I figured I would approach this post like I do most of my blog posts — as if I’m sitting down to have a conversation with a friend. In this instance, I wanted today’s post to incorporate a few things: A few specific struggles we faced in our marriage after kids, certain things we’ve implemented in our marriage since becoming parents that have worked really well for us and and the underlying understanding that it’s totally natural for a marriage and relationship to change after kids.
Once we become parents for the first time, I think it’s next to impossible not to focus on our babies, worry about our children and feel totally immersed in our new roles as parents but I also think it’s incredibly important to talk about and work through changes in our marriages, especially those relating to our wants and needs from our spouse as our married relationships and family dynamics shift.
So let’s dive into the meat of this post, shall we? I feel like this blog post is a little all over the place but I also think that’s representative for how I feel about motherhood and marriage after kids in general. It’s messy and all over the place and really awesome, too… Even if some days you feel more ragey toward your spouse than you ever thought possible.
I’m not married to the perfect man and Ryan is definitely not married to the perfect woman so please read this post with that understanding. Some things may not resonate with you and others may and that’s okay! Every marriage and relationship is different and ours certainly is no better than others but it is a happy, loving relationship I am grateful to be in every single day.
In no particular order, here are a few things that came up in our marriage after kids that felt worth mentioning in this space. I’d absolutely love to hear more about your experiences in your relationships after kids — what changes you noticed, certain things you implemented that helped your marriage move forward, etc. I always learn so much from all of you and would love it if you took the time to weigh in, too!
Marriage After Kids
Having the “Default Parent” Conversation
This may sound like I’m giving dads a bad wrap but I also think it’s important to be honest about the roles of a mother after a baby is born. So often (not always, I realize), moms end up becoming what feels like the “default” parent. As someone who nursed my babies until they were nearly 14 and 15 months old (neither of whom took a bottle well), I often felt like I was the go-to parent for our boys for months on end because often nursing = food, comfort, etc. (This is also largely to blame for what I’ll call the “nursing rage” I mentioned in this post.) Whether a mom stays home or works full-time it seems like moms are often the parent who knows more about their child’s wants, needs, preferences, routines, etc. This often translates into me being the parent who packs up the diaper bag for the kids, makes their meals, shops for whatever they need for the week, stays on top of school commitments, etc. I truly didn’t even realize how much this was weighing on me until I found myself snapping at Ryan when we were about to leave the house with the kids one weekend. When he asked if I was about ready, I said, “NO. It takes me longer since I have to worry about more than just grabbing my phone and wallet.” Ooph. TRUTH BOMB. It was right then and there that I realized resentment was building up and we clearly needed to have a conversation.
Once I told Ryan I was feeling like it was ME who was in charge of most of the things related to the boys, I could tell he felt awful. He’s a wonderful father and a helpful father but I found myself doing more and more because it felt easier to just do it myself than ask for his help. Ryan is always willing to happily help and once I told him that I felt like I was the one in charge of everything related to the boys, we knew something had to change. I am now a LOT more upfront in asking Ryan to do x, y, z related to the boys and he now takes more initiative to help with things that I’d usually be scrambling to do before we head out the door. I think so often I hope he’ll just know what I want and need as a mother and wife but time and time again I’m learning to speak up and be direct with my wants and needs because it always makes a big difference. Communication, as always, is KEY.
Give a Head’s Up When You’re Feeling Off
This is one of those things Ryan and I started doing before kids that became even more important once we had little ones in the mix. You know those days when you wake up and you just feel off? Or those evenings you have when you feel increasingly irritable for no real reason? Or when every little thing is making you upset and cranky? We ALL have those days and Ryan and I try our best to give the other person a head’s up when we’re feeling this way. It’s a simple way of saying, “hey, listen, it’s not you, it’s me” and since these moments seem to happen more often after kids enter the picture and you’re absolutely exhausted, it helps the other person know you might need a little space or, on the flip side, a little more love and patience that day.
I also remember a friend telling me to ask myself, “Are you just feeling tired?” during the newborn days when I was feeling all the things about everything and all too often my answer to this simple question was YES. When we’re tired, we’re not the best versions of ourselves and recognizing my feelings were likely stemming from an ongoing state of exhaustion was oddly eye-opening.
No Phones in Bed Rule
I know this is going to sound dramatic, but this rule changed our relationship post-kids. So often, we’d both crawl into bed completely exhausted at the end of the day and then scroll through our phones for a while, read and then fall asleep. Most of our evening conversations took place as we scrolled away. Talk about a horrible way to connect with your spouse! I think smart phones have been horribly distracting for in-person connection and am very aware of being off my phone when I’m around friends and family so why wasn’t I applying this to my husband, too!?
Once Ryan and I recognized that our phones were getting more of our attention before bed than our relationship we knew something had to change. We quickly adopted a “no phones in bed” rule and it’s been HUGE. We now talk and listen and laugh and connect before we read at the end of the day and I go to bed nearly every night feeling like I got some much-needed quality time with my husband. Neither of us watch much TV and we both wake up really early so most nights after we put the kids to bed, we head to bed ourselves to talk before we read and go to sleep and it’s an evening routine I LOVE.
Recognizing the Newborns Days are Just a Phase
I can still remember turning to Ryan months after Ryder was born and saying, “I miss you.” With two children to care for, our evenings felt chaotic and I was often attached to our newborn while Ryan took over our toddler’s bedtime routine. By the time we made it to bed ourselves, we were too tired to make much of an effort to connect. During one evening conversation when we actually stayed awake long enough to really talk, I remember both of us saying that even though we felt like we were passing ships in the night, being second-time parents gave us a really helpful perspective and the innate knowledge that what we were going through was a phase that would eventually end… and it did.
