10+ Things We Did (and Do) to Save Our "Marriage" During the Early Years of ParentingSelena Mills
And by marriage, I mean common-law relationship. Minor technicalities aside, we have what many paper marriages have. A partnership built on love, trust, respect, kindness, commitment, and family.
Don’t be all shocked and surprised by my little revelation either! A staggering amount of parents with newborns, babies and toddlers, especially when they duplicate one right after other, go through hard times during the first years. Those complex, tender, wild, sleepless, greedy, draining, magnificent 1st years of parenting and being a couple as parents.
Modern parenthood and the roles of mothers and fathers both at home and in the workplace have changed drastically in the last half-century. While roles may be increasingly “reversed,” a report from the Pew Research Center recently revealed that, 56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance the responsibilities of juggling work, family and all of the responsibilities that fall in between. Parents are stressed out, which I suppose isn’t a big newsflash or all that unique to this generation of parents.
Statistics aside, each relationship has its own individual story of challenge to tell, and ours? Well, it nearly didn’t make it. Why am I sharing this in a public sphere? Because A: my partner is comfortable with me sharing some of our story and B: I felt like a failure when we were in the thick of it. With so much gyrating happiness on the web, in media and advertising bursting with the images and messages of blissful marriages and happy, picture-perfect little families, I felt bereft. Also? I wasn’t buying it. There were a few writers that I admire who were telling it like it was for them and their relationships. Reality-based nuggets of wisdom, for all of its grime and luster. Those candid accounts, those raw and at times darkly humorous passages of just how bad things can get when you’re in love, with little babies and toddlers and struggling everyday to not loose the plot; all of that sort of “over-sharing” gave me great comfort. It was relieving, in fact. I identified with them and felt less shame. Less like I had to hide what was really going on behind closed doors, because I’ve never been one to put on airs. Yet there I was doing it.
To know that there are in fact other parents, other lovers, and other marriages out there that flail and struggle should always should be a part of what we’re selling to each other about marriage during the early years of parenting. Call it community, call it inspiration. I consider personal storytelling, even the uncomfortable bits, to be cathartic and regenerative. I’ve found solace in realizing there were more like us. Relationships that nearly kicked it before our tots reached childhood age. I know there are others out there like me; after all, statistics don’t lie. (Do they? Ah… such forms of critical thinking are for another post, another day.)
Some may disagree with me and say that the first years of parenting made their relationship even more fulfilled than it was before. So, to be clear, my experiences and thoughts are for those who aren’t in a haze of marital bliss. This is for those of you who can acknowledge that parenting has taken a toll on your relationship. For those of you who have this person in your lives that you love more than you thought you’d ever know to be true, yet you can’t deny the distance. The growing wedge. The increased raising of voices. Kindness creeping out and resentment crawling in. The power struggle. The everyday, overwhelming exhaustion and stress. S’alright. You’ve got this. You’re cool. Near “normal” in fact. Just remember to keep your eye on the prize and know that it’s really not the kids, it’s you. It’s your relationship.
Click through to discover some of the techniques, methods and everyday changes we made to Save Our “Marriage.” Still together, slightly scathed, still working on it… but totally in love, committed to each other and our children now more than ever.
From Us To You? 1 of 11
It's been a long time since I've been this revealing with the Babble readers...
1. Get Real & Get Help 2 of 11
It shouldn't take a huge blow-out to end all blow-outs before you think about marriage counseling. I'm a firm believer that seeking out and engaging in therapy (traditional or "unconventional"), is a sign of strength, not weakness. The old adage of not "airing one's dirty laundry" is damaging to the brain and heart; guilt and shame inducing. It stagnates. We see a doctor when we're sick, why wouldn't we hold seeing a therapist when we need one in the same high regard? The mister and I have been in couples therapy for a while now and we have no plans on quitting. We're able to say the really difficult things to one another with a third party there that we couldn't get into on our own. Sometimes you arrive at a place in your relationship where you've built up the walls so high that everything comes as a judgment, everything gets heard or misinterpreted far from what the communicator meant.
A good counselor will tell each of you the things you can't hear from the other without getting angry in a safe zone. They can give you new tools for communication and have you dig deep in fessing up to what you may need to work on to get your relationship back on track. Egos are often left at the door, perhaps not during the first visit but a few in? If you really love each other all that crap drops by the wayside and you earnestly get to the hard, honest work at hand. We love our therapist. The key is in finding a good one. I want to bake her cookies and give her all the prizes.
