Surviving Parenthood Without Breaking Up Your Marriage

Here's a humiliating confession for you: somewhere along the line, "Do you want to put on a Curious George?" became a sexual overture between my husband and me.

If you really want the backstory -- which I concede you probably do NOT -- a while back we we noticed that Curious George was the only television show that could reliably tractor-beam both children for a good 20 minutes or so, and so if we wanted to, say, sneak away during daylight hours to have one of those times when a Mommy and a Daddy love each other very very much, and they give each other a big BIG hug, etc., well -- Curious George was it. (This also ended up putting a dirty spin on the oft-spoken PBS slogan, "I thought you'd be curious about that.")


This tragic turn of events where an animated children's program became a euphemism for an afternoon quickie is just one of many, many, MANY ways in which parenthood has changed our marriage. "For better, for worse" perfectly describes the challenge of having kids together -- as does this wonderful post, "That Baby Wants to Break You Up." Written by Claire Zulkey, this "part cautionary tale, part search for commiseration" is everything I wish I'd read seven-plus years ago.

Zulkey writes,

... once the kid was outside of me, that warm anticipation frayed away to raw nerves, irritability, and fear. I had always been so confident in my relationship with my husband, but now it felt like we were struggling just to get along, let alone be in love anymore.

God, yes. Just yes. I likened the experience of co-parenting a baby to being in the trenches of Vietnam together, dodging enemy fire. Except in this scenario you fantasize, repeatedly, about leaving a man behind. It's not that you don't love each other, it's just that circumstances have changed SO MUCH. Life is SO MUCH HARDER. You had NO IDEA how challenging it would be to fight over who gets to leave the house for five damn minutes.

surviving parenthood marriageOur kids are older now, 7 and 5, and things aren't nearly so difficult. Many of the things Zulkey writes about -- the lack of sleep, the all-encompassing demands of an infant, the sudden veering left turn from your childfree life into ParentingVille -- aren't things we continue to struggle with.

But married life is very different than it used to be. In particular, the ability to spend time together as a couple, in bed or in a restaurant or a movie theater or a vacation or just a trip to the store together -- excepting the rare date night, that all pretty much disappeared the moment our first son entered our lives. Of all the changes, I think it's been hardest to say goodbye to spontaneity. To work at finding intimacy where we can (cue Curious George theme music) rather than just taking those moments for granted.

It's all worth it, as the saying goes, and it's true. It really has been. There are painful sacrifices and there are indescribable gifts and that's just how it all works. Being in those trenches challenged us, but ultimately made us stronger. Our bond is tighter than it's ever been, because it's not just about the two of us anymore. We took the love we had for each other and we multiplied it a thousand times over. Our blood is joined and runs through the veins of these amazing little people we share our lives with.

Growing a family is a tough job, and when I think about everything we've been through, I feel so lucky. I'm so grateful we made it this far, and I feel good about our future. I feel like we're going to make it all the way to the end of the road together, navigating the rough spots hand in hand.

How did having children affect your marriage? Did it make things harder for a while?

Image via Linda Sharps

Read More >