Everyone says that kids change everything, and they do. But how? What kind of changes should couples prepare for?
Someone once told me, “Marriage doesn’t change your relationship, it magnifies it.” Those are wise words from a wise woman. Whether you’re in the honeymoon phase or just want a few years to yourselves before considering having kids, if marriage magnifies a relationship, then having children puts it under the microscope.
Everything you thought you knew about your husband is tested during pregnancy. Some men get anxious, some start building things, and others gain baby weight with you. Don’t be surprised if he does all of the above.
However men prepare and help you grow a healthy baby (yes, late night cravings are real), they don’t get to fully connect with their son or daughter until he or she is born. Women feel everything. We get to know our babies before they’re born, but fathers don’t really fully realize their special bond until they hold that little person for the first time.
After that, it’s all about love, poop, and a lack of sleep. Every day is a new beginning with a baby. The newborn stage was quiet and cuddly for me and my husband. We spent a lot of time just talking and singing to our babies. Those sweet moments helped us get through the worries and lack of sleep.
We get to know our babies in the womb, but fathers don’t fully realize their special bond until they’re born.
You slowly get the hang of things and get into a routine. No more spontaneous midnight trips to a late movie or your favorite diner. Date nights get called off for a while, and you’re stuck on this little person. Sleep will become a serious issue, but it’s not so bad if you take naps with your baby. (The medical industry screams about the dangers of this, but breastfeeding mothers especially benefit from sleep-sharing, and working mothers who want to keep their sanity can do so by cuddling with their husband and baby at night.) Did I mention that there will be a lack of sleep?
Babies grow so fast that I often feel like my husband and I are passengers on a train that’s racing to old age, but we always make time for each other. Having trusted family members and friends to help out is a great comfort when it’s time to test out that first post-baby date night for an hour or two while you just go out to dinner. It’s terrifying and freeing all at once. You keep checking your phone, and your arms feel empty, but you also get to hold hands, talk about something other than your baby, and just be together again. All of this reminds me that we’re more than just parents, we’re still a couple in love. A tired couple, but very full of love.
When it’s time to get back, it’s easy to fall into that ever-changing routine. Each milestone signifies the end of an era and the beginning of another. Our children never develop how we imagine. Some kids excel in some abilities and lag behind in others. Instead of allowing experts and their expectations to fill me with anxiety, I prefer to follow my kids’ lead and guide them along the way. The more flexible I am, the easier my family seems to grow together.
As our children grow into toddlers and adolescents, there are plenty of bumps and bruises along the way. Young kids scrape their knees often. They catch colds and get fevers.
How we, as parents, react sets the tone for our entire household. My husband is the hysterical one. He’s a big guy, and he’s usually the protector, but when our 3-year-old redhead tripped down the stairs, he shrieked like a woman. He cried like a baby, and I jumped into action, checking him over. (Our son was fine, not even a scratch on him – lucky guy.)
Making sure you recognize your dynamic bonds you. Couples grow closer when they accept their roles. I’m better at cooking and cleaning and being the household nurse. My husband is better at taking out the trash, cutting the grass, and running to get supplies when we run out of band-aids.
When we rely on each other, we handle the emotional stuff better.
Because we rely on each other, we handle the emotional stuff better too. My daughters are from a previous marriage, but my husband considers them his kids, and we’re entering the hormonal stage where the girls cry for no reason and freak out about fears that they’ll never find someone to marry them or that they’ll never be able to have kids when they grow up. My husband jokes and makes fun of them to lighten the mood, while I offer a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes he takes on the caring role, and I make the jokes, but again, this dynamic creates a balance that both eases our children and gives them the mental support they need to face their fears and keep going.
We play silly games together and go out to events. Taking four children anywhere is always a test of our patience, love, and faith. Sometimes the kids surprise us with stellar behavior, others we have to call it quits and head home early. Being flexible has become second nature to me, but my husband acts like a cranky old man about it, and it’s so hilarious, it makes the kids laugh.
