Babyproof your marriage.
While preparing for our first baby and wanting to know what to expect, I came across article after after article touting this fantastical phrase in the headline.
After four years of attempting marriage + parenting, I have only one question: Have these authors had babies?
Every parent I’ve ever met can testify to this fact: you can babyproof your house, your car, your cleaning supplies—but there is no such thing as babyproofing a marriage.
Marriage is fundamentally altered by children. Nothing will expose selfishness like little people needing needing NEEEEEEEDING every second of every day forever and ever amen. Nothing will cause more self-protection and alienation than being busy, distracted (from marriage), and dealing with the inevitably frustrating aspects of child-rearing.
Intentional (or any) parenting can be the death blow to intentional marriage.
It takes work to stay married while parenting.
Actually—I take that back.
Staying married is totally possible, but without extra work you’ll likely be staring across the table at a stranger when those babies leave home. It takes work to stay connected while parenting. A lot more work than you’re expecting if you generally like your spouse and this is your first round of "grow the family."
Children test the mettle of even the strongest and healthiest relationships.
But test as childrearing might, there are things you can do that will solidify your marriage for years to come, whatever comes up along your parenting path.
Set Realistic Expectations
I’ve heard this from many an idealistic young couple: “When we have babies they’re going to fit into our lives. We’re not going to be those parents who change our whole lives and schedules for our kid.” Riiiiiight. Waking up from that dream with an actual baby on hand is a harsh and painful reality check. If you set yourself up with this one, you are bound for disappointment. Adjust to it now: Babies need stuff. Unexpected stuff. More stuff than you think they’ll need.
Parents who adjust their lives and schedules to their babies do so for only one reason: because they don’t hate themselves. Your gorgeous love child will sabotage your every move until she gets what she needs- which is everything- without an ounce of consideration for your dinner plans.
So first things first: make room for that baby. In your schedule, in your social life, in your daily and weekly to-do list, decide now- together- that you’ll do whatever it takes to stay sane and enjoy your family. Doing this will help you not be disillusioned when you find it impossible to do what you want with a perfectly contented baby along for the ride. (Spoiler Alert: Perfectly contented babies are an anomaly. If you have one I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU I COULD CRY).
It's OK to Grieve (and let your spouse grieve too)
The first time I got in my car alone after having my firstborn, I had an obvious but sobering realization: I won’t ever go anywhere again without arranging for another person's care. For eighteen years. Did I seriously just sign up for this?!
You gain so much with a baby…and you lose much too. The relationship between you and your lover- even if it’s still awesome- is changed. What you had before- hours to talk things out, emotional stamina to be especially considerate, the energy to be consistently intimate—is mostly used up meeting tiny human needs and maintaining something resembling composure. And you’ll miss it- all that stuff and time you had for your partner. Your partner may miss it even more. What you’ve lost matters, and it’s worth remembering and grieving. Remember who you were, because ultimately that's what you are. Allowing a healthy grieving process for the things you miss makes room to celebrate all you’ve gained by adding to your family.
Look at each other
This is as simple as it sounds. You'll be so busy looking at that gorgeous, brand-new show-stopper you just made that you'll likely forget (or seriously reduce) looking at each other. After having their first baby, friends of mine got super intentional about looking each other in the eyes, kissing, and saying “I love you” whenever they were parting ways. Sometimes those are the only moments of romantic connection in their day, but small threads like these are the ties that bind hearts together for a lifetime. See your spouse. On purpose. It takes a second and can carry you forever.
Make sex arrangements
Sex can be a whole thing after baby. And not just abstaining for the first six weeks. I mean for as long as recovery of your desire may take. Hormonal adjustments- and adjusting to motherhood- can literally wipe out a sex drive. And for all of the maternal adjustments your inner wise-woman makes, the guy you married likely didn’t go through that process. So after doc clears you—do what you can to be good to your man. Seriously. Maybe you're blessed with a powerful libido a few months after birth. If not-- Talk about it. Schedule it. Create an incentive program (I know of a couple who put a dollar in a jar every time they made love- and paid for a 2-week vacation to multiple international locations with that money when they were older.) Get cute lingerie. Plan interesting locations for lovemaking, or just plan the time of day. Whatever works for you as a couple to keep intimacy going- do it- because sex really is just that important to staying married. Really. While you’re waiting for your feels to return and for sleep to return to your household- planning for this business can be an intimacy-saver.
You won’t have time (so make it)
Life gets super busy with small people. Making time for just the two of you is imperative. Up there on the list right next to feeding and changing the baby to keep that person alive- make time for each other to keep that marriage alive. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or exciting. But be intentional about when and how you’ll connect, even for five minutes a day. No arguing. Just connection. It doesn’t have to be big, but it most definitely has to be.
Give each other space
Carve out free time for each of you, minus baby and family responsibilities. You both need this time to refuel, refresh, and take a breather. Talk through and plan giving one another breaks.
Do marriage-ey things
With little ones, little things can build up quickly (see: children bring out aaaalll the selfish in everyone), and it's easy for small cracks and fissures in your marriage relationship to become gaping, impassable canyons. Actively work on this marriage of yours. Attend marriage conferences. Do book studies together. Go to pre-emptive marriage counseling, or find marriage mentors-an older couple who can walk beside you through the parenting years. No need to wait until things are bad before getting help. Being married as parents is a learned skill. As with any skill, perfecting it takes intentional practice and focus. Don’t be afraid to do focused marriage work-- it'll keep things strong and sharp, and help keep unwanted drama out of the way.
If you're able to set realistic expectations, allow for healthy grieving, arrange for sex, make time for each other and for each of you to have alone time, and do things that will build up your marriage, you are well on your way to a solid, healthy marriage all the way through the parenting years.
What do you do to keep your marriage healthy?