For the first several months of parenthood, I felt pressure to spend a lot of time with Terry when he came home from work. I was so worried that if we didn't sit down together for approximately three hours every night we would suddenly find ourselves in a miserable, loveless marriage. At the end of the day, the sink was full of dishes I couldn't get to during the day, the house was messy from who knows what, and my blog sat untouched. People always, always, always say that "the house will still be there tomorrow, don't be so focused on cleaning when you have a baby." So I thought I was supposed to just ignore the mess. Terry would offer (every night) to help with cleaning and dishes, but I always insisted that I could do it tomorrow (as though magically the next day would present me with hours of uninterrupted time to clean?). We needed to sit down together! Talk! Cuddle, damn it!
But, as you might imagine, putting pressure on myself to do all the work so that we could "hang out" at the end of the night could never last. What was I thinking? I spent my days in a fog of exhaustion, digging around the house for clean burp cloths to mop up spit up, cuddling the baby, nursing constantly. Why wasn't I asking for help when my husband came home? Why was I so convinced that sitting and talking every night while trying to ignore the day-to-day chores was a feasible long-term plan and the only way to avoid marital disaster? The truth is, I could skip the dusting and mopping for a while, but seeing my house in complete disarray caused more stress.
Finally, maybe when Marshall was five or six months old (took awhile, I know), I realized how much happier and relaxed I was on days when Terry and I worked together to get stuff done in the evenings. How nice it was to wake up to a clean(ish, let's be honest) house. How wonderful it felt to just focus on Marshall all day instead of walking past a sinkful of dishes 83 times and telling myself I'd get to them soon. And, naturally, then, how gratifying it was to sit down with my husband at the end of the day to truly relax, even if only for thirty minutes, to talk about our days, to enjoy each other's company without the burden of seventeen chores looming over my next day.
I always knew a marriage was supposed to be about sharing the load, but I didn't truly appreciate that sentiment until this last year challenged me. I thought the key to a strong marriage was making sure we enjoy each other's company, uninterrupted, taking in some relaxing hobby, every day, which is a nice thought, but it wasn't realistic. With a baby, the rules changed for us. We needed to focus not just on our marriage but on our family, on establishing healthy, long-term routines that would ensure we would stay sane through parenthood. Watching TV together and chatting on the couch at the end of the day was feasible before Marshall came along, but that first year required a lot more effort from both of us at the end of the day.
So anyway, for us, a big key to keeping our marriage healthy is sharing the load around the house in the evenings. Now that Marshall's older and we have a washer and dryer (seriously a life-changer), I am able to take on a lot more work during the day (prepping meals, starting laundry, tidying up, etc.), but Terry and I still work together to try to finish dishes, clean the kitchen, fold laundry if needed, pack lunches for the next day, package up leftovers. It goes faster if we work together, and we also kind of chat a little while we work, which is fun.
Here's some other stuff we do to keep the magic alive:
- Continue our favorite activities. We don't travel nearly as much anymore, but we still enjoy working out, taking long walks, cooking, hiking, going to breweries, exploring new places in LA, and watching TV. Marshall tags along like a champ so we can still do things we like!
- Plan couch dates. Watch a movie, drink some wine, play a game, whatever. It's a nice break from our parent personas, and it's basically free!
- Actual dates. They're super rare around here, because we always feel bad asking our friends and family to babysit, even though they insist that they don't mind. But when we get a chance to go out, it's a breath of fresh air.
2015--a date to Costco
- Really talk. It's so hard to find time to talk with a baby around. But we really try to make it a priority, even if we're just talking about the books we're reading, and we also try to avoid making Marshall the topic of every conversation (harder than I thought!).
- Be affectionate with each other. For the first few months after Marshall was born, when I was nursing nonstop, the last thing I wanted was to be in contact with another person. I've heard other women describe it as feeling "touched-out," and I can totally relate. But introducing a baby to the family also brings on other logistical issues for affection: When one of you is pushing the stroller, how do you hold hands? If my only chance to blog is at the end of the day, how do we cuddle on the couch? If one of us is holding or playing with Marshall most of the time, how do we keep up the little moments of affection we always used to do, like simply putting an arm around each other? Now we make more of an effort: Terry makes sure to give me a kiss when he gets home from work, we hug meaningfully on the regular (Marshall thinks it's so funny when we hug or kiss!), and we make sure to hold hands or cuddle whenever possible. It's a reminder that we're not just coworkers raising a kid or roommates living together.
- Spend time apart. Terry likes to watch a TV show or two after I go to bed, and I love me some yoga or a little quality time with Friends (the TV show or actual people, doesn't matter). It's nice to continue to enjoy our separate hobbies on occasion, and we are each rejuvenated by it.
Any suggestions for keeping the magic alive? It's much harder with a kid, but the rewards of raising a little boy together are certainly worth the effort!
2015--my goodness, we look exhausted...