Today is my husband’s birthday. Since he’s more than 700 miles away right now at a work conference, and I am at home with our children, celebrating will look a bit different this year than birthday celebrations of years past. Gone are the days of long, candlelit dinners and hot, spontaneous sex. These are the days of early morning texts and singing “Happy Birthday” over voicemail. Our long-distance, almost nonexistent birthday celebration is just a sign of the season of life we are in, I suppose — a season that is familiar for many parents with young kids.
In fact, just this week, Mel Watts of the blog The Modern Mumma wrote about the changing face of marriage after kids on Facebook, and the Internet has been nodding its head in collective agreement ever since.
“Husband. Wife. Roommates?” her post begins. “If someone told me years ago that my relationship would one day change, I would have laughed and said no way.”
Then she continues on with raw, candid honesty:
“He was snoring his busy week away and I was wide awake thinking of all the things we used to do. How different we use to be. I was mad at him for changing. I was mad at myself for changing. It is no one’s fault. It’s just a moment in our life where I can say — it’s not all roses and handcuffs.”
She goes on to list all the ways their relationship has changed — and man, are they relatable:
“The long date nights have gone. The sleep-ins are non existent. The surprise weekends away, we can no longer afford them. The long hot showers, are now lukewarm and we’re tag teaming kids in between. The late nights are now laying there silently with our backs to each other hoping the other one will get up for the crying baby. The text messages that use to read about how much they love you and why. Now they’re more likely ‘Babes got my period, get pads – wings. Don’t forget the bloody wings. Hazelnut magnums, not the minis that means I have to eat three, I’d rather just eat two big ones. And whatever you and the kids want for dinner. Can’t cook dying.’”
There was a time in my own 16+ year relationship with my husband when birthdays and anniversaries were cause for celebration. At least I think that they used to be, because honestly, since having kids nearly 10 years ago, married life looks a whole lot different than it used to. Not just on the celebration days, but on all the days.
A few years ago, I was talking to a married woman who didn’t have children. She made an off-handed, casual comment about how she planned to prioritize romance in her marriage, and to always keep things hot. Huh. I might have looked at her like she had two heads, I’m not sure. But I found myself thinking, Things change, you’ll see.
While time itself gives rise to changes in a marriage, children are often the biggest culprit. And Watts’ post nails that sentiment perfectly:
“Children are hard work. They do put a damper on things. Some people may be able to keep their shit together but some people, like us, we find it hard to balance. The children have become the number one priority and at some point we need to learn to put our relationship towards the top of that priority list. I think in time it will become that way again. You have to make it past these difficult times to get there. It’s not that its even difficult, its just different. And sometimes different is really hard. Things have changed.”
Yes, things definitely change. But that’s okay. Heck, change is a good thing. Because, honestly, spontaneous sex on a lazy Saturday morning is easy; quickies in the shower while the kids watch Saturday morning cartoons takes dedication. And somehow, a spouse can become even more attractive after you’ve seen them birth a human being or clean up vomit in the middle of the night. There are also few things more precious than the stolen moments, inside jokes, and secrets shared that are hard-earned memories of a life built and shared together.
The trouble is, so many of us think that something is wrong when the marriage changes, when days are rough, and life gets gritty. But Watts’ post is proof-positive that people are hungry to change the narrative about what it means to have a strong, happy, and healthy marriage after children.
“Surely there are other people out there who feel the same?” she writes. “Is the romance dead? No. It’s very much alive but it also has another 3 humans involved it’s not as easy anymore. Do I think he deserves more? Of course I do. He deserves the world when at this moment all I can give him is a hairy, cranky wife.”
Our spouses do deserve the world, and our marriages certainly deserve attention. But maybe instead of focusing on all that has hard changes after kids enter the picture, maybe we could focus on all of the changes that add to the quality of the relationship. As Watts writes, “Once you stop comparing yourselves to your old selves it becomes easier. Once you talk to each other about it you understand you’re both feeling the same way. Of course it’s worrying and of course its scary. No one likes change, and no one expects change. But just like everything else in life — relationships change.”
Relationships do change. And thank goodness for that. Because despite the fact that making time for each other and our marriage is harder than before, I can honestly say that I love my husband more than I ever did, that I find him even more attractive than ever, and that he is still my absolutely favorite person to be with – even though I don’t get to be with him as much as I would like to, including sometimes on birthdays.
So to my husband: Happy birthday, honey, from your hairy and cranky wife.