In some ways, when I think of marriage, and I think of parenting and how the two words are supposed to go together. It’s actually kind of comical to me.
Because often times in reality, the two words seem opposite of one another. On totally different ends of the spectrum. Antonyms to one another, if you will.
Strong marriages are about connection. Communication. Intimacy. Enjoyment of one another.
“You are so sweet to call me every day from work. I love seeing your name on my phone over lunch. It makes me feel giddy.”
And parenting? Well. It sometimes does everything it can to make those tasks difficult. And add stress to your plate on top of that.
“No, I can’t hear you! Don’t act so annoyed. The baby is screaming. Call back later when she stops crying. Oh, wait. That’s never. So just don’t call me when you’re at work.” Click.
I’ve watched it. I’ve counseled it. I’ve experienced it. Those moments where the stress is so intense. The emotion so high. The rest at an all-time low. You want to check out. You want to get ugly. You want to go your opposite ways and give the metaphorical finger to the person on the other side of your bed. Because you’re at your limit. And they’re too.
And in some regards, you feel like they are a fair target. Because they (your partner) are the reason you are in this stressed state. Right?
After all, HE knocked you up! SHE got pregnant. Together in some moment of passion, you created a little being. And now because of your balance of parenthood and marriage, you both just need to relax but feel like you cannot.
Then right at the moment you’re ready to engage in some good communication about why you’re frustrated, that little being you created is standing at the side of your bed crying from a bad dream and asks to get in bed with you. And the day is over. And the talking that probably needed to happen never begun.
And suddenly without any time to think, a new day begins. A new day with “little” responsibility for either of you. Just the tiny task of figuring out how to raise a child well. Your job is to figure out the answers to books worth of parenting riddles that seem to defy logic and basic reason.
How do we get her to pee in the potty and not in her panties?
And how do we get him to stop using potty words?
Oh, and what is the secret for getting them to stop fighting in the car?
And how do we succeed in the role of knowing the best method for making them the best they can be?
So much pressure. So much insanity. So much loneliness. Or at least it can be.
Unless. You choose a different way.
Unless. You choose not to do it alone.
Unless. You choose to let your partner be your partner. Your friend instead of your foe.
What if you choose to enjoy the crazy little reality just the two of you share together instead of stressing over the small things that have no value in the future? What difference does that make in your relationship? What difference does that make in your parenting? What difference does that make in your marriage?
Well for me, it is not that it makes a difference.
It’s that it makes a marriage.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my husband and how much I love parenting with him. If you meet him, he’s quiet. He’s likely not going to say much at first other than a few jokes with his dry humor. (That will likely make you uncomfortable because you won’t know if he’s kidding with you or not. :) But behind his quiet demeanor is the biggest gift to me.
Because to me, he is my better half. Because he is in the journey with me. Our freakishly crazy journey of parenting where one Facetime call with our family includes one son tripping up the stairs and crying, another falling off the kitchen chair and another banging a hammer into the wall of his bedroom.
But his sense of humor about our life. Our absolutely insanely crazy life. Well, it is my favorite form of entertainment. The jokes he makes about the food in our sheets, the pee on our bathroom floor and the laundry piles at our feet, I have to hit him to stop kidding so I don’t pee my pants. (Yes, I get violent when laughing.)
He sings silly songs about our insane moments and lets the boys make a buzz of noise around him at the grocery store and not stress that they are being ridiculously and innocently loud. Instead, he just smirks as he shops.
And something about his support of me. His love for them. His attitude. Well, it makes me feel connected. And not alone. It makes me love parenting. And marriage.
So today, after 6.5 years of motherhood, almost 10 years of marriage and over 5 years as a marriage and family therapist, here are my top 10 tips for not letting parenting divide you, but join you closer together.
