Everything changes once you add a child to your life. Everything. Your body changes, your relationships change, your priorities shift. Our new series, This Changes Everything, explores the beautiful, messy, surprising juxtaposition of what once was and what now is becoming. Parenthood – this changes everything.
There is no “I’ in Parenthood
When my darling husband and I bought our first home in 2011 after a year of marriage, we had to do quite a bit of painting and sprucing to bring the place up to par. There was an entire forest’s worth of wood paneling in the living room and a bedroom with chartreuse stripes on the wall. I remember how we worked together, handing paintbrushes to each other and taking turns climbing to the highest rung on the ladder in order to get to the peak of the vaulted ceiling. We worked together in such delightful harmony, cordially thanking one another for the hard work and talking about our hopes and dreams for becoming a family in our new home.
Fast forward five years, two children, one 95-pound Labrador retriever and a new, bigger house to accommodate everyone, and the look of our marriage has certainly changed. Some of the biggest changes are:
- Communication – We used to send texts to each other throughout the day making plans to meet up for lunch or take a long walk together after work. Now, 90% of our messages are about our daughters’ sleeping habits, emotional dispositions and/or bodily functions. The other 10% are about Game of Thrones.
- The Hours of 5-7 p.m. – When we were first wed, we would greet each other with a kiss at the door after a hard day’s work. Then we would go to the gym together, come home and eat a leisurely dinner. I recently heard this time of day referred to by another parent as the b*tching hours. Truer words were never spoken. Now my work is at home, and I feel antsy and tired by late afternoon. The children are hangry and my husband walks through the door after a hard day’s work to us when we are not at our best. He showers our girls with kisses and tickles while I finish dinner and then we attempt to talk about our days and the goings-on of the family while the oldest child refuses to eat the healthy dinner I slaved over and the toddler throws her sippy cup on the floor 9,684 times. After some playing outside, we bathe the girls, each of us with our assigned child, passing the shampoo and toys back and forth with that perfect synchronization that develops after years of working side-by-side. PJs, stories and bedtime. We both have our jobs and the routine works for us. Once the girls are down, we high-five in the kitchen on our separate ways to do the things that help us unwind. He piddles in the garage and I write or watch HGTV until time for sleep.
- Sleep – There are people in this world that can survive on little sleep and still wake up cheerful and refreshed the next morning. Let me be clear when I say that the hubs and I are NOT those people. Even before we had children, I don’t remember ever having such a good night’s sleep that I felt the need to jump out of bed with a smile on my face, hugging the sun while little birds dressed me and tied my hair in ribbons. Now, it’s more like a re-enactment of The Walking Dead except with more expletives and lots of coffee. And the mister is the same. We’ve been married long enough now to understand the importance and sacredness of sleep. He wakes before me in the mornings and tip-toes around as quietly as possible to give me those last few precious moments before the beasts awaken. When I have to get up at night with a child, I do it quietly and try to mute the monitor as fast as I can. We take turns sleeping in on the weekends and always show our thanks to one another when we are lucky enough to catch a few extra winks. Sleep is currency. It is one of the greatest gifts that parents of young children can give one another, and one of the clearest ways my husband and I can show each other true love. When we are both short on sleep, we go to our most trusted counselor: coffee.
- Intimacy – There are lots of kinds of intimacy in this world, and certainly in marriage. Some intimacy can be achieved through talking, some through touching and some through watching your wife push an 8 pound, goo covered human who possesses 50% of your DNA out of her love tunnel. Becoming parents together may be the closest that any two people can get to becoming one entity, inseparable by the fact that a whole life was created by parts of each of you. Our oldest daughter has brown eyes like me but they are big and round like her father. She’s careful and meticulous like he is, but sensitive and imaginative like I am. She has my long legs and his beautiful skin. I can’t imagine that there is any greater level of closeness than to see the qualities that you love most about each other come to fruition in another living person. Having a child together shows how beautifully our differences complement each other and helps us to see the very best in our partner. And you thought I was going to talk about sex… .
- Date Night – The term “date night” was not a part of our vocabulary before we welcomed children into our lives. Every night was date night. We were free to do whatever the hell we wanted at any given moment. Go out to dinner on a
Tuesday at 8 p.m.? Sure! Attend a rated R movie? You betcha. Freedom. But a night out as a couple when there are small humans at home is such a huge ordeal that I think most parents would go out more often if it wasn’t such a pain in the ass. You spend a ridiculous amount of time getting ready because you haven’t worn makeup/real clothes/a bra for several days. Once you are finally free from the house, you rush to the restaurant as fast as you can because you’re running late, as always. And even though you’ve set aside a generous amount of time to eat dinner, you scarf it down as fast as you can because that’s what you have to do at home when the toddler is screaming for more apple sauce. You find yourself talking about the kids at dinner as you gulp down your drinks at a rate that would rival a frat guy. You finish dinner an hour earlier than you thought so you drive thru and get a milkshake to make sure that the kids are in bed and asleep before you get home. Once home, pay the sitter more than the cost of your dinner, change into stretchy clothes ASAP, then get into bed and watch Saturday Night Live until you fall asleep during the opening monologue. Romance is not dead, it just looks a little different with some crow’s feet around the eyes and a few (dozen) grey hairs.
- Top Billing – The act of marrying someone sends a clear message to the world that you are choosing one person in this world to share your life with. Marriage is an emotionally and legally binding agreement that a person other than you is entitled to at least half of your crap and is obligated to offer you a bite of their food at restaurants. However, my husband and I agree that it is also critical that we put our marriage before anything else, including our kids. It seems easy enough in theory, but trying to meet the needs and wants of another adult is a bit more ambiguous than meeting the needs of small children. Kids need to be fed, clothed, loved and nurtured. Adults need this too, but in more complex ways. It’s easy enough to know when our kids need something and they’re pretty good about saying so. But adults don’t always feel free to do so and that can be so frustrating in a relationship. I don’t always know when my husband needs to be praised, hugged, left alone or encouraged. He doesn’t always know when I need quiet time, kisses, help or flexibility. I do know that unless we put each other first and make it our goal to set a strong foundation for our family, then our daughters might not get the best of us. Because the best part of me is him.
Today is our sixth wedding anniversary. We both knew after our first date that we wanted to get married and become a family. When I stood out in the 108 degree heat six years ago and said that I wanted it to be forever, I meant it and I know he did, too. We had no idea then what would lie ahead of us and the joy, exhaustion and unrivaled fun that our daughters would bring to our lives. And I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.