What I do know is that we ate out a lot; watched a lot of TV; took showers and went to the bathroom without an audience; only cleaned up messes that were ours; weren't sick as much; traveled to wherever we wanted to go whenever we wanted to; and ran our dishwasher and washing machine only every few days as opposed to daily. I can recall those big-picture moments when I think about it, but what comes to mind when I really try to recall it is how much we, rightfully so, were selfish with our time, efforts and energy. Because that's what you're supposed to be pre-children and I don't fault us -- or others -- one iota for being that way. You're the only people you're caring for, so it only makes sense.
What I wasn't expecting was how much having children would change us both as individuals and as a married couple.
Because once Walker (and then, ultimately Knox) were born, there was no room to be selfish with our time, our efforts or our energy. Once those babies came, for us, life was all about them: their eating/sleeping/feeding schedule; finding trustworthy caregivers if we wanted to go out to dinner or travel; and we no longer worried about the latest style trend or who won the Super Bowl, but more if we were buying the right size diapers, scheduling flu shots, and finding the right preschool. Life was no longer just about us, but about these children we were given.
You see, the thing I've found out about not only marriage, but having a baby, is that it can sometimes bring out the qualities in yourself that you hate the most. You notice those said qualities in your children (like that old saying, "The one you have the most trouble with is the one most like you,") and you see them when arguments/disagreements are brought forth in your marriage. I have said/yelled/screamed/hissed things to Brandon in our marriage -- both pre- and post-kids -- that I would never say to anyone else and would cringe if anyone else heard. I know you have been there and can relate.
But I'm thankful that God blessed me with someone who is the complete opposite of me to bring me back down and to link arms with on this marriage and parenthood journey. Brandon is the proverbial "yin" to my "yang." Where I'm impatient, chatty, quick-tempered, OCD about germs and organization, and, admittedly, quick to judge, Brandon is thoughtful, thinks before he speaks, sees big-picture and is a problem solver. Where I'm a fixer and a "do-er" and never meet a stranger, Brandon is more cautious with his feelings and emotions and has to trust you implicitly before he lets you in. These qualities (whether positive or negative) make our marriage work for us, but also allow our parenting to work for us, as well.
But having a baby changed us. It changed us for the bad (the arguments we had over who was getting up more often or who had the next "shift" can go to the back corners of my mind and collect cobwebs for all I care) -- but it also changed us for the good. I didn't realize how much Brandon was in my corner until I heard my husband explaining to someone why we schedule our babies, or why we couldn't (and wouldn't) come over at noon on Christmas Day...and I certainly didn't realize how much more love, respect and admiration I had for him until I watched him become a father. Of course, I love him more now than I did the day I married him -- but much of that love blossomed out of a deeper friendship, respect, and awe of watching him join together with me, pushing forward as team in our parenting journey. (I'm not saying you can't grow to love and respect your spouse more if you don't have children. I'm saying that, from our own marriage, this has allowed us to feel that way.)
At each stage of our boys' lives, I'm in continuous awe when I watch Brandon with Walker and Knox. Seeing him kick a soccer ball in the driveway or take them exploring in the wooded trails near our house or even teaching them how to play a video game...it awes and humbles me. Like the qualities that make our marriage work, we have different attributes that allow us to be a strong team in parenting, too. Where he's the more outdoorsy (and patient) one who will wrestle with them on command, throw them high into the air in the pool and make them obey in .025 seconds, I'm the one who loses patience quickly, but teaches them how to dress themselves, asks them to help me in the kitchen, works with them on things like spelling their names and recognizing shapes and colors. It's not -- and we are most definitely not -- perfect, but it works for us.
That old saying, "Respect breeds respect" is true, and while it's often used in a workplace setting, we've found it works well for marriage and for parenting, too. We've all found that the more we respect each other, the more we respect each other.
We are by no means perfect and have daily and hourly failures as both a spouse and a parent (and a daughter/son, brother/sister, grandchild, etc.). We have daily conversations with the Lord about our shortcomings and pray He will change us and shape us to better glorify Him. We are thankful in our house for Lamentations 3:23: "...His mercies are new every morning." Thank goodness for that, because we sure do need it as a spouse and a parent.
