The Kids Are Alright -- But What About The Marriages?

by Robin Enan
Vasyl Dolmatov / Getty

I’m not sure when it happened, but I’ve entered a new stage of parenting – the one where adult relationships are starting to fall apart.

If marriages are trilogies, this stage would be Book 2, after the weddings and first babies, but well before the kids are out there in the world in any truly independent way. In Book 2, you and your partner are getting enough sleep to see problems clearly, either old ones you managed to ignore when you had screaming babies to deal with, or new ones that were quite possibly triggered by those screaming babies. But while you see the problems, you’re both still too exhausted and stretched thin to give them the attention they really need to get better.

I recently returned from a weekend away with a dozen close girlfriends who are now scattered around the country. Most of us have kids in the early years of school – out of diapers and able to feed and dress themselves (kind of), but still a full-time job. When this group of moms has seen one another or spoken by phone in recent years, talk has naturally turned to topics like infertility, sleep training, childcare decisions, or what to do when your kid keeps biting everyone at the park. There was always so much to cover, and never enough time.

But on this trip, something was different. For the most part, everyone’s kids are doing fine. I don’t mean they’re all angels and we have things all figured out. Far from it. But we’ve found a groove as moms, and settled into some routines that work more often than they don’t.

What began to come out instead was the strain early parenthood has placed on our marriages — something I’m starting to see among my local friends as well. Not all of my friends’ marriages have survived and some are in the thick of a major upheaval. There is a collective nod of understanding when someone brings up feelings of guilt or sadness that at the end of a day in the trenches of motherhood, there is so little energy and emotional bandwidth left over for our spouses.

My travel companions and I didn’t manage to solve these problems during our getaway; we really only scratched the surface. But hearing about them was a wake-up call for me about two things. First, my husband deserves to know I cherish him and that I’ll fight to keep our bond from dissolving before we make it through the final book of our trilogy.

Second, when I talk to my mom friends, both near and far, I need to ask about more than just the kids. There is another relationship in my friends’ lives that is just as crucial and, at times, just as difficult to navigate.