So I’ve been a little MIA but fortunately it’s because I’ve been trying to find more of a balance with my family, my work and my health. Sometimes we lose sight of what’s really important in life and have to make changes. Nothing crazy happening here, just was feeling overwhelmed and decided to step back for a while and cut out the non-essentials.
In what must be related to my feelings of late, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about divorce. Whispers from people at the gym, blaring celebrity headlines and mentions of friends of friends’ marriages collapsing seem to be picking up in frequency, at least ’round these parts. In many of these failing relationships, there are children involved. I don’t want to imagine the hurt, anger and confusion that divorce wreaks upon the lives of everyone affected by a family torn apart. Not that it’s unheard of these days – we know that almost half of first marriages today end in divorce. I just have a difficult time listening to some of the reasons behind these family break-ups. It’s not because I can’t imagine these things ever happening, it’s because they seemed so preventable.
“She spent too much money.”
“He developed a pornography habit.”
“He wasn’t ready to be a Father.”
“She started falling for an old boyfriend she reconnected with on Facebook.”
“He wanted to go back to his party-boy days.”
“She completely changed once they had children and he hardly recognized her. Eventually, they grew apart.”
Before we had kids, I never understood what people meant when they said that marriage is hard work, but I totally get it now. Once you become a parent and your children are at the center of your lives, it is easy to neglect the “family before the family” – the happy couple that once was – the partnership, the friendship, the twosome.
Cory and I began dating when we were 19 and 20, respectively. We were married at 26 and had Ryan 4 years later. During our 10 years of exclusive coupledom, we were at the center of each other’s worlds. We shared the ins and outs of our respective jobs, discussed plans for the future, planned vacations, exercised together, did laundry together, split chores, watched our favorite shows, called to check in multiple times a day and basically just settled into being the adult version of “us”. It was a period of growth and change, but we grew and changed together. We didn’t know anything beyond Cory and Dani and that was good enough for us back then.
We knew that we would have children someday and above all else, I knew Cory would make an amazing Dad. Although planning our wedding was wonderful, I was never the little girl who dreamed of her wedding day. Instead, I was a little girl who dreamed of becoming a Mother. When my friends and I played House, I was perfectly happy playing the Mom while they all fought over who would be the baby.
Following Ryan’s arrival and my subsequent struggle with Postpartum Depression, I was forced to figure out a new normal. Cory went back to his job and his corporate identity, but my own identity was turned upside down and it was up to me to redefine myself. No longer working, I was now wearing my “Mom Hat” full time and I wasn’t sure how to be anything else. It wasn’t as if I had much time for anything aside from the little creature who was pretty much glued to me day and night. I realized for the first time that Cory-and-Dani-The-Couple also needed to be redefined. The twosome of the past was now a threesome. But we also realized that the home base, the steady ground of this family was planted before we had children and we needed to nurture that.
As the months passed and our lives settled into more of a routine, Cory and I made sure to watch our favorite shows together, enjoy dinner dates and take weekend trips alone while Ryan was in the care of one or both sets of our parents. We balanced our relationship as well as we could but of course there were times when one of us felt neglected, we weren’t connecting as well or we didn’t make enough time for each other. It was during those times that we spoke about our feelings and tried to figure out how to remedy the situation. I remember feeling overwhelmed at times, crying to Cory before we fell asleep about how I still didn’t feel normal even after 9 months had passed. It wasn’t really until Ryan was about 15 or 16 months old that I truly felt comfortable as a parent. I knew for my mental health that I needed to take off my “Mom Hat” once in a while and at that time we were fortunate enough to be able to hire someone to watch Ryan every Monday from 9-6 so I could do laundry, go food shopping, go to doctor’s appointments, take a nap, have lunch with a friend and basically anything I needed or wanted to do all by myself. It was heavenly and I really felt an internal balance and peace.
