I never fully appreciated how much the general public feels they may comment freely on your personal life and choices until I became a parent. As anyone with kids has probably learned, everyone seems to have tips to share, even if they’re unsolicited: sleep, feeding, dressing, childcare etc…the list goes on. I can tune most of it out, but one that always bothered me was hearing how I should approach my marriage after kids. People I was barely acquaintances with, articles, books, etc. all felt the need to deliver the message that my marriage should come before my children or it was doomed to fail. Lack of “date nights” and babies sleeping in my bed were surely the death knell for us as a couple, so watch out! Don’t let the kids divide you! “Don’t forget that you were his wife before you were their mother,” a woman once told me.
Except, this wasn’t helpful advice for me, or even, for us.
Every child, couple, and family is different. Just like there’s no secret formula that works for all parenting situations, there’s no secret formula for all marriages. Weekly date nights, or even monthly date nights, aren’t on our calendar. Between kids and jobs and house projects, we’re lucky to average 4 sans-kids events per year. Would we like to escape alone more? You bet! But the time, planning, and money (babysitters are not cheap these days!) involved negates the benefits for us, most of the time. If date nights and couples trips are your thing, that’s wonderful! You should certainly do what works for you as a family and as a couple. But if this advice simply stresses you out more, as it did me, then read on.
Marriage Advice We Ignore:
“You were a couple before you were parents; don’t forget that! Put your marriage ahead of your children.”
True…we were boyfriend and girlfriend, then fiancees, then husband and wife before we became parents. Also, during that whole time, we remained grown adult people, who can understand that often, the needs of our babies and young children come before our own needs. We both agree that for now, our focus is on our work as parents, and if that means we spend our Friday nights watching Wonder Pets, then so be it.
“Teach your children that their needs are not any more important than that of your spouse.”
An older mom once advised me to teach my (very young) kids that their needs are not any more important than her husband’s needs. When her husband arrived home from work, she would not allow the kids to rush into the room; they had “couple time” first where they chatted about their days and told the kids they’d have to wait to join the convo. That worked for her, and that’s great. For us, what works is chatting together after the kids are in bed, and giving all four family members equal “talking about their day” time when we all arrive home. We don’t exclude anyone or try to send the message that anyone’s relationship, be it husband-wife or parent-child, is more important than anyone else’s.
“Never allow a baby or child to sleep in your bed!”
Oh yes, before kids, I swore this would never happen. My attitudes on sleep have changed significantly in the past seven years, and now my battle cry is “Sleep at any cost!” I sleep best when I know my children are sleeping well and content, and for us, that meant babies in our bed from about 4 months old until about 1 year old both times. One thing parenting has taught me is that I cannot think rationally or make good decisions without solid, restful sleep, and my own mental health was so much better when we just started doing what worked for our own family.
“Vacation without the kids!”
This is something that is changing a bit as our boys are getting older, but until recently, traveling as a couple without the kids never, ever happened. I think it’s fantastic if you enjoy solo trips as a couple: more power to you! Enjoy it, and live it up! For me, the stress and worry about my kids zapped the fun right out of it. For the first 3-ish years of motherhood, I was nursing, and travel without the kids just wasn’t possible. As my kids weaned, travel without kids was a) costly, and b) logistically tough. Finding someone to watch them overnight for multiple nights, dealing with the “reset” of getting them back into their usual routine after, and missing them made it not worth it for us. Now, however, our kids are both school-aged, and we are enjoying more trips without them, confident that they’re fine in our absence.
So if you’re just starting out as parents, fear not. As with all the advice that will be thrown your way as new parents, pick and chose what you listen to, and ultimately know that what is most important is doing what works for you!