Before having kids, I thought I had a glimpse of what the hardest parts of parenthood would be. I had babysat throughout my teen years. I already had a few nieces and nephews. I had changed diapers, dealt with tantrums, cleaned up spills, and had food chucked at me from an angry toddler.
I’m going to be tired, I told myself. My body may never be the same. How will I manage my career and motherhood? That’s going to be hard, I said. Will we struggle financially? Will my child be healthy? Will I never not worry?
I thought I knew all the things I had to think about, worry about, plan for, anticipate.
But one piece I was drastically unprepared for was how becoming a mom would affect my marriage.
Before having kids, my husband confided in me that he was scared. He was scared about the change—it had been just him and me for so long (nearly 10 years). He was scared that I’d forget about him.
Of course, I told him he was crazy. We’d join forces and parent together! We’d be a team! United front! I’d never forget about him as I knew he’d be by my side every step of the way.
And then the baby came, and he was right. Except in some ways, he sort of forgot about me too. We both very quickly got lost in the swirl of babies and toddlers. Every year or two, another baby arrived, when the next oldest was still a baby himself.
It was a foggy few years in there where I can honesty admit that I did forget my husband. I fell deeper and deeper in the motherhood role as more babies came and toddlers started potty-training and year after year passed of me playing blocks and watching Thomas the Train and breastfeeding day and night. And he fell deeper and deeper into his career, probably for something to hold on to since I was pretty unreachable, but probably also because of the pressure to support our growing family.
We’ve talked about those years, those years of disconnect. Those years of me not wanting to snuggle him after bedtime because OH MY GOSH was I touched-out. Those years of me fighting depression because motherhood was 8-million times harder and lonelier and more exhausting that I’d thought it would be.
We can talk about them now, frankly, with honesty, because we made it. We came out the other side of that fog. We’re both still here. We still love each other. We still have a lot of years together. And for that, we are grateful beyond measure.
But to be honest, we really had to find each other again. And it took almost losing each other entirely to realize we had better stick out a hand and grab ahold to this thing called marriage. Thankfully, we did it just in time. Thankfully, as we’d almost given each other up for lost, we both looked back and saw the other one standing there—becoming more and more distant, but still there. And we called out to each other. We realized that we did miss each other’s presence. We did miss each other’s touch. We missed laughing together, dreaming together, planning more than just the week’s dinner schedule and handing babies back and forth. We missed talking about dream trips to Alaska and Italy and renovations we may never do like our kitchen and a cool bar in our basement.
In that moment of seeing each other slip away, we saved ourselves and our marriage —just in the nick of time.
Once I emerged from the baby and toddler fog a bit and started sending my kids to preschool, sleeping through the night, and feeling like I could breathe again as they played independently more and were attached to me less, I had time and strength to give more to our relationship.
With a little push, I found myself able to leave them more often with babysitters. It felt good to get dressed up and go out for dinner. We even stole away for a long weekend now and then.
Our kids are old enough now to play on their own, so now we can sneak off for a few minutes of alone time. With several kids in the house, that may not mean a full-on romp, but it could mean a few long kisses. It could mean an uninterrupted hug and a real conversation. (And, it actually has meant a quickie on rare occasion.)
We sneak in lunch dates now. We sit next to each other for family movie night, instead of on separate couches. Yeah, it may not be the most romantic thing to snuggle up watching Paddington, but as parents, we take what we can get. Our kids see us prioritize ourselves, together, holding hands, and they fit themselves on the couch around us accordingly.
And we started therapy. We learned about our own needs (I didn’t even know what mine were!) and about the other person’s needs and how to prioritize them. We learned what we need to do to ensure we continue walking through life together, on the same path, so that never again will we find each other so far in the distance, almost lost forever.
The thing that I realized, just as we were both about to slip away, is that I really do love my husband. He is my best friend and the person I want to go gray with. I want to bring our kids to college together and take a “60 and older cruise” someday and downsize to a condo together after the kids are grown so we can travel the world and visit our grand-babies wherever they end up.
I can’t beat myself up for those lost years, as I was in survival mode. SAHM life kicked my rear harder than I could have foreseen. Do I wish I had sat with him on the couch after the kids were in bed more often? Of course. Do I wish I had dragged myself into the shower and gone out for dinner, even for just an hour, once in a while? Yes.
But I can’t change the past. Neither can he.
All we can do is take one step forward each day, from here on out. Last night we played a board game with our kids, then worked on a house project together after they were all asleep. Other nights we sit next to each other and read or watch old re-runs of The Office. We go on dates and take trips and laugh and dream again.
Do we still need our space and separate couches now and then? Sure do.
More often, however, we end up together, physically, and connected emotionally. Because the thing is, we actually still like each other. A lot. And that’s a wonderful thing to realize after nearly 20 years of marriage.
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