A Well Oiled Machine: Finding the Balance in Marriage and Parenting
I think it is an established fact that motherhood is hard.
I think you can even take that a step further and say parenthood all around is hard.
It is a season of sacrifice, a season of long days and even longer nights, and a season of immense, sometimes soul crushing, responsibility as we raise these little people. All of this can take a toll on our marriages.
It is no secret that marriages are suffering these days. Divorce rates are high and Millennials are even wary of getting married in the first place. I can’t help but wonder if the modern mentality of making our children the sole focus of our homes is partly to blame. Why are we neglecting to prioritize the relationship that gave us these children in the first place?
I’ll admit Paul and I compliment each other well. We are opposite personalities. I am a dominant extrovert and he is a loyal peacemaking introvert… and while that may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, it works well if I keep my foot stomping, demanding self in check. He has strengths in areas where I am weak and there are ways I am stronger as well. Honestly we often joke that he would make a better stay at home parent and some days I would LOVE to take my bossy self, put on his uniform and be a naval officer… but then I remember he works on a ship and I get terribly seasick. Overall, we just seem to flow well together.
We are also far from perfect. We have our struggles just like any other couple. We disagree. We get on each others nerves. He still refuses to rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. But in the last several years, as our family has grown, we have settled into a beautiful rhythm. We may be more stressed with 5 kids but are much less likely to snap at each other, even going months without a fight. We are quicker to acknowledge and thank the other. We are genuinely happy we get to be with one another, even in the craziness. We have settled into this parenting gig like a well oiled machine.
The other day we were talking about how smoothly the addition of our sweet girl has gone in regards to our marriage compared to our first babies. It was amazing to look back over the last 7 years and see that the tasks have not changed but WE have changed. The Lord has grown and shaped us as parents. Obviously we still have a lot of growing to do… we have 18 more years before our nest is empty and many trials ahead, but there are several things we have done through the years that I think attribute to our current joy.
The first, before we ever had children, even before we were married, we agreed that we wanted to be intentional parents. From the beginning we were in agreement that our ultimate goal in raising these kids was to point them to the gospel. We want more than anything else for our children to know Jesus and live their lives to serve him. In light of that we also wanted to raise them to see the importance of marriage as the picture of the gospel. In our house, our marriage comes first. We want our children to see what a precious relationship marriage is and find their security in being loved members of our family, not the center of our family.
For us, this means we don’t have kids in our bed. We chose to have a space that is ours alone. We have bedtimes and routines that protect the time in the evening for each other.
It means we date often. One of us is with our children 95% of the time and it is beneficial for them to see us leaving to go have fun alone. It has also resulted in our kids doing well with babysitters and what a blessing some of those girls have been to our family through the years!
It means we are intentional about discipline and are in agreement about what that looks like in our family. We don’t allow our children to go back and forth between us on a decision. Each parent’s word is final and they see that we respect each other.
The second thing we have done, and probably the area we have grown the most, is we try to think about how we can make life better for the other. Honestly, this one is easier said than done. This is the one we have failed royally at at times in the past and will most likely fail at again in the future. I can look back on the early years of our parenting journey and see ways we have hurt each other simply by not thinking about the other.
I think this looks different for women and men. The best way Paul does this for me is by offering help. It may be doing some dishes or laundry. It may be offering me time away to recharge from the craziness of 5 kids. It may be simply acknowledging that my work is hard and noteworthy. I know he works hard. I know he is tired. But in the last several months he has shown me so much love by alleviating some of the burdens from my plate.
But help is not necessarily what he needs from me. I think often times the biggest thing we as women can offer our husbands on this parenting journey is ourselves. I know, sometimes this can be really hard. I am tired. I am overwhelmed with my to-do list. I have been touched by children all day and feel like a dairy cow making milk for our baby. Often times I would prefer to take a long bath and sleep for a year. But when I step outside of myself and choose to offer attention, affection, or sex, even when I may not feel like it, my husband feels loved. And that is worth giving a little more of myself. That is part of this beautiful rhythm.
The final way we have found balance in our family and marriage, is not overfilling our schedule. This has not been true for all seasons of our life. We have had times when we have had a laundry list of obligations and grumpiness resulted. But for the most part we have found that making sure we have time to play and relax together as a family makes for a happier marriage. We are less stressed and I cook more, so we eat better. Our kids are less cranky and therefore we are more patient. Our routine runs smoother and so we have more quality time together when our kids go to bed. Sometimes a full schedule can’t be avoided, but sometimes you have to learn to say no to protect that rhythm. I believe a happier home leads to a happier marriage, and that is worth missing a few events or opting out of a soccer season.
This parenting thing is hard. It is easy to focus on all the needs of our children and miss the person beside us. But I think it is important for us to take a step back and evaluate our marriages. See if we need to tune anything up to make things run smoother. Because after there are no more diapers, after the last soccer game is played, and after the final college bill is paid… this person you married is the one that will be there until the end and a little maintenance makes for a long happy life.