and I would end up bickering about the dumbest things, like who put the expired milk back in the fridge — and let’s be honest, it would have been either of us, we were so sleep-deprived.
But then come 3 a.m., after my son had cried for hours and refused to nurse or sleep, my husband, exhausted to the bone, would get up to bounce him on the exercise ball. I would watch him through half-opened eyes, my heart skipping a million beats, thinking, How on earth did I get so lucky?
Obviously, things were not smoothed over this easily all the time. When my children were young, there were periods when they preferred me so intensely that my husband ended up feeling neglected. And sometimes life and work and kids give us both so much stress and rage that we spend days unable to get a word in with each other without blowing up.
But the reason our marriage has survived is that we make it a priority to talk about these things. Yes, often through gritted teeth and often with raised voices — at least at first.
But you talk it out, even when it hurts. And you listen, even when all you want to do is punch your partner in the nose.
Your mind is full of worries, and your whole marriage sometimes consists of the moments you bump into each other in the hallway on trips between folding laundry, finding lost sippy cups, and carrying sleeping children to bed.
But you do it. You show up. You find ways to connect. You do date night if you can — and sometimes date night consists of Netflix and a bottle of wine. You text each other naughty things or love notes in the middle of the day. You remember to say “thank you” for all the small, but meaningful tasks you each do every day for your kids.
And you trust. You trust that these years are the hardest, but also the most beautiful years of your marriage. You see that, yes, your bank account is depleted, and you have nothing left to give anyone else at the end of the day, but your house is full, your heart is full, and you know the hard stuff won’t be forever.
So you soldier on, falling down, but getting right back up. And you begin to see that these children who fill your arms aren’t breaking you. They are building you up. They are your greatest accomplishments.
Whether you see it or not, all the struggles that have come up since kids entered the picture have only brought you closer. Your trust has been tested, and so has your resilience. And you made it through, together.