Scheduling sports, summer camp, and school events around family time, holidays, and friends is never easy. Some days we’re so busy I think back to when I was single, but that picture clearly reminds me of how lucky I am because my kids make me a better person, and that’s because I'm raising them with someone who not only cares, but who openly accepts the challenges with me.
Couples who don’t take time for each other, especially after having kids, drift apart. Married life with kids is rewarding, but also extremely difficult. You’re often busy, tired, and have little time to brush your hair, much less slip into a sexy nightie, but it’s so important.
Thankfully, date nights and romance return in full bloom as the kids grow more independent. We’ve finally reached a point where the eldest can watch the little ones for short periods of time, so catching a 90-minute comedy or going out is a regular occurrence again. We both crave that once-a-week break.
Date night is a great help. I love to get dolled up and just have fun with the man I love. But it’s not always possible. During the holidays, or when family members are ill, date night has to be pushed aside. Prioritizing what’s most important becomes a serious weight on your shoulders, especially when you’re not sure what should come first.
Couples who don’t take time for each other, especially after having kids, drift apart.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer last year and needed me to take her to her chemo and radiation treatments, it cut into family time. My husband and I accepted the responsibility because we knew it was necessary.
During this period, we put on a movie for the kids some nights and snuck down to his mancave to just hang out and be together without someone asking for a snack or the baby pooping on us (yes, that happens).
Once my mother was finished with her rounds, though, we had a special dinner, just us. It felt so good just to be back together, out…in public! And longing for each other wasn’t a bad thing.
We’re pretty good at gauging when things are growing cold. When I feel like I haven’t had enough kisses or bedroom time, I don’t hesitate to tell my husband. This helps him to be more expressive as well and gives us the ability to check-in with each other so we can say, “I know you promised to take the kids ice skating, but if I don’t get some time with you, I’m going to hijack the Zamboni and drive through the bleachers waving a banner!”
We also make out in front of the kids – partly to gross them out – and discuss how important it is for us to have “mom and dad time.” Knowing this, the older kids and even the 3 year old are better at backing off, and just allowing us the space we need to be “us.”
It’s important for couples to still get solitary moments. The only “me time” I get nowadays is in the shower, and that’s never guaranteed because we have a one-bathroom house and someone always has to pee. That being said, five or 10 minutes in a hot shower to relax, meditate, and make sure my hair doesn’t look like greasy noodles is all I really need.
I do take the kids in the backyard and leave them to entertain themselves while I tend my veggie garden and check on the flower beds. They’re still in the background, and I’m not completely alone, but I can do what I want and gain a sense of oneness without having to chase after the 1 year old if my eldest is tossing him a ball.
My husband, on the other hand, is a man. He needs to wake up two hours before everyone to enjoy some peace and quiet. It’s become a regular part of his routine. He goes to his mancave and plays video games, or watches ridiculous YouTube videos, or just sits and stares at the wall without someone climbing into his lap asking him what they’re going to do today.
Couples need to respect and love each other for who they are and help them receive what they need to thrive.
Understanding that my husband’s needs are different from mine is another crucial aspect of our relationship. If he’s being suffocated, I can see the frustration and panic in him. It’s so easy for me to just take the kids for a walk or go to the park and give him a break.
Because of this, he works very hard to make sure my showers are uninterrupted and that I have as much gardening time as I can get. This give-and-take is what relationships are based on. Whether you have kids or not, couples need to respect and love each other for who they are and help them receive what they need to thrive. That never changes.
How couples handle life and all its events definitely transforms us as we become parents and raise children through their varying stages, but those changes have the power to draw us closer and strengthen our bonds. From bringing a baby into the world to developing a family dynamic, carving out romantic time, and fighting for moments alone, couples have a lot to deal with.
Still, it’s worth every second. Every argument, each ridiculous fear is balanced by love. Remembering to keep the bond of marriage alive and well no matter what comes leads to a life of fulfillment. I wouldn’t trade all the sleep deprivation and messes for anything because that doesn’t last forever, but my appreciation of my children and the man I married never ends.
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