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.
Tears in the Trenches: Motherhood is HARD
It had been a super long day.
All of our help had left. I had been back at this solo mommy thing for a little over a week and Paul was working his third late night in that time. My evening had been filled with overly energetic boys due to the cold weather and I had fished a dirty plunger out of a bathtub full of clean children. I had finally wrestled them all in bed only to have spent the last hour sitting in the dark holding a screaming baby girl… longing for my cold dinner waiting for me in the microwave. The tears streaming down my face.
All I could do was cry with her.
Why does this motherhood gig have to be so freakin’ hard? Sometimes I even wonder why the Lord quite literally saved my life for this? For these long days wiping poop and breaking up fights. For the days when I can’t remember if I ate breakfast… or lunch for that matter. For the days when I haven’t sat down to rest for a second yet still can’t see the floor due to the mess. For the days when I am convinced I am royally screwing it all up?
I admit. Sometimes I want out. Sometimes I wish I could put on pretty clothes and go be amazing at a corporate job. Somedays I feel like that yellow bus calls my name. Sometimes I just want to walk out the door and never come back. But I don’t. I wipe one more nose. Make one more sandwich. Wrap one more swaddle. Teach one more lesson. Give one more hug.
The reality is, I think it is supposed to be hard. We have been entrusted with the responsibility of raising humans. I would even venture to say it is the hardest job in the world, raising the next generation. In those times when I am ready to quit I try to step back and think about the value of pressing through the hard times. Things of value often require work and my children, they are valuable. The most valuable things the Lord has given me.
I think the biggest favor we as moms can do ourselves is to recognize that this IS hard. That despite what we see on instagram or at Target, we all struggle. We all have days where we feel like we aren’t cutting it. And you know what? That’s ok. We need to give ourselves permission to just let the tears fall somedays. Because while there are immense blessings in motherhood, there are also many struggles. The only way I can make it through these long days are by crying out to the Lord. He has called us to do this incredible job and He will equip us to make it through each day.
Each season of motherhood seems impossible. Sometimes it seems we won’t be able to make it to the next. But it is the Lord’s work in us that allows us to not only make it through but see the fruit of our labor. It is his strength that gives us the ability to press on.
So on the days when I am ready to throw in the towel. The days when I question why the Lord called me to stay at home or homeschool. The days when I am CONVINCED I am not enough. I remember the promises of His word “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…”* Because, while I know it is hard… it is WORTH IT.
*Philippians 1:6b ESV
Surviving the crashing waves: hope for the drowning mom
I see her everywhere.
She is in Target with her newborn in a stroller (loaded down with 25 million things just in case she needs something), venturing out for the first time. Scared to death by the responsibility of this tiny person.
She is at Chick-fil-a trying to entertain her rambunctious 20 month old while her baby nurses, wondering if she will ever eat a warm bite of food again.
She is at the park trying to convince a stubborn 2 year old and 4 year old that it is time to go while a baby screams in the stroller, kept out well past his naptime in her effort to give her older kids some time to play. She is praying she can hold it together long enough to just make it to the car.
She is the mom of young kids and she is drowning. She is convinced she will never get through this time. She has no idea how everyone else survives. She is frozen in the crashing waves and cannot see the shore.
I was that mom. The months after Sterling, my second son, was born were some of the darkest of my life. I was so overwhelmed. I was worried I had made a mistake in taking on two children, that I had pushed my luck, that I was never going to be able to manage. We were living 7 hours away from family. Paul was working constantly and often gone for days or weeks at a time out to sea. Sterling was so miserably sick. I spent hours holding a hurting baby, many in the middle of the night. We went to 2-3 doctor’s appointments a week. Every outing was an ordeal. The days were so long and I was drowning.
One day Paul came home from work to find me locked in our bedroom sobbing. I had struggled with Sterling to get him to sleep that day while Wyatt, 15 months old at the time, threw a tantrum. I had hit my breaking point. When he entered the room I was overcome with emotion. “What have I done?” “how am I going to manage?” “What if it never gets better?” I could not see the end to the crashing waves and I was convinced I would never breathe again. I wept before the Lord and he heard my cry. He met me there, face down on my bedroom floor and covered me in grace.
Life got better. I found my groove. I poured myself into research and became my child’s advocate and we were able to find a happy normal (I so wish I would have had essential oils back then). I began to figure out how to navigate life with 2 little boys and a husband who was often gone. I began to see the shore. Life didn’t necessarily get easier, in a lot of ways it got harder, (not long after we moved across the country only for Paul to deploy 10 days later and I spent the next 8 months alone in an unknown place) but the Lord showed me repeatedly his grace was sufficient.
I learned something during those months. I cannot do motherhood alone, I need a savior. I learned that God is victorious even in the darkest times. I also learned to live in grace.
With the addition of each baby I have been able to let some things go. The house is not as clean these days. Sometimes the dinner is not gourmet. I’ve accepted that it is okay for my older boys to watch TV while I feed a baby or for my baby to miss a nap so we can go to the aquarium. I no longer attempt to say yes to everything. I am home more. This is where God has called me to be. He is sanctifying me as a mother.
Even with 4 young boys, I have never struggled as much as I did in those days. The days are still long. I still feel the waves sometimes, but those months gave me an anchor in the Lord that I had never experienced before. He gives me strength to get through each day, to encourage other moms who are treading water and wondering if they are cut out for this job, that He is there. He loves your children more than you do and made you their mother. His grace is sufficient.
If you are there right now can I encourage you to do a couple things?
Spend time with the Lord. I am going to be 100% honest and tell you I struggle with this. I am a night owl and cannot imagine a world where I wake up early willingly and often times by the end of the night find I have left out intentional time with the Lord. But I do make a conscious effort to seek the Lord throughout the day. I pray in the shower or while I am driving and the boys are preoccupied. I pray in response to my sin and lack of patience. Every day I pray for grace. It can make a HUGE difference in the course of your day.
Make your husband a priority. I know often times that piece of advice sounds like one more thing on our plate as moms, but I promise is you it will bring you joy. Make date night a necessity. I know you love your kids and think they need you all the time, but a couple of hours away each week or every other week will not hurt them, it will help them. It will help them because they will find security in seeing their parents making time for each other. Date night rejuvenates me. It helps me remember that I am more than just a mommy covered in spit up, being pulled 15 million directions each day. It reminds me that I am someones bride and our marriage is the reason we have these amazing, loving, crazy, loud children. Make sex multiple times a week a priority too. Even if you don’t feel like it, doing it will make you feel closer to your husband and more supported as you tackle each day. He will also be happier. Simply remember to talk to each other.
Cut yourself some slack. Do not buy into this lie that everything has to be perfect all the time. It is okay if you cannot keep the floors constantly clean or the laundry caught up. It is okay if your kids are not involved in every extracurricular activity. It is okay to just relax and enjoy your family. Set realistic goals about what you think you can get done and then let the rest of it go. Talk to your husband about his expectations and these goals so you both recognize the changes children bring. Perfection is a recipe for heartache and exhaustion. Your children want you, not a spotless house.
If this is you. If you don’t know how you are going to manage. If you feel like motherhood is too hard. Take hope. Things will get better. You will began to look at your beautiful mess of a life and see the grace of God woven throughout. God called us to this life. He has us here for such a time as this to lead these children to the gospel. It gets so much easier and their is immense joy if you let go and let Him lead.