1. Have an understanding between partners that your children belong to both of you. Not just one of you.
It never seems to join partners together when one parent feels the weight and pressure of raising the kids all of the time. And the other feels like when they take time to be with their children that they are “babysitting” (that word makes me cringe in context of parenting) the kids for the other partner, instead of spending time with and investing in their own children. I understand that when one person stays at home, it is that person’s daily role to take care of the children on a day in and day out basis, which is great! But that does not mean that when the other person is home and around that they cannot choose to invest in their child’s upbringing. In my experience with parenting, no parent enjoys feeling like they are alone in parenting when their partner is able to help.
2. Have an understanding that you each have different gifts. Don’t undermine your partner for what they offer to your children.
Sometimes we want our partner to do things with the kids that we naturally do. “You never sit down and read to them. You always just roughhouse.” Well, guess what? If you’re naturally reading to them, then it is great that your partner plays hard. Your strengths and weaknesses are a great balance in making well-rounded children.
3. Tag in and tag out.
It is easy to see when your partner is at their limit. Instead of critiquing them because they are ready to lose it, swoop in and save them. Offer to bathe the kids while the other one watches TV. Then switch off the next night. Or do it as a pair. Sometimes when you are both exhausted, doing it together is the best way to get through it as a team. Then you can simultaneously crash.
4. Joke. Laugh. About as much of everything crazy as you can.
There are beautiful moments in parenting and those are easy to enjoy and savor. But for the not-so-beautiful moments. Find the humor. When you’re riding in your new car and one of your children throws up all over the new seats causing your next child to throw up too. Don’t cry. Laugh about it. (Unless the third one throws up, then you can cry. ;)
5. Stay connected with one another about your life and your state of mind.
Text each other. “Kids are cuuuuuteeee today.” Or “Wowza. Need some sleep.” Give short phone calls. Stay in each others’ business. It’s appropriate to gossip as much as you want about your lives to one another.
6. Communicate about your needs and your limits and how your partner can help.
When you know you are at the end of your rope, don’t assume they can see that. “I am feeling very stressed. Very, very stressed. I’m not sure why. But I feel like your help is very important to me now. When you help cook dinner with me, I feel more relaxed.” Many partners are not mind readers but are more than willing to help when asked.
7. Play together as a family.
Have fun with your kids. When you feel there is a negative vibe going on in the house, get out and put your heart into the kids. Many times we forget that the stress from children comes from getting them dressed and out the door to school and activities. I find that sometimes when I’m feeling the most tired is when we can benefit from doing something fun. Go buy a kite and fly it at a park. Put on rain boots and make the whole family go walk in the rain. Collect some bugs. Do something that makes you smile with your family together. This tends to energize not drain.
8. Balance time away. Go on single dates.
If you’ve had a rough week and know you could benefit from some time alone, communicate that. “Babe, the teenager and I have been bickering all week and I think that if I took a few hours to walk on the trail, I would feel so much more relaxed. Would that work for your schedule sometime this weekend? Is there some time you could benefit from time away too?” It’s never good when one partner constantly gets breaks and the other partner does not. It’s a recipe for resentment.
9. Go on couple dates.
“I miss you lately. Could we have a date this weekend?” I think one of the best ideas is to pre-plan dates a month ahead. Because that way, your sitter is booked. If you wait until you feel like you need time away, you may have waited too long. So, get away before you’re at your melting point. And enjoy one another!
10. Hit on each other in front of the children. Build each other up.
Tell your kids what you love about each other daily. “Girls, do you see how your mom does such a nice job of making your breakfast each morning? Do you know how blessed you are to have her?” This serves two purposes, it make your partner feel validated in the good they are doing as a parent while also letting the children see how blessed they are too.
These methods don’t make life perfect. They don’t make life easy. But when done well, they make marriage feel like a privilege not another responsibility. And life is too short, and parenting is too hard to NOT invest in your marriage.
With a little work, and a lot of love, marriage AND parenting can be a match made in heaven. Even if your heaven involves a dirty house, Disney characters and lots and lots of toys.
The author of this article is a wife, mother, blogger and licensed marriage and family therapist. 99% of her time is spent keeping her 3 boys alive and the other 1% is spent writing about their crazy times in her blog Sanctification and Spitup, which is also found on Facebook.