If you’re a parent, you probably are well-aware that marriage after baby can be very tough. You also probably know that this is something that’s not often talked about.
I met a woman in her early 30s who has been married for two years and doesn’t have kids. She doesn’t know if she wants them.
She and her husband are not sure if or how kids fit into the picture, and she’s worried that having kids will cause relationship problems. I told her I wasn’t surprised about her concerns and said that kids will rock your world (in good and not-so-good ways) and that they can also rock your marriage. HARD.
I appreciated her honesty and that she was so willing to open up about a topic that can be hard to discuss.
Though I’d met her less than three hours before this conversation, I told her that my husband and I had a fantastic relationship for eight years. Then we had our first son. For a while, our relationship was no longer “good” (for a longer period of time than I’d like to admit). Our relationship, which had previously been so strong, loving, and fun had pretty much turned to crap (from my postpartum perspective, anyway).
I told her that there was one night when I told my husband I thought having our son was a mistake because I felt like our relationship had been ruined. (I’m tearing up as I write this because there is no way our son was a mistake – we tried for him, he was wanted, and he is loved. But in those dark moments after he was born, I felt like maybe we made the wrong decision).
At the time, I was heartbroken that what had been so wonderful and was such a solid foundation seemed to come tumbling down. It didn’t make sense. We thought we were prepared. We knew it would be tough, but we thought we would be okay. But, for a while, we weren’t.
What I didn’t realize while I was in it is that these feelings are normal. And that my thoughts and feelings were being influenced by hormones that I didn’t understand and, honestly, wasn’t aware of. It just seemed like this was the new normal and it wasn’t good.
I was very honest.
My hunch is that a lot of relationships do suffer after kids and not enough women are willing to talk about it. If we did talk about it with our friends, if we helped to normalize this experience, perhaps it wouldn’t feel as big.
The bigger problem is that we don’t talk about it while it’s happening, or beforehand. And here’s the thing: we thought we talked about it. But you don’t get what it’s like to have a child until you have one, and no one challenged us to really consider what it would be like. It’s like people were scared to say anything.
Marriage gets tough after kids, but that’s not the big problem.
Of course you experience relationship problems after a child; you go from a family of two to a family of three or more, overnight. And in that instant you’re redefining yourself and your roles. You experience love (and hormones) racing through your body and, chances are, you are sleep deprived. Very, very sleep deprived. This colors everything.
If you’re also nursing, this can add another layer of complexity. So, it’s no wonder that the relationship with your significant other changes, dramatically and quickly. This can be very unsettling. The fact we don’t talk about it is what needs to change.
More honest conversations about how hard it REALLY is might help prepare new parents for the fact that it WILL get hard for a while. And chances are, it will also get back on track. However, it’s so easy to get stuck in a downward spiral. If men and women knew that this is normal, maybe they’d get back on track quicker.
So let’s help others be better prepared by being willing to share with not-yet-parents about the nitty-gritty reality that parenthood can be. I know my experience is not unique. I have fantastic mom-friends who have also been willing to open up that they have faced challenges and changes too. And yet, we tip toe around this a lot of the time, and don’t open up until we’re on the other side of it. We need to change the fact that we commiserate with those who have also been through it, but keep quiet around those thinking about having kids.
Honesty is essential
In the moment that I shared my experience, my new friend appreciated this honesty. Though I confirmed her fear, I was also able to calm those fears a bit, too. I helped her understand it’s normal that marriage changes when you have kids and that you can get through it.
It’s easy to feel like we have to handle everything well. It’s too easy to stay quiet and feel like we’re the only ones dealing with struggles that are very normal and common. I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. In any of it. So don’t be afraid to reach out or to speak out; there are huge benefits to talking and listening. It may be scary, but give it a try.
What would you share with others about parenthood if you were being totally honest?
Sara Robinson, MA is the founder of Get Mom Balanced. Growing up she always knew that a traditional 9-5 job would not work out for her: she likes variety, creativity, free-time and also wanted to fit in a family. She is a mom of two young boys, teaches mental skills to athletes, and now helps support moms finding balance with all that they juggle. When she’s not sitting behind a computer she can be found hanging out with her boys, mostly laughing, reading and having dance parties. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.