I’ve seen marriages crumble before my eyes so many times, I’ve lost count. I have more examples of what not to do than what to do in order to have a healthy relationship. As a millennial, my generation has been told to put our marriages first —before our kids that is. Previous generations would have fallen out of their chairs or laughed at this idea. My parents never had date nights or spent a lot of time alone. For them, once you became a parent, the kids were first and we did everything together as one unit. As sweet as that may sound, it’s not easy. They’re divorced by the way. The very thought of putting your marriage first comes off to some like we don’t care about our children or we are neglecting our parental duties. But I’ve seen first hand how neglecting your relationship once you have children can have lasting and damaging effects on a marriage.
Putting your marriage first doesn’t mean putting our children last. Putting your marriage first simply means carving out time for each other and still putting in an effort. It’s actively remembering that you are not just a parent but that you are still someone’s spouse. Through all of the madness that is parenthood, putting your marriage first means date nights and spending quality time together. Putting your marriage first is talking about something other than your children. It’s remembering your vows and doing your best to keep them. It may sound harsh, but it’s building a life with your child but not around your child. Most supporters of this idea believe marriage is the foundation of a healthy and happy family life. Having a healthy marriage means a happy family and ultimately happy children. And let’s face it, eventually our children will have lives of their own and so it’s important we don’t forget to live ours. But can we be honest here? Putting your marriage first seems like it makes a lot of sense. It’s a great idea, but it’s easier said than done. Being able to “put your marriage first” is for the privileged.
Between work, family responsibilities, doctor appointments, illnesses, sleep deprivation and the million and one chores that come along with parenthood, most of us don’t even have time for ourselves let alone our partners. It’s just the sad reality for many of us—without assistance, nannies, or a village. Those of us with unusual work weeks or hours. Those of us that want to have alone time, yet can’t. Before I became a mother, I had every intention to put my marriage first once we had a baby. It was my goal to be the perfect mother along with the perfect wife—-simultaneously. It would be easy, I thought. What’s so difficult about occasionally having a date night? Or disappearing for a few hours here and there to celebrate our anniversary or a special occasions? I thought, like many, having a child would only bring us closer together and we’d be the perfect family. We would be one of those beaming parents that were so in love with our child and still madly in love with each other. After all, that’s what it seems like on social media and television.
But society hides or keeps the real ways becoming parents can change a relationship a secret. No one likes to admit that their marriage is on the rocks because of their kids. We don’t openly talk about it or share honest stories. Because admitting that your marriage has hit a rough spot after having a baby is admitting failure or suggests that we’re unfit parents or that we are not “meant to be”. Having a baby is supposed to be a blessing, it’s supposed to be rewarding. And it is all of that but there are some drawbacks that we are too ashamed to admit. We don’t talk about the arguments, disagreements, the sleeplessness that has us on edge——the madness. We become busier, more tired, and it’s hard to do a lot of the things we want to do. And so, we do what we need to do and every thing else simply takes a back seat. My husband and I were constantly cleaning, shopping for diapers, and trying to sneak sleep in when ever we got the chance. We were accommodating visitors and doctor appointments. I was constantly pumping breast milk and trying to produce enough. We were buried under laundry piles and dirty dishes. My plan had fallen through. Putting my marriage first felt impossible. I was too tired, too busy, and had little support in order to do so. We didn’t have a “village” and with our new addition, our perfect schedule was thrown off. We were talking about sleep training and poop. We were lost in the rabbit hole that is parenthood and being a couple had taken a back seat.
It wasn’t because we didn’t care about each other. It wasn’t because we regretted becoming parents. It’s because that newborn stage is f*cking hard! But I felt like such a failure nonetheless. Every time I tried to spend time with my husband we had to sacrifice sleep and we almost always regretted it. People would have you believe that six weeks after birth things begin returning to normal is natural and that everything gets better and better each passing day. That with every week that went by, becoming a parent becomes easier and easier. But it’s not true, at least for the vast majority of us.
I wish I had known this before hand. Like so many things. Though on social media, women “Snap back” and return to normal relatively quickly after giving birth, it’s not the case for most of us. But I was rushing to get back to normal again. Not just getting physically fit, but back to a “normal life” filled with date nights and carefree weekends. I hadn’t realized that our lives were just not set up for that. Without a village and with our already hectic and busy lives, it was impossible to put our marriage first.
And so, I watched it fall a part for a while. If I’m honest, not being able to put our marriage first, made a once fun and loving relationship difficult. It was touch and go for a while. There were moments when I didn’t recognize him or myself. There were moments when I thought we wouldn’t make it through. Through it all, it made me realize how important it was to not lose yourself in motherhood and it reinstated the importance of putting our marriage first. It’s been almost two years, and I refuse to lie about how difficult it has been. I refuse to tell other couples that having a baby makes everything better. I’m so grateful to be a mother, but I have to fight for my marriage in ways I never expected.
Becoming a parent is amazing, but it changes everything. And sometimes adapting is a lot harder than people let on. Yes, I’m a firm believer in putting my marriage first, I know that ultimately it’ll make me a better mother, but it’s not something that is attainable for many. We are slowly getting a grip on this idea and finding ways to practice this, but no one ever says how hard it is to actually do.