The day I found out I was expecting my first child was sort of like the day I learned I’d been accepted to college. I knew I applied but there was a small part of me that was terribly afraid they mixed up my name with someone else.
Suddenly, there were all these things I had to buy and I knew very well that the next few years of my life would include numerous all-nighters and a few extra pounds.I couldn’t believe it. Life would never be the same. And neither would my marriage.
For the two years prior to learning we were pregnant, my husband and I spent nearly all our time together. It was exactly the way I had pictured married life. After realizing that baby would soon make three, I became very focused on preparing not only our house but myself for this new little, precious life. I read all the books, talked to other new moms, and even traded in my little two-door Honda Civic for an SUV. I was determined to be the best mommy I could be.
I looked at motherhood as though I had just received a promotion. Soon I would be taking on this new job and I wanted to do everything I could to be sure I would be ready when it was time to go to work. The only problem was I forgot I already had a job – one that I promised to keep ‘til death do us part. Already this new baby was beginning to take me away from my relationship with my husband. He understood, of course. He even read a few books himself – or at least flipped through them during commercials. We were both over the moon excited to welcome this new little bundle of joy.
And six years ago this week, we received a 7 pound, 7 ounce dose of reality. After nearly 13 hours of labor, I delivered a beautiful little girl who cried so much I thought for sure she would lose her voice within the first 24 hours of her life. I remember calling my mother from the hospital room at 3 a.m. asking her what to do.
“She won’t stop crying,”
“It’s okay,” she said. “You two will figure out.”
“You two? She’s not helping!” I told her.
“I meant you and Jay, honey.”
Once again, it was obvious that this baby had made her presence known in my life. And she wasn’t satisfied with second place. I looked at my husband, who looked just as confused as I felt, and I realized that our marriage had a little competition.
Most of us agree it’s totally normal for a new baby to take top priority. After all, they cannot care for themselves. That’s our job. But taking care of them also involves taking care of ourselves, our spouse, and nurturing our marriage. Because just like that helpless little baby, a marriage also needs a lot of TLC.
With two kids now, it’s even harder to make my marriage my top concern when the kids need to be picked up from dance class or their sippy cups filled for the eighth time this hour. By the end of the day, I barely have enough energy to brush my teeth much less have an entire conversation with yet another human being. I just want to sit in silence for the three-and-a-half minutes that I keep my eyes open.
I read an article recently that more and more American parents admit they put the needs of their children before their spouse, whether intentionally or not. The article mentioned the 2005 essay in The New York Times by Ayelet Waldman, where she said she loved her husband more than her four children. When she was later interviewed on “Oprah: Where are they now?” the author repeated her position, and added that her stance has had a positive impact on her children by giving them a sense of security in their parents’ relationship. Waldman shared that not only did she receive an outpouring of public ridicule from Americans for being a bad mother; strangers even threatened her physically and threatened to report her to child protective services.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And then I thought about my own marriage and wondered which side I would fall on. I adore my husband. No one makes me laugh or grounds me the way he can. He works hard at taking care of me and our children. He cooks, he cleans, and spends as much time playing dolls with our daughter as he spends wrestling with our son. He’s an amazing man and in our eight years of marriage I have come to depend on him more than I ever imagined. But if I am being honest, I don’t always put his needs first. Some days there are just too many tears, too many lunches to pack, and too many demands to have anything left over. On those nights, I usually quickly go over the next day’s to do list – I can pick up the dry cleaning, can you call the plumber? – before giving him a quick kiss goodnight and head to bed.
Susan Alexander Yates discusses this is in her book “And Then I Had Kids.” She writes that many couples put their own needs aside to meet the urgent demands of the children. And while this may seem like it’s helping the children, it’s really not what’s best for them. “It is vital to our families that we make our relationships with out mates our priority after our relationships with God. We have our mates living with us for a lifetime, whereas we have our children living with us for approximately eighteen years,” Yates writes. She continues on to say that child psychologists stress that a child’s security rests not as much in the fact that his parents love him but in the fact that they love each other. “The gift we can give our children is the security of a loving relationship between his parents,” she says.
My parents divorced when I was almost 16. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced despite knowing that they had really fallen out of love several years prior to their divorce. I remember being anxious and asking them not to fight when I would have friends over, or wishing I could see them hold hands while walking through the grocery store or at church. As a little girl, all I wanted was the safety of knowing that I had a solid family held together by two people who loved God and one another. I knew they loved me, but I wanted to witness them loving each other. I wanted to see them investing in their relationship.
Marriages take work. Lots and lots of work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it means putting in a little more even though you have nothing left to give. Trust me, I realize sleep and a little peace and quiet is so important to the soul. But so is investing in the one relationship that God intended to illustrate His love for us.
Date nights are important, calling your spouse to tell them you love them during a busy work day is great. Whatever we do, we have to make our marriages a priority. Do whatever works for your life. Together, you two will figure it out.