2. Re-evaluate Your Responsibilities 3 of 11
How much do you have on the go? Did you have a demanding career before having babies? Did both of you? We did. And it wasn't the first year that set us off into a tail-spin either. It was the second year, with the birth of our 2nd baby when our 1st was 18-months-old that things quickly spun out of control. If you're the type of person who thinks they need to do it all (=me, well at least that's what I used to think); keeping a spotless house, home-cooked meals every night of the week, volunteering with a non-for-profit organization, having a full-on career with something on the side and taking care of a newborn or a newborn and a toddler without childcare? Recipe for disaster. (In my humble opinion.)
While we quickly realized that childcare for our toddler was totally necessary, some damage had been done. We took out our stresses out on each-other, as couples do. They say you hurt the ones that you love the most and as cheesy as that analogy is, it's true. Often it sneaks in and before you know it you can't remember the last time you had sex, you're bloody exhausted and the kindness with which you used to speak to each-other has diminished. Ultimately we had to make hard decisions regarding our careers and we didn't do it all at once either, the most recent of which only happened very recently. We now currently have ONE vocation each, do no volunteer work, and have learned how to budget a bit better so that we can occasionally hire a cleaning lady or a baby-sitter for a date night. Which brings me to the next point…
3. No Really, Spend Alone Time Together 4 of 11
I don't care how you do it or what mental blocks you need to hurdle about being some sort of martyr who doesn't go on date-night until your babies are toddlers or however old. Entertain the notion of going on vacation sans kids. I know! Game changing, I tell you. We did this last February, shortly after we entered into couples therapy and no it wasn't the honeymoon that you might think it was. It was quiet, tentative, restorative, and peaceful.
We were ginger with one another and had some real time to focus on just enjoying one another's company again. Now? Now we make a point of having one date night a week. This doesn't mean hiring a sitter every week either. Sometimes we have a late lunch or an app to tide us over the dinner hour and serve the kids their eats saving ours for after they are in bed. AMAZING. Light some candles, do something romantic even if it feels forced, you'll get there.
4. On Sex 5 of 11
I mean, this was obviously next right? Listen, I know many of us mamas aren't feelin' it right after giving birth. That isn't what I'm talking about. It's the really long-stretches of time that you let pass wherein you don't even miss making love (or desire it) with your partner that you should worry about. Don't create a drought, however unintentional. Go through the motions if you have to. (I know completely unconventional advice, it worked for us.) Even if you can't see it, trust is often a major contributing factor to how much you may or may not want to get it on with your partner. The one whom you used to think was sexy as all get out may look less so if you constantly have to nag them about whatever it is that's driving you bonkers that they do or don't do. It works the opposite way too. Ain't no one I know who thinks being nagged on as sexy. Trev and I take little moments to make eye contact, brush a cheek, pat a bum, give a soft kiss, or a kind word frequently throughout the day.
Now for something a little less "conventional," but since I'm being honest and since this particular little pastime has done some wonders for us, I shan't leave you in the dark about it. Long-time married friends of ours suggested sexting. That's right. No, not like teenagers, with some class and pizazz. Nothing full-on either, just a little flirting and borderline "naughty" visual sharing. Don't knock it 'til you try it. So much fun! The alone time together and apart as well as rediscovering how to be romantic that I'll also be talking about are all instrumental in getting your mutually rewarding groove back.
5. Stop The Power Struggle 6 of 11
It's not worth it! Personally, much of our power struggle stems from a conflict in parenting methods, ideals, and methods of discipline. The frustrating thing is that we're not that far off from each other and we often are on the same page. 6 months ago? We didn't know that. We were engaged in a full on war of wills. This can be delicate stuff. Much of how we parent comes from how we were parented, the good the bad and the ugly. At the core of that is being able to drop your ego and acknowledge the baggage or less-than-healthy things that you could be bringing from your childhood into your own style of parenting. It's not just survivors of childhood abuse who have to consider this. It's all of us.
We all have a responsibility to our children to do the best we can with what we've got. I had to reach down deep and evaluate all of the things that I loved about my partner's parenting skills. Much of his techniques are ones that I concur with, it's the stuff that I don't agree with is where it gets tricky. I have to be careful not undermine him (especially in front of the kids), while at the same time not be a pushover. It's a delicate dance; finding some middle ground. Always will be. I am conscious of showing and vocalizing to my partner that I'm on his team (authentically, not with lip service), and that I'm there to back up his decisions. If I have an issue with something, I try and save it for later after the kids are in bed. He does this too. So much goodness comes from this. Tempers have a chance to cool off, we have time to mull over our thoughts and feelings to express them with as much kindness and understanding as we feel inside for each other. Sometimes I feel completely different about it later and don't even address it. This would be called picking one's battles and many a successful marriage will testify to the importance of this key technique. Accept your partner for who they are and stop trying to change them into something they are not.
