We all know the phrase “The good, the bad and the ugly.” When looking at the heading of this blog, it’s sometimes difficult to decide how to categorize each of these components – “The baby, the kids, our marriage and time”. Family life is indeed one of those scenarios where the total is bigger than the sum of the parts. Except when it comes to time, in which case the total doesn’t nearly provide in the requirements of the individual parts!
You sadly do not realize it at the time, but the early years of your marriage truly are amongst the best days of your lives. It officially started on your romantic wedding day where, very much in love, you promised to have and to hold each other through good times and bad. Oh and don’t you miss those times – just the two of you setting up a home, having time to exercise, watch TV together, make (and actually eat) dinner together, go to bed whenever you wanted, sleep through the night, wake up after 06h00 am, have holidays relaxing on the beach, spending all your time and money on yourselves and each other, and finally deciding to extend your love by starting a family (except it seems that you missed the footnote that said ‘terms and conditions apply’).
Make no mistake, for most couples a pregnancy and new baby will become the blessing that overshadows most others. So much excitement! Finding out the sex of the baby, telling all your friends and family, planning a baby room, having a baby shower, deciding on a name, doing all your shopping… And finally, when that little being enters the world, you find out that it is possible to love someone so much that you will give up anything and everything for the good of that person.
But in the middle of all the Hallmark hearts and unicorns lies a realization that hits fairly soon after the baby’s arrival – the fact that no one ever told you (and even if they did you wouldn’t have been able to comprehend) how much this baby was going to change your life. You are suddenly hit by a responsibility that just never goes away.
My wife and I have been married for 10 years, with Phillip now 4 and Lana 2 years old. My wife is the oldest of three daughters and both of her sisters now also have a child . Samuel is 1 year old and Cara 3 months. I recently again realized how much one’s life changes after not only the first child, but again to an even bigger extend after the second. Make no mistake: having children is tough! You only appreciate all your mother did for you when you have kids (note to self – make this Mother’s Day count!).
Today I’m actually writing this blog to ask you how that third component in our heading is faring – how is your marriage?
Why do I ask this?
As mentioned, your life changes drastically when you have a baby. In a marriage, this means finding a whole new equilibrium. Take two people living relatively selfishly, and add a third little being who is completely self-centered and who demands time and attention every moment of every day. I do agree that mothers bear the brunt of these demands. While a dad can still to a degree loosen himself, a mom can’t go anywhere or do anything without the responsibility of the baby. Next in the queue stands me, the husband! Throw in some sleep deprivation, sick babies, demanding office hours, traffic, mothers-in-law and worst of all, the guilt feelings because it seems that you are not always sharing the rest of the world’s enjoyment of their itty bitty little loves on Facebook, and it is no surprise to me that marriage goes from an entity that basically maintained itself to something tough and challenging and not always enjoyable.
I realized again this past week that my wife will always be my partner, whereas our kids will grow older and one day leave our house. That is when “empty nest syndrome” kick in, often leaving couples with not much to say to each other. Sadly it is in this time that many marriages unravel. I believe this starts happening long before we see the symptoms.
As couples we can so easily live under one roof and participate in the same activities without actually having much to do with each other. When the kids take their afternoon naps, we sort some admin. While dad is having bath time with the kids, mommy is making dinner. At the table it is a fight to get the little ones to eat and once they finally pass out we are tired and can’t wait to get to bed. A day can easily go by without spending any time with your partner, and what should be a few minutes of your day that you both cherish and look forward to becomes just an opportunity to sort a few practical issues.
In the end we need to prioritize so that we get time for what is most important. Ensuring quality time with your life partner after having children becomes a conscious choice and a task that you need to plan for. Here are my tips as a husband:
- Don’t eat your dinner in front of the TV. Sit at the dining table and have a conversation about the day, with our without the kids.
- I am of the strong opinion that running a house is both the husband and wife’s responsibilities. Take turns to make dinner, bath the kids, taking them to school, do grocery shopping, etc. Overloading one person will lead to resentment and exhaustion, to the detriment of the relationship. And I am the first to admit that we as husbands are mostly the guilty parties.
- Take a date night at least once a month. Having quality undivided time with each other is crucial.
- Do not avoid difficult conversations! We are human beings and we all have feelings and emotions. Some people like to bottle-up their emotions and some likes to spill all of it. As a couple make sure you understand your partners’ needs, feelings and emotions. One tool I can highly recommend to help you understand and utilize this is Gallup’s Strengthfinder.
- Once the children are slightly older, try to go away for a weekend alone with your partner every 6 months. Live like you did in the early days!
- And finally, you are now a family, so spend time together as a family! Have a picnic, play some fun games or just go for a walk together.
The biggest gift you can give your children is a happy home with parents who love each other. This will lay a solid foundation on which they can build their own adult lives and relationships. In the end, your children will leave your house with the building blocks that you provided, and you and your wife will be alone together again. The quality of your marriage then all depends on the quality of your marriage today. And the quality of your marriage today is in your own hands.
I want to leave you with this amazing video I saw on Facebook.