All of that said, if you're pregnant, just had a baby, thinking about/talking about/praying about being pregnant, Brandon and I have a couple of tips to keep your marriage front and center during your journey.
1. Make time for each other
This sounds much easier said than it is done, but trust me. Go out to dinner without kids. Say "yes" to that concert invitation from your friends. Take that trip. Make room in the budget for a babysitter, or ask the grandparents to watch the kid(s) for a few hours while you have dinner. We're so bad about this, but try to talk about anything other than your kids while you're together. It's hard, but you can do it! (And yes, this "make time for each other" includes being intimate!)
2. Understand you're a team
Parenting is a team effort and you'll get nowhere when you start the "comparison game." You know what I mean: saying you do XYZ and it's not fair that he only does X. It only leads to bitterness and resentment, and that's not fair to anyone. Work together and ask each other what you can do to help.
3. Say "thank you"
I talked to someone once who told me they never thanked their spouse and asked me why I did. I was a little taken aback and thought for a while about why we thanked each other. What I came up with is that respect thing. I respect Brandon, he respects me, and even though certain roles in our house are typical and expected (in our house, he grills while I do the inside cooking; he deals with the pool and yard maintenance while I deal with the majority of the cleaning inside...it's what works best for us), I enjoy being thanked every now and again so I want to ensure Brandon is thanked, too. Some days I've had a really rough day with the boys and just hearing him say, "Hey, thank you for dealing with their crazy behavior all day," really brightens my mood and shows me he does notice that it's not always sunshine and roses over here.
4. Find your tribe who supports your marriage
Whether it's joining a church (which I also think is super important in a parenting journey), or making and meeting friends or being super close with your family, find your tribe. And, as the quote says, "...and love them hard." Having girlfriends (and Brandon guy friends) that we can talk about our kids to, ask for advice and prayers from, and know they have our back in our marriage and parenting journey is invaluable to us. I often get teary-eyed at our kids' birthday parties when I look around the room and see the friends there who love us, support us and pray for us and our kids. And, your friends are the ones you can text one afternoon and say, "Today is an example of why I send my kids to preschool. They're driving me crazy!" and the next day saying, "Seriously, I don't want them to go to Kindergarten. It makes me sick thinking about it!" -- and they'll know you're not crazy. ;) We've had our tribe bring us meals after babies or when we've all been sick, pick our kids up from school and bring them home when we needed them to, watch the boys when we had dentist appointments, and the list goes on. Our friends with children are a great helper to us in our marriage and parenting journey.
5. Understand that comparison is the thief of joy
No one is perfect. No marriage is perfect. No parent is perfect. Don't strive for perfection because you'll never attain it. And don't compare your marriage to someone else's or your parenting journey to anyone else's. I'm so guilty of this! I often think, "Oh, they just look like they have the best marriage!" And then I'm reminded that they probably bicker just like we do, have fights over stupid things just like we do, and yell at their kids from time to time, too. So I often remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy. One of my favorite quotes is, "The grass isn't greener on the other side. It's greener where you water it." It's so true! I often pray not for perfection as a wife and a mother, but that God will allow me to be better than I was yesterday, allow me to invest daily in my role as Brandon's wife and Walker and Knox's mom, and show me where I need to improve in both. It's not easy (because when God bends you it most certainly doesn't feel good) but don't ever compare -- it's like a rocking chair: gives you something to do but doesn't get you anywhere.
6. Finally, don't put your marriage on hold while you're raising kids
Haven't you heard that old saying? "Don't put your marriage on hold while you're raising kids or you'll end up with an empty nest -- and an empty marriage." We are clearly just starting out on this parenting journey, but we've had this told to us more times than we can count -- and for good reason. This kind of goes back to #1 above, but make time for your marriage, whether out on a date, on a trip or just holding hands watching TV together. I remember my parents saying as we were growing up that their first priority was God, then each other, and then us kids -- and that's how Brandon and I strive to be, too. I know it's hard when they're teeny tiny and need attention 24/7, but try so hard to be each other's spouse as much as you're "Mommy" and "Daddy." Because one day, those kids will be grown and gone and it will be just the two of you.
So what about you? Did parenthood change your marriage? What advice do you have for keeping your marriage front and center during your parenthood journey?