Marriage After Children – The New Normal

Our family of four. Photo Credit: Jason Domingues Photography

On the first night home from the hospital with our newborn son my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Now what?” Everything we once knew had been erased, and the meaning of “us” had been transformed.

Evenings of romantic dinners, sleeping in on weekends, vacations planned solely around the best nightlife all came to a complete halt when the sole purpose of every minute, of every day, became keeping a tiny human alive. So of course, the dynamic of a once couple-centric relationship was bound to evolve when a new family member entered the world.

The New Relationship.
Titles are no longer, “husband” and “wife,” instead it’s “mom” and “dad.” Weird. One of you will become the disciplinarian, the other the fun one. You will embrace these titles and use it to torture your children for years to come.

A “parent scorecard” is subconsciously put in to effect. Gone are the days of  “oh, he can sleep in while I make breakfast.” Instead, it is a game of “let’s see who can pretend to be asleep the longest as to avoid having to get up at 4:45 in the morning with a teething infant.”

A silent tally will be kept of who took the trash out last. And why did he get to take a nap and I’m the one who hasn’t slept in five days? The rational, pre-child you, would have brushed it off. The emotional, new parent-you, vigilantly keeps track, ready to release the stats when the end of the rope has been reached.

And yet out of love and sheer exhaustion, most days the scorecard is forgotten, even though you are certain you sleep significantly fewer hours than he does. It’s forgotten because of a deep appreciation for the new role your spouse has embraced. Not much is more heartwarming than seeing your husband lovingly cradle his baby, or make ridiculous faces without abandon in return for sweet baby giggles. These moments remind you made the perfect choice in a mate.

The New Romance.
Texts become increasingly less flirty, and more, “We need diapers and breast pads.” Romantic gestures include doing an extra load of laundry without being prompted. Glancing over at one another during a diaper change and chuckling about being peed on for the second time that day counts as quality time together.

Instead of reservations at the coolest restaurant in town, romance means recognizing the other’s efforts, saying “thank you,” and coming home with king-sized candy bars you can eat in sweet, sweet silence together once the kids are in bed and can’t get their grubby little hands on them.

The New Date Night.
Remember when the biggest decision being made on a Friday night was which hot restaurant to saunter in to? And what cute, new, body conscious dress would be worn? Hopefully you see someone you know so they can see how stylish you are! Nowadays it’s more like this: find a shirt that doesn’t have snot stains on the shoulder. Put on mascara, hopefully on both eyes this time. Try to make a two-day-old ponytail presentable, and exchange your diaper bag for a clutch. At least you have one stylish thing in this equation.

Reservations are made for 5 p.m., when let’s be serious, reservations are not needed even at the hottest of restaurants. Reservations, however, HAD to be made because there was NO way either one of you is taking a chance on missing out on a meal where pizza is not on the menu.

Due to habit, the food is inhaled at the same rate as if you were at home feeding multiple small children. You inherently cut up every bite in to minuscule pieces, without even thinking twice. Alcoholic drinks are consumed at the same rate as the meal. It’s now 5:45, dinner is devoured and paid for. Now what?

This will leave three hours of extra babysitting time to kill, because by no means can you return home before bedtime. The options most likely to happen include:

  • A couple’s trip to Costco, where due to the fast consumption of alcohol, you leave with a lifetime supply of beef jerky and batteries.
  • Contemplate attending a movie, not rated PG. You then look at the clock and realize it starts past 8:00, therefore, there’s a high likelihood one, if not both of you, will end up drooling and napping in your popcorn by 8:35.
  • You quickly take a couples selfie, or “usie,” whatever the hipsters are calling it these days, to record you had alone time while wearing makeup.
  • Finally, after realizing your level of exhaustion, you drive home slowly, listening to the radio loudly, and stroll in at 8:15. Immediately, sweat pants replace the pants with an actual waist band, and you curl up on the couch, high five one another for a night out and fall asleep watching Making a Murderer. Success!
A date night "usie" to prove we can look presentable!

A date night “usie” to prove we can look presentable!

The New Fun. The sound of baby giggles, experiencing the first bath, steps, and words represent the new definition of fun. Enjoying those moments with your spouse and reminiscing about them over family dinner warm your heart and connect you to one another.

Fun becomes standing together, stone faced, as our son drops his first curse word, explaining why such a word is unacceptable, and then turning our backs and laughing hilariously once we round the corner. At least he used it in the correct context?!? But it’s still horrible, of course.

Fun is experiencing joy and firsts through the eyes of your child. Seeing them enjoy life through the lens of pure innocence and wonder is light years beyond what used to be fun as a couple.

Yes, marriage after children is different. It means less sleep and less devoted couple time. It is stressful and exhausting. It also feels like home. Life before kids seems like a far off land of make believe. In fact, we can barely remember pre-baby days, probably because we haven’t had a full night’s rest in four years, but also because life is perfectly imperfect since their arrivals.

We are a team, a united front, of two people who love each other trying our best raise kind, smart, well-adjusted children. Even though the dynamic of our relationship has changed, the appreciation of one another has increased ten-fold. Knowing each other as a married couple is nice, but seeing a partner through the lens of mother or father brings another level of gratitude and awe.

Our life is more Chuck E. Cheese than five-star nowadays, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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