I recently read an article that basically said for some new parents, having your first child could be emotionally equivalent—or worse—to losing a spouse or experiencing extreme trauma. I immediately did a massive eye roll (like, get over yourself) at this insane comparison and scrolled down to the comments section. I was expecting to see backlash and criticism of the content, but most people seemed to get it. While I definitely do not get that, I do understand the weight children can bring to a relationship and your personal identity. It’s not always easy. It’s not always almost easy. But there are ways to help struggling parents navigate the choppy waters of coping to life with a baby (and for me, another one on the way).
My husband and I have decided to go to marriage counseling. We have never shied away from therapy and think highly of it. We are fortunate to have found someone we trust and feel comfortable in opening up about our problems. With the birth of our first child, we did a lot of shifting. She wasn’t planned, and we weren’t prepared. We are expecting our second baby in a few months, and lately the pressure has taken a toll on our ability to communicate and understand each other. We are new people, much different from the young bride and groom three years ago, and we don’t have a lot of time to get to know one another right now.
Like many parents, the overwhelming love we feel for our kids outweighs any negativity in our home. On the worst days we can still come together and laugh as a family. It’s when we are alone that we notice a shift taking place. There is a looming pressure and anxiety we can sense, which takes all the fun out of the time we do get to be together. We want it to be easy, fun and lighthearted, but our lives are going through mega changes. It’s not the lightest, brightest or easiest, and the weight to make it so can be very loud and destructive.
Pregnancy is also a vulnerable time, and it’s common to feel alone. This can happen on both sides, for the mother and the father. We have so much empathy for the other person in the challenges of our days, but it can feel more like teamwork than a marriage. Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months. Before I knew it, we hit the third trimester, and I was fearful of what another baby would do to our relationship if we didn’t take preventative measures. Having seen so many families be the victims of divorce (usually once their kids leave the home, and there’s no more distraction), I have always looked out for resentment and a lack of joy in our lives.
Thankfully, we both came to the same conclusion at the same time … we needed to get someone else involved. We needed a safer place to open up and gain some clarity. Our sessions started last week, and I am looking forward to channeling whatever we are feeling into constructive progress. I’m not sure why there is a negative stigma surrounding counseling. I don’t think it’s for “broken people.” I think it’s for people who know they weren’t born prepared for every stage of life. Hello, parenting! It didn’t exactly come with a manual for the baby or for the marriage with a baby. And although everyone’s circumstances are different, I believe it’s a vital tool for improving quality of life.
I love my husband to the moon and back. We love our daughter (and soon-to-be son) even further than the sun. We made this decision out of love, not out of desperation. For us, this is what it looks like to protect the union we entered into years ago. I vowed to Matt I would make a case for our marriage whenever seasons of struggle come our way. I vowed to fight, not suffer in silence until one of us buries it enough to pretend we are OK.
One reason I am being so open about this is because I believe in and am for marriage. I am an advocate for commitment, and commitment is hard. It’s the most tiring, most sanctifying, most pruning process to be in the spotlight of your partner and children 24/7. In seasons of sadness or inadequacy, it helps to know you’re not alone and someone else is in your boat. To all my committed parent friends, I am in your boat. I am rowing, too. I am not pretending to be in wedded and parental bliss all day every day. Many parents (in their right) are not open about the unflattering components of life. They may unintentionally lead you to believe they are always on cloud nine. They may always be thankful, committed and even at peace (I pray this for all parents), but I can guarantee you it’s not always perfect (although always worth it).
If no one else will level with you—should you need it—let me be a mouthpiece to learn from. Ask for help! Relationships can experience ailments just like the body. If you treat your body with a remedy for wellness, you don’t need to have any shame in doing the same for your love life. We give this advice often when other couples confide in us about their relationship issues. It probably sounds ironic to be sought out for relational wisdom when we are headed into the therapist’s office again, but that’s one way to acquire said wisdom—you seek counsel. Your spouse, your marriage, your children and their future spouses will benefit from your healthy bond.
A piece of “homework” we were given last week was to do something different activity wise together as a couple or as a family. Our counselor said it is the breaking of a routine or schedule that can bring newness to a relationship—doing something unfamiliar already binds you in what you are experiencing, thus creating a sense of togetherness you don’t have to produce synthetically. We had a family wedding to attend on Sunday, and we already had a babysitter! Because there has been tension for a few weeks, we admitted we were nervous to see how the day unfolded. We agreed to take it minute by minute, letting things go quickly and not dooming the entire day based off one conversation or weak moment.
I’m happy to announce we [mostly] had a great day! Once we got to our destination, we sort of felt we were separated from everything at home (maybe we are just in need of a solid vacation). The few hours of driving to get to the venue created a protective barrier in our brains and allowed us to let go for the evening. We danced and laughed and totally cried during the ceremony. We squeezed hands while vows were exchanged remembering our own and reminiscing in all we have to be thankful for. We ate too many tacos and took pictures that weren’t forced. We were each other’s people again, and I looked at him with adoration and praise. I happily followed Matt around—arm-in-arm—because I couldn’t get enough time with him. As we settle into our Monday, I am praying for a continued sense of hope in the minutes, hours and days to come. And although it’s been far from perfect lately, it’s never too late to choose one another and move forward.