Is there marriage after children? How can we survive? How can we thrive?
Marriage is a pretty amazing institution.
Two people fall in love.
Add commitment and a ceremony and viola! We have a family.
It starts with two who have committed their lives and time to each other, hoping to grow old together and to build a life.
After the obligatory puppy or dog (or in our case, a goat), the idea of having children begins to permeate the room, and eventually (for some sooner, and for some, later) children come on the scene. And life will never be the same again for either one of you. You have brought a person into the world, or adopted a baby into your family, and everything looks different, including your wife.
Sleepless nights, short tempers, and stress become everyday occurrences. You begin to wonder if anything will ever get back to normal.
You begin to wonder if normal ever really existed!
If you have an infant, and you are a new father, you feel pushed away, useless, neglected. The baby doesn’t really want you. Your wife doesn’t really want you.
You are a third wheel.
And will you ever have sex again?
When will she stop nursing so you can have privacy? Maybe you feel like you didn’t sign up for this. Kids ride tricycles and play baseball. They don’t intrude on the marriage relationship…
Or do they?
Children Change Things
WEB MD states that “Marital satisfaction takes a dive once the baby arrives”;
In a NY Times article Novelist and screenwriter Nora Ephron once wrote, “When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was.” And that’s a fact.
According to the US census 2000, released in 2004, the average number of children per family in the United States is near 2. So, if you are a U.S. citizen, you will likely repeat the process and have a second child, which in turn will increase stress, distraction, and pressure exponentially.
For you now have not one, but two helpless beings, to care for. One is perfectly helpless (the infant), the other is perfectly helpless and incredibly dangerous (the toddler). And so goes the cycle of life.
So we have babies.
In addition we have jobs. We have finances. We have clubs and friends. There’s the gym. The church. We have extended family (outside of Arkansas). We may have school. And we have neighbors.
The list goes on and on!
It can be overwhelming to navigate all of these and still maintain that marriage that we used to have. Somewhere in the recesses of all of this busyness is a marriage.
Remember? … Two people in love!?
A Surviving Marriage Strategy
So, how do we survive and how do we thrive as a married couple in all of this? Note that survival is not necessarily thriving.
There are a couple of things that we can do to survive…
These simple things may make life easier…
They may enable you to keep a semblance of a schedule…
They will afford you more time and hopefully more energy!
We know how important these things are to folks in Northwest Arkansas and Ft. Smith! Here are some tips for you:
*One is to keep an early bedtime for the children so that you have time together every evening.
My mother in law would pull the shades down at 6PM and tell the kids it was dark out and bedtime every night so she could keep her sanity. Early bedtime gives the children enough rest, encourages them to get themselves to sleep, and gives Mom and Dad some free time.
*Sharing household chores also helps.
This helps Mom, even a stay at home Mom, to feel appreciated and supported. It doesn’t take much. Maybe doing dishes or folding a load of wash, or hanging shirts.
*Sharing Kid chores!
After a long day with children or at work, Mom needs a break also. In our home my husband, Mike, bathed the kids at night. That gave me about 45 minutes where there were very few demands on my time, and the house was relatively quiet because they were in the bathroom!
*Parenting needs to be intentional.
Most people are not intentional about how they will parent. They are intentional about their values and their hopes and dreams. But few actually decide before they have children, or at the early stages of parenting, how they will handle parenting. So, the first child is a grand experiment and those parenting challenges become bones of contention between the parents rather than challenges that they face together.
We argue about the kids. I recommend that you read a parenting book together. I recommend a book called No Drama Discipline by Dan Seigel and Tina Payne Bryson. They emphasize relationship and attachment.
If that doesn’t attract you, read something, or at least develop a plan together: How will we discipline? Will we spank? Should we use time out? Will we yell?
Being intentional together keeps parents on the same team, and gives the child a sense of consistency, which means security.
But parenting is not your first priority…
Your marriage trumps everything else!
Set your relationship as a priority and you will not only survive but you will thrive. Marriage is the lynch pin upon which the family turns. If you picture your family life in a circle most people put the children in the middle and Mom and Dad revolve around the kids.
I propose that the parents be in the center and the rest of the family revolve around them. The marriage relationship is central to a healthy family.
The way the marriage goes, the family will follow. So, if there is a decision to be made this always has to come into play.
This is the basis of a thriving marriage.
Fresh Roots: We Care About Marriage
Now, let’s talk about how to tend the marriage.
Of course, we at Fresh Roots have a passion for marriage and families, so the easiest thing to do is to talk to us about this process of navigating these topics, but here are some tips you can use today!
I use the Acronym: TACS…
Each of us has 24 hours in a day. With the demands that our culture puts on us, it seems that 24 hours isn’t enough.
In order to tend a marriage we need to devote time to each other.
I like to think of time in moments, for it is often the moments that either draw us together or pull us apart. In each moment we have the opportunity to connect or ignore or disconnect.
So, take moments seriously.
If you have children, these moments can be precious. 15 minutes after work in the bedroom, waking up at 3 AM and laughing together, getting a sitter and going out together.
We live with so many distractions: cell phones, IPad, IPod, earphones, televisions, work, work calls, busy schedules. In the midst of all we need to be mindful to pay attention to each other. Eye contact is beginning to be a lost art.
When was the last time you actually looked into your spouse’s eyes for a few seconds? When have you paused to listen intently?
Our days are made up of moments and our moments are made up of thousands of small bids for connection. A bid for connection is a tiny fishhook of an effort sent from me to you, asking for attention, for a moment of your undivided attention. Many of these bids for connection go unnoticed or ignored. If we were to notice and respond, I believe we would find ourselves more connected and more satisfied.
Most of us want to be noticed.
When I see couples one of the most common complaints is that their spouse doesn’t notice them, doesn’t appreciate their efforts, doesn’t take time to pause and attend to them, whether it is a brief smile, a kiss, a touch on the shoulder…We long for attention from the ones we love.
Most of us stay in reactive mode with our spouses and do not dive any deeper. Most of us want to meet at a deeper level. We want to be vulnerable and have that vulnerability appreciated and reciprocated.
So, how do we do that?
We need to listen and pause, and just be there with and for each other. Those of us who want to “fix” things need to stay quiet and just be there. There’s plenty of time for fixing later.
Remember to communicate what you are really saying and feeling.
And remember to listen.
This is an area that seems to suffer the most after children and throughout the lifespan of a marriage. And it is an area that many people don’t really want to talk about, with each other or with anyone else. But it is vital to the health and well-being of our marriages.
There are so many factors that come into play in regards to sex in marriage.
One factor is exhaustion, especially for women.
Women who have children have incredible demands that don’t stop at 5 PM. Sex does not seem to fit in at the end of a long day. This is where we need to be creative.
To the men, I say, try not to take this personally. To the ladies I say, your guy will turn off and give up quicker that you think.
One thing men are sensitive to is rejection, especially sexually. So, remember, you’re on the same team, Two in love. Be creative. Dishes can wait. Kids can watch TV. Grandparents can babysit. Make your sex life a priority. If you have a date night, drop the kids at the sitter and have sex first.
Another factor is busyness. There is so much in our schedules.
So, why not schedule sex?
We schedule meals, and baseball, and meetings and church…why not sex? Designate an evening or a morning or an afternoon. Make it important. For many of us sex is an “add on”…at the end of a long day…a remote possibility…if we have time and energy…But put it in perspective. This is a lifeline for our marriage.
So, practice TACS, and make your marriage your highest priority!
Get on the road to a satisfying marriage!
If you have more questions about this topic or others, set up an appointment with one of our marriage and family counselors today!