Adding a second child to the mix proved to be more of a challenge. Two people vying for our attention left less of it for ourselves and each other. I no longer had the luxury of a caregiver once a week and in the midst of trying to juggle the kids’ schedules, maintaining our house and our daily lives, I decided to start a business. At each stage in my life where I finally felt comfortable, I decided to complicate things by taking on something new. I started watching less TV and ceased to make phone calls. I stayed up until 3am working on my business because I didn’t want to take away from time with the kids. I started to fall behind on laundry, keeping the house organized and staying ahead of things like birthday presents, blog posts, doctor’s appointments and the like. The thought of Date Night just meant that my free time would be used for going out and I’d be falling behind on work. Maybe I took on too much but I wanted to handle it all.
Nurturing our relationship wasn’t even on the agenda. And that – my friends – is quite a dangerous way to run a family.
You see, I understand why people choose to give up on marriage, especially if there were doubts to begin with. People grow apart. Some choose to leave an abusive relationship. Technology makes connections easier but also causes distractions that enable people to stray from their marriages more easily. Some married too young. There are lots of reasons why marriages don’t work. It’s hard to know what forever means.
We didn’t have any doubts to begin with. Overall, we have grown together and made sure to voice our needs to each other, but there have also been rough periods that made me realize that marriage is something that needs attention, work and compromise to succeed.
I believe that people make choices in a marriage. Of course it is easy to daydream about some fictional life that you read about in a book or to compare something that a friend’s husband or wife did to that of your own partner. Deciding to be with one person for life is a choice, and not one to be taken lightly. Are people really prepared at 24, 25, 26 years old to choose a life partner? Is it realistic to believe that two people will maintain a partnership through the devastating experience of losing a child, dealing with illness, family infighting and/or serious financial peril? Even something as simple as choosing a different path than the one you started on, for example welcoming religion into your life or deciding to become a vegetarian?
I have never experienced a devastating loss to shake my marriage to the core so it may sound hypocritical, but I believe in marriage and I believe in our vows. I shudder to picture life if one of us G-d forbid becomes seriously ill and Cory or I have to become the other’s caretaker. I would surely curse the loss of normalcy, of what could have been, of experiences that we would no longer partake in… but I feel it would be a betrayal to the person I vowed to stand by through sickness and health. It reminds me of my blase attitude upon doing our will and choosing life insurance. Nobody ever really pictures needing either of these safeguards until old age, so we rarely think deeply about having to move forward should something happen to our spouse.
As much as I believe in marriage, I also believe in divorce. You only have one life, after all, so you might as well be with someone you enjoy being with and who respects and cares for you. There is also no room for violence, fear and abuse in a marriage. But I think that if some couples who hit their first rocky patch would go the extra mile to try to save their marriages, to put in the hard work, to accept help and therapy, they could save their families. I think as a society we are too quick to give up, to look elsewhere for validation and love and there are children whose lives are forever altered by the decisions of their parents. We consciously bring these children into the world, don’t we owe it to them to give their family everything we have?
Marriage is hard. Raising children is hard. I struggle daily to find a balance and some days I fail miserably. My husband has told me on numerous occasions that he felt neglected (most notably when I was getting my Masters and when I started the business). It took some soul-searching and difficult conversations to understand how the other felt. I can’t tell you why scheduling couple time for me isn’t as easy as making playdates, shuttling the kids to classes and doing errands. My husband is amazing and he definitely deserves more of my time.
We work seamlessly as parents – sharing chores, playing with the kids, making sure they are happy, but we are also trying to make more time for ourselves as a couple. I have been going to bed earlier so that I’m not always getting into bed hours after Cory has fallen asleep. We are trying to find a babysitter so that we can start doing regular weekend dates again. We used to go to Atlantic City a few times a year for a weekend but now we feel guilty leaving two kids with our parents. It’s harder to do, but not impossible. I think it’s so worth it to make an effort so we don’t end up one day at the dinner table in silence, with nothing left to talk about but our empty nest.
I have a friend who recently told me that she works hard to maintain and nurture her marriage. Not only does she have sex multiple times a week, she knows that their marriage is her #1 priority. I admire her and every time I hear about another divorce, it makes me realize just how lucky I am to have such love and support in my marriage. It gives me the kick I need to focus on nurturing it more.
Did you find it easier or more difficult to nurture your marriage after having kids?