[WARNING: CHILDREN, PARENTING AND MARRIAGE MENTIONED AND DISCUSSED. PLEASE SKIP IF THAT IS SOMETHING YOU DO NOT WISH TO READ ABOUT. THANKS.]
PAIL Bloggers posed these very interesting questions in a recent post. I started to answer them in the comments section there and realized that my thoughts on the topics raised were long enough to be deserving of their own post.
How is your relationship with your significant other now that there are kids in the mix? Has it changed for the better? For worse?
Both MM and I agree, and have discussed the fact that, while we are both ECSTATIC about being parents, adore our sons, and never for a moment regret our decision to become parents. . . our marital relationship has definitely changed for the worse since they have been born. The stress on each of us individually, and on us as a couple, of parenting twins has been, and continues to be, enormous.
I find that I have much less patience with MM than I used to. Because I know more about childcare in general and healthcare specifically than he does, he often has to ask me questions or rely on me for information, and he dislikes that dynamic. Plus, he often takes input from me about his care of the boys that is meant to be helpful as criticism.
Also, not only is our focus much different now than it was before, mostly of necessity, but we are both very tired and stressed much of the time. We seldom have time alone, and when we do, we are often too exhausted, mentally and/or physically, to enjoy it.
You will recall my last post about my dear friend who was murdered ("MH"). He was a father of two. A few years back, when I was trying to decide for myself whether or not I could ever be truly happy if I were only MM's wife and never a mother, I posed the following question to my friends who were parents: Which role has brought you more happiness: spouse or parent?
My very wise friend MH responded with the following:
Being a parent (at least of young kids) brings more happiness, but also, in turns, more stress, frustration, exasperation, etc. Little people drive us to the extremes of all emotions, largely because they are not yet socialized, and therefore less compliant and predictable than adults. To the extent that a feeling of a purposeful existence is necessary to happiness (and it is for me), parenthood provides that, too. (But, so does owning a dog, or other dependent creature.) I think it’s hard to reliably answer this question, though, because parenthood inevitably demands center stage so forcefully once you enter into it that it’s hard to contemplate (or remember) how life would be as merely a spouse (without kids).
When I mentioned in reply that his answer had surprised me a little, given that he and his wife had been married for several years prior to the birth of their first child, he further clarified:
I think the point I was searching for below is that, once you have kids, your happiness as a spouse is so intricately interconnected with your status as a parent that it’s hard to separate the two. And, also, being a parent somewhat reduces the happiness you get solely from being a spouse (because of competition for time and added stress), so it’s a sort of a “crowding out” effect.
I must confess that I didn't truly understand his answer at the time. . . simply because I hadn't lived the experience myself.
MH, I get it now. Although in many ways, our marriage has suffered through becoming parents--we have less sex, less alone time, less quality time alone, and are more irritable with each other--we also are sharing the greatest happiness that either of us has ever experienced through our boys. So it's definitely a mixed bag.
Do you find it hard to talk about?
We don't find it hard to talk about the effects of parenting on our marriage with each other--thankfully, a feature of our relationship has always been our ability to communicate openly with one another--but I do find it a little difficult to talk with other people about, for a number of reasons. First, just because I don't really like to talk with close friends or family members about any marital difficulties period. I mean, let's face it: MM isn't going anywhere, and I want my friends and family to think highly of him. They can hardly do so if I am bashing him.
Also, I'm not sure some of my friends could relate, either because they are childless, or unmarried, or just have a different dynamic in their marriage than we have in ours. My sister could probably relate, but see my reason above for not discussing it with her.
Do you do anything in particular to focus on your relationship with him/her as much as your relationship with your child(ren)?
Just in the past few months, we have started going out for a "date" one night a month. I know that doesn't sound like much, but between our other commitments and the expense of a babysitter, it's about all we can manage. We have always gone out on "dates" since our sons were born, but up until a few months ago, these were always during the day so that his parents could babysit for us. (They don't like to drive in the dark, so they don't babysit at night for us.)
I have also resolved in my own mind to work on being kinder and more patient with MM. Intellectually I know that it isn't his fault that I am super stressed out, that I've had a bad day at work, or that I'm exhausted, and I know that he is doing his best (and doing far more than most dads). I'm not perfect, but I am finding that just being more mindful of my behavior and reactions is helping.
I have to say, this part of parenting has been probably the most surprising to me. Although, had I listened to my friends who were already parents, it shouldn't have been. I think, though, that it's one of those things that you can't really understand until you've lived through it.