I am a big fan of several blogs. Reading what others have to say about things keeps me thinking about life, about parenting, about nurture. This week, Jenn- future mama at Baby Makin(g) Machine wrote about balancing marriage and kids. It made me think more than once about what makes some couples more successful at building and maintaining a strong marriage while raising kids, while other couples separate or divorce. Finding balance to walk the tightrope of kids and marriage, is a real challenge for most couples.
What came to me in my pondering were the examples in my own life and marriage of 9+ years. (That means that what I find is within a relationship where I like my husband as much as I love him.) The times when things were going really well and the times when things were not going so well seemed to be paired with a critical factor. And it wasn’t what I expected to find.
I thought initially, it would be about time spent without the kids (aka date night), communication, making time for sex, having quality family time, etc. Those are definitely in there, but the missing puzzle piece in my case, is what makes these other aspects possible, or impossible. I was so surprised when the realization came that I literally jumped out of the shower to make a note to myself. I don’t want to forget something this important.
When a couple has no kids, each partner has the responsibility to take care of themselves, within their relationship. As a single woman, when I needed something- some time to myself, a new pair of shoes, a cup of coffee and a good book, time to pray or meditate- I took care of it. When my husband and I met, it was relatively easy to add in time for a relationship, dating him a few nights a week and still taking time for myself, either alone or with friends. And there were times when I had to vocalize my need to change plans (or even cancel plans) because I wanted to do something different last minute, to be more quiet or more rowdy. And my husband and I were partners, helping one-another, encouraging each other to follow our dreams, meet our goals, working together and sometimes separately.
When we got married, the sense of committment to my husband deepened and we did spend more time together. But we had friends we saw separately- he went to poker games; I had girls night out. We spent quality time together and quality time apart, focused on meeting our own needs within our committment to each other.
When we had a baby, what changed was me. It’s completely normal for women to feel driven, compelled to care for their babies with everything that is inside them. This is instinct and no species can survive without protecting their young. But within this instinct, it is easy to forget, at times, that I still need to take a shower, and that taking a shower is my responsibility to myself. On an airplane, the idea of putting on your own oxygen mask first, then helping others- there is a reason they have to say that OUT LOUD every time. Because without specific instructions like – TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – it is really easy to focus on my kids first.
I haven’t ever purposely focused on the kids to ignore myself. I have never intended to ignore my need for quiet time, for example, I just put it off because other things seemed so pressing in the moment. I thought “I’ll get to it later” but later didn’t always come. And lots of times, I gave my last bit of energy to my husband because I do love him so much. And he deserves attention too. But then I was left with no energy, time, etc. to take care of myself.
Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the issue, and not the main problem. The main problem happened next: I didn’t take care of myself, because I was so busy taking care of everyone else, so I started to think SOMEONE ELSE should be taking care of me.
Then my resentment would kick in- “I am doing so much for others, why can’t he ___ for me?” Next my thoughts turned resentful at my husband for taking care of himself! Although I used to do it, now I was so self-righteous I couldn’t see that he was doing what he needed to do to keep himself together, so that he could be available to be in a partnership.
When I am not taking care of myself and honestly meeting my own self-care needs, I am not available to be in an emotional relationship with anyone, including my kids. I’ll bet my husband didn’t like hanging out with me on the days that were like this. And I’m glad most days are not like this. But writing all this out makes it so much more clear what I can do to protect my marriage.
All the things that go into making a marriage work- partnership, generosity, love, communication, sex, commitment to each other- are only available when I can be a partner in them. And I’m able to be a partner when I am taking good care of myself. This also means I have to ask for help sometimes, because my husband hasn’t figured out mind-reading yet. (I keep hoping one day… but so far, nada.) That means I have to be vulnerable, admit (to myself and him) that I can’t do everything and be specific about what I need. This takes practice, trust, time and forgiveness- because we’re in this together and neither of us will get it right all the time.
This one thing is clear- when I take care of myself, balancing kids and marriage looks much more like an open field than a tightrope.