One of my Facebook mom friends is tons of fun. She sings karaoke with her college friends, she heads to the shore every summer weekend, and she goes apple-picking in the fall. Her kids mug for the camera at dim sum parties. Her husband is handsome and apparently always game for a beach trip. I tell myself that everyone posts only their happiest photos on Facebook, the moments that cast their lives in the most positive light. But it was when I saw the picture of her in Vegas, playing high-stakes poker with Michael Phelps, that I realized that she and her husband are, truly, having a lot more fun than we are.
Contrast her life with our own (undocumented on Facebook) day-to-day life: We’re woken by the sounds of a toddler screaming for the stuffed stingray he’s tossed out of his crib. The boys refuse breakfast until one minute before departure time and then declare ravenous hunger, making them late for school and me late for work. Later in the afternoon, one of us picks up the kids and conducts an anxious mental survey of the fridge—which is usually full of nearly rotting food—and cobbles together a kind of lame dinner. I lift an enormous toddler in and out of the tub while he pummels me with a bath bucket. We oversee toothbrushing and prayers, clean up the kitchen and collapse into bed. There are wonderful moments in there, sure—my kids, like everyone’s, are adorable, charming and delicious—but I wouldn’t say it’s a ton of fun.
A mom friend of mine described a date night she recently had with her husband: They sipped cocktails at a rooftop restaurant while watching the sun set. Then they rented bikes and rode along the river to have dinner at another restaurant. They rode back, returned the bikes and headed home. “It was fun,” she said, when she told me about it. “We haven’t done anything new and out of the ordinary like that in years.”
This got me thinking: How much fun do I have with my husband? We’re like the principals of a small corporation: We each have tasks we have to complete to keep the business running smoothly, and we give daily reports to each other on our progress. Sure, the kids are happy and healthy, we pay the rent, and everything’s mostly fine. But the fun we had together, pre-kids, isn’t really part of our relationship right now. For one, every chunk of time we spend together is time we’re not spending with the boys, and we feel guilty enough about the babysitting schedule. For another, there’s the expense. But the third and most important reason is that there’s always something to do that seems more pressing than “having fun”: get a flu shot, go school shopping, start the taxes. It’s hard to turn off that mental conveyer belt of tasks and just enjoy ourselves the way we used to.
But lately I’ve been thinking we have to, for the sake of our relationship (and thus for the sake of our kids). When you choose a partner, you look for shared values, intelligence, a sense of humor. These are the building blocks of a relationship. But the mortar of a relationship is fun. A marriage just doesn’t hold together without fun.
Like my bike-riding friend, I suspect that too much time has passed since my husband and I have done anything playful. It’s been a while since we’ve laughed uncontrollably, or even, really, tried anything new. Raising children forces you to play a conservative game: You’re always thinking ahead to the next meal, the next size onesie, the next sinkful of dishes to wash. But if you don’t hit the pause button once in a while and try to remember why you liked your husband in the first place, well, then you’re just coworkers, running your efficient little business. And that’s no way to live.
So, okay! One more thing to add to the to-do list: Research fun things to do with husband. No, just kidding. I already know what to do: Drink cocktails on the roof of a restaurant, ride bikes, eat dinner. We may finish up with a poker game in Vegas.