Some of my favorite memories from the newborn days with Chase were the moments he would fall asleep in one of our arms on the couch and we would have time to talk and connect. Those sweet, quiet sleepy baby moments were a LOT harder to come by with two children in the mix, but at least while we were in the thick of things, we had the knowledge that the craziness and sleeplessness wouldn’t go on forever. We didn’t use this as an excuse to put our marriage on the back-burner, however recognizing the baby phase was something that would pass and we’d have our evenings back to spend quality time as a couple again soon was really helpful. We had firsthand knowledge that there was light at the end of the newborn baby tunnel.
Let Go of Perfection… And Just Let Them Do It
I don’t consider myself a perfectionist at all and yet I definitely fell into the trap many mothers fall into where we’re more likely to “just do it ourselves” than ask our spouse for help because we feel like we do it better, faster, more thoroughly, etc. I began to find myself taking over so many tasks that eventually I felt incredibly overwhelmed. I married a smart, strong, capable man who wants to help and I needed to let go of my desire to do it “better” and let him do it his way. Now when he vacuums I try to just be grateful he vacuumed rather than notice the spot under the cabinet he missed. When he gets the boys dressed, I try not to notice their mismatched outfits and just be glad they’re clothed.
Check in with Each Other (Not Just About the Kids)
It’s hard not to talk about the kids non-stop when so much of my day revolves around our boys but when Ryan and I take the time to ask each other about each other it’s something that makes both of us feel cared for beyond our roles as Mom and Dad. Genuinely listening to how your spouse is feeling about work, day-to-day life, their struggles and goals outside of parenting is incredibly helpful. Yes, often my feelings and stories involve our boys but I’m also more than just Mom. When Ryan sees this side of me, recognizes Julie beyond “Mom” and supports me unconditionally, it feels incredibly important not only to me but to our relationship as a couple as well.
Find the Humor
There is a lot to laugh about when it comes to parenting. Parenting can be overwhelming and exhausting… and hysterical. And no one finds your kids funnier than you and your spouse so taking the time to really laugh with Ryan and share ridiculous stories about our boys is something we do often. Oh and believe me some days there’s a fine line between laughing because yet another thing went wrong and crying or lashing out at your spouse because yet another thing went wrong. If at all possible, opt for laughter.
Give Each Other Time Away
Ryan and I both respect our need for time away from our children and our family. We both feel our outside interests and our friends are important so when one of us approaches the other about and occasional weekend away with friends or a weeknight dinner with a friend, it’s met with encouragement rather than an eye-roll. One of the best parts about time away from parenting is the way it can breathe life back into motherhood, fatherhood and marriage. I miss my family like crazy after a weekend away and a weeknight dinner with my friends with uninterrupted conversation rejuvenates me and makes me feel more like me. It’s important and something Ryan and I both recognize and embrace.
Be Proactive with Offering Help
I once read a piece of advice that encouraged couples to look for ways to serve and help each other on a daily basis. It talked about doing this without expectation of reciprocation but I’ve found that when Ryan and I go out of our way to look for ways to help each other, the other person naturally begins doing the same. Ryan is fully aware that “Acts of Service” have jumped up several rungs on my Love Languages ladder ever since we had kids and cleaning the house or offering to take over bath time solo so I can get some work done means a million times more to me than a bouquet of flowers.
Divide Up Jobs Based on Preferences… and Don’t Keep Score
This is something that we began before kids but now that we have children and more household jobs and must-dos are on our plate (with less time to do them!), it’s become all the more important. In a relationship, it seems like there are certain jobs relating to household chores and caring for kids that one partner might detest but the other partner doesn’t mind nearly as much. For example, I hate doing dishes but Ryan doesn’t mind doing dishes, so most nights, after dinner, he’s in charge of the dishes. Ryan gags at the thought of cleaning toilets but for some reason it doesn’t bother me, so that’s something I tackle.
I also think it’s incredibly important for our boys to see both of us chipping in and doing things around the house regularly because I want to raise men who are helpful, take initiative and don’t expect a woman to do everything related to housework and cleaning for them. (I truly cringe at the thought.) Another important note: Don’t keep score. I think sometimes it’s hard not to feel like we “do more” than our spouse because we know and can rattle off everything we do in a day but that’s not helpful for anyone, let alone a loving relationship. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t voice your feelings if you feel like the scale is off balance but if, for the most part, things in your home feel fair, I think it’s important to do housework and chores without adding whatever task you just completed to a mental tally against your spouse.
Remember “It’s Caught, Not Taught”
This phrase is one that applies to SO many aspects of parenting and raising children and it’s something I think about constantly. We can tell our boys it’s important to respect others but if they don’t see us speaking respectfully, it means nothing. We can tell our boys it’s important to pick up after ourselves but if they don’t see us doing the same, why should they feel it’s important? If they don’t see a marriage that is built on support, kindness, compassion and love, how much harder will it be for them to learn to model this behavior in their own relationships in the future? Thinking about this is such an incredible motivator for me and Ryan to work on our relationship both privately and in front of our children.
Question of the Day
- What is one thing you wish you knew about marriage after kids before your children were born?
- What is one thing you implemented in your marriage after kids that made a big difference in your relationship for the better?
- What is one thing that surprised you about your marriage after kids?