By E.J. Gordon
I’m with my cousin toasting her engagement. We’re talking about marriage and how excited they both are. And they’re both so in love that it’s palpable.
After a few drinks and some happy talk she asks me, “Do you have any divorced friends?”
“Yes, I have a few.”
“We don’t have any yet.”
I answer, “It’s because your friends don’t have kids yet.”
My cousin responds with a horrified look. “I don’t understand …” and then she turns and looks at her fiancé. I know that look. It is the I-really-want-to-have-babies look.
You remember the look … the one you would give your young husband when you held someone else’s four month old … the one that said, “My ovaries are throbbing right now — will you PLEASE make me a mother soon?”
Man, I remember holding a baby, giving him back to his momma, and then just having that aching in my gut, needing to have a baby. It started in my early 20s, and by the time I was 27, I couldn’t hold a baby without getting teary-eyed. I even remember a mom whose baby I was obsessing over turning to my boyfriend and saying, “You’re so screwed.”
Yeah, that feeling is long gone now.
Yesterday I held my baby nephew, and instead of aching and emptiness after the hand-off, its replacement was a brief feeling of nostalgia for the time that my own babies were babies, an “awww” feeling when I rubbed my cheek against his soft hair, followed by a deep sense of satisfaction that I didn’t have to go try and put this one down for a nap or try to cook dinner with one arm or try to figure out whether he’s crying because he’s tired, hungry, sick, teething, or trying to control me with his baby Jedi mind tricks.
But the one thing you don’t expect from having a baby is how that very baby that you had to have, the one whom your life could not be complete without, CAN absolutely destroy your marriage.
We have these ridiculous fantasies that our babies will make us fall in love with our spouses all over again. And sure, I’ve had moments like that. I love my husband most when he’s being a good father.
But then there are all the OTHER moments.
So my cousin asks, “Why does having babies hurt a marriage?”
Oh, my sweet, innocent, much younger cousin, where do I start?
First, there is the Division of Labor Issue.
Marriages in which one partner stays home and the other works full time are wrought with resentment-producing statements like this:
“I can’t do the middle-of-the-night feeding, because I have to WORK tomorrow! You have ALL DAY to sleep!”
And, “Why is the house such a mess, I mean, what do you do when he’s napping??”
And then there’s the other side. When the kids were little, and that time slot between nap and dinner seemed like 70 hours, I used to call my husband every 20 minutes with, “When are you coming home? I might shoot myself.”
He would get so aggravated that I’d be bugging him at work, but I was trying to communicate to him that I was drowning. One time I even pretended to butt-dial him while the kids were all having temper tantrums so that he’d have to listen to the screaming on his voicemail and maybe have a little compassion for me. (It didn’t work.)
Or, if both parents work full-time, and one parent does more than the other in terms of housework, bed-time routine, birthday party planning, playdate making, pediatrician appointments, staying home with the sick child — then resentment is ripe for the picking too.
Second, there is the Different Parenting Philosophies.
I dislike my husband the most when he’s parenting in a way that upsets me.
And that’s where the philosophies come in, because he might think he is being a good father, but I have a different idea of what is good. For example, if my kid has a bad game, I think he needs to be supported and hugged, while my husband thinks it’s helpful to pick apart every detail of his performance and then is surprised when our son cries. I tell my husband, “No kid ever said as an adult, ‘I wish my Dad had been more critical of me as an athlete.'” And he retorts, “You’re wrong! It’s motivating!”
Another example is my friend who believes in self-reliance, and that if her kid forgets a lunch, then she goes hungry. But the husband undermines her and swoops in, dropping off Jimmy John’s at the front office. The resulting fight between them will echo every time he “saves” his daughter from her mother’s attempt at lesson-teaching.
Third, there is the “helping” that’s NOT really helping.
Nothing makes me crazier than when I’m desperately trying to get through the bed-time routine, and no one is listening, and I’m losing my patience. I’m fighting tears and trying so hard not to yell, and I holler to my husband, “Babe! I could use some HELP!” Then he comes up the stairs with a foreboding stomp, screaming at the kids and threatening them. So instead of relieving me, I have to calm them down from their fear and hysterics. I’ve told him 100 times that when I need help, it’s because I don’t want to yell, and I’m losing it, and I need him to be the calm parent. So his “help” — is NOT really helping.
Fourth, there is the chronic fatigue and persistent lack of time.
My sister watched our baby nephew the other day, and after a few hours she noted, “I forgot how you can’t get anything done because you have to watch them the whole time!” From when a baby is first born and needs constant holding, until the child is full grown and needs rides, homework help, advice, new clothes, or even just an audience, they are always sucking up your time (and your money, which is another stress in itself).
So how do we, as parents, either working or at home have time and energy for our spouses when all of our time and energy is being given to our children?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Whenever you’re worried that your spouse is doing something wrong, ask yourself this: “Doesn’t my spouse love our child too? Would he do anything to really hurt her?”
2. Instead of focusing on all of the things your spouse is doing wrong (whether it’s winding them up before bed-time, putting on the diaper too tightly, snapping the pajamas from the top instead of the bottom), focus on what he is doing right (spending time caring for your kid, cuddling with your kid, being present).
3. When you’re at each others’ throats because you’re exhausted and haven’t slept in six weeks, always post-mortem your fights. When you’re calm and clear-headed, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m so tired all the time, and it’s making me short-tempered and cranky. I’m sorry if I’m always yelling. I’m just so tired.”
4. I don’t know whether it’s an evolutionary thing or just the way we were raised, but for some reason, we woman CAN read our husbands’ minds, but they can’t read ours.
If my husband is walking around huffing and puffing and stomping, I know he’s upset about something. But if I huff and puff and stomp, he’ll just turn up the volume of the TV.
I’ve learned that if I need something from him, I need to actually articulate it. No one wants to nag, but if we don’t ask, we won’t get. So the line between nagging and asking is your tone of voice. Ask nicely and sincerely, and you can’t be accused of nagging. What works for me is this: “Sweetie, I’m so tired and have so much to do. If you wouldn’t mind putting our child to bed, that would be a HUGE help.”
5. Remember to pay attention to your marriage. Even if you would kill or die for your child, but not your spouse — remind yourself that the best thing you can do for your child is to keep your love for your spouse alive and functional. And that means paying attention to your marriage. Go on a Date Night regularly. Go away for a night or a few nights. Make time for each other. Know that while sex isn’t going to be spontaneous and on the kitchen table, you can find a place and a time when you can focus on it and maintain the passion.
So best wishes to you and your impending nuptials, Cousin. Try and remember the look on his face and the joy in your heart when you’re under the “chuppah”. You’ll need to conjure up that memory every so often.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: E.J. Gordon is a freelance writer, a regular contributor to GIRLillaWarfare, and “Sexpert”. Have any questions or topics that you would like her to address? Remember: No subject is taboo, and Anonymity is accepted. Contact E.J. at: EJGordon529@gmail.com.