6. Let Go a Little More Without Losing Yourself In The Process 7 of 11
Taking care of toddlers/babies is demanding. They need huge amounts of care and attention. Don't lose yourself in the process. The resentment will build, you will start to compare how much your partner does or doesn't do, how much they may or may not be contributing to the care of the house and the kids. I've learned to accept that I'm a neat freak and like a tidier/cleaner home than my partner is concerned about. So if I want it the way I want it, it's up to me to keep it that way... or let go a little bit, right?
At the same time, my partner has worked really hard on contributing more around the house in a consistent manner as an attempt to avoid fighting over the same old things. The time had to come where there wasn't such an intense, negative focus over the division of labour with the home and with the care of the kids.
7. No Really, Spend Time By Yourself Or With Your Friends 8 of 11
The kids will be alright. While I totally understand how difficult it can be to make time alone together as a couple, never mind yourself, you can't lose the plot on this. Specifically speaking to the mamas out there (cause I'm not a dude, therefore I won't speak on behalf of y'all, mmk?) after we have kids we go through an identity shift, am I right? The longevity of your marital relationship depends on how much you respect and care for yourself, trust me on that.
The top 3 things that I won't give up and make time for no matter what, are: going to yoga a few times a week, a monthly girls night out, and a massage every couple of months. I do other little things like choosing to pick up a book over reaching for the remote. (I read way more pre-kids and TV was starting to turn into my #1 mode of exhausted escapism.)
8. It Takes a Village 9 of 11
Find your support system. Sometimes this doesn't even necessarily mean your direct or extended family (in my case, not my partner's). For us, we have a close-knit group of friends and family that we gather with regularly. An extended group of aunties and uncles to our children. We each have very specific friendships that we can go to for extra counsel with our relationship and parenting woes.
9. Expect The Unexpected 10 of 11
Not much will ever turn out the way you expected or perhaps even idealized about. Nothing about raising babies and toddlers into childhood is predictable and that constant unknowingness can send a super organized person into a complete identity crisis. The more that Trevor and I learn to roll with the punches and take a minute to connect as a team, as opposed to shutting down and being annoyed by the way that the other deals with things, the more we find ourselves back into the place we started from.
A deeply connected couple who respects, adores and accepts one another flaws and all. Oh, and we know each other's flaws. Like no one else does. That sort of stuff can suck a bit of the magic and sparkle out of a long-term partnership. It's been up to us to keep the other intrigued and the home fires burning. A favourite technique that we fall back on (if you can even call it a technique) is doing some of the wild and crazy types of things BC (before children). Take for example the fools in the above picture. We spend more time on one another's Halloween costumes than our kids' and always make plans to go to a wilder party than what might be considered "appropriate," staying out till the wee hours of the morning doing all sorts of debaucherous (and I don't mean consuming alcohol) things.
10. Let Love Reign Supreme 11 of 11
Yup, cheese. La fromage. But it's true. Whenever I'm particularly steamed I ask myself to look at the bigger picture. That's right, I talk to myself. Not in the mirror or anything, so Sybil I'm not. For me, the bigger picture is that as frustrated as I may be in that moment, this life is what I've always wanted. The dude who's annoying the crap out of me at the moment is pretty much amazing for all of his faults and he loves and accepts me for all of mine. This helps cool my feistiness down a bit and centers me back to communicating with more kindness, less fire. Trev and I, we're no high school or college sweethearts. We came together a little later on in life, with quite a dating record each to speak of. We owe it each other and our darling, demanding children to make it work; cause I'm pretty sure we're it for each other.
Parenting, keeping a family and a marital relationship together (happily), are the hardest things I'll ever do and the best things I've ever done and will continue to do. I can honestly say that some things do get easier with time and practice. As our eldest rears the end of toddlerhood we find ourselves getting more of our groove back. We look at each other a lot with huge grins on our faces, and bug out our eyes at each-other as if to say, "Holy sh*t, we made it through this round. THAT was a f*cking trip!"
More Babbles From Selena…
- The Red Door Series: An Instagram Collection of My Adorable Toddlers
- Flo The Comic: Conversations With a 3 Year Old
- The Essential Tip To Resovling Toddler Sibling Conflicts
- 24 of My Favourite Memories With The Kids This Summer
- Playing With Food: 7 Cute & Creative After-School Snack Ideas For Toddlers
- The Fun Dinnertime Activity That Gets My Toddlers To Eat
- The Most Incredibly Condescending, Sexist and Problematic Article Ever
- 10 Tips For Raising Healthy Eaters
Elsewhere on the internets…
Via her humble beginnings, mastering in general mayhem: le petit rêve
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