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 friend of a friend: 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. This woman is pursuing an impressive career which causes her to move around quite a bit right now. She loves her husband, loves the work she is doing, and loves her life.
She and her husband are not sure if or how kids fit into the picture. She told me 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 about her concerns, and that she was so willing to open up about a topic that can be hard to discuss. Her openness allowed me to be comfortable opening up to her, though we had just met. I felt like I had a green-light to share something that many don’t seem willing to talk about.
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. And for a while, our relationship was no longer “good” (and for a longer period of time than I’d like to admit). I shared that our relationship, which had been so strong, loving, and fun had pretty much turned to shit (from my postpartum perspective, anyway).
I shared with her about the night that I told my husband that 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 that our son was a mistake- we tried for him, he was wanted, and 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. For a while, we weren’t.
And 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 that it wasn’t good.
I was very honest.
She appreciated my honesty.
She told me that’s what she was worried about with having kids: her relationship. She wondered if that’s what most people experienced. I had to say that while I didn’t know how many people’s relationships suffered in the beginning, my hunch is that a lot of them do suffer; that marriage gets tough after kids. I also told her I think that though women experience this, not enough are willing to talk about it. And if we did talk about it with our friends, if we helped to normalize this experience, perhaps it wouldn’t feel as big.
And this, I think, is the bigger problem: not that marriage gets tough, but 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, possibly quite dramatically and quickly. This can be very unsettling. The fact that 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 shit WILL get hard for a while. And chances are, it will also get back on track. However, I think it’s so easy to get stuck in a downward spiral. If you know that this is normal, maybe you’d get back on track quicker.
We need to know that we’re not alone in how we feel; we need to be able to talk about the fact that relationships get HARD after kids, and that they also get better. We can begin to take care of ourselves and learn how to communicate more effectively.
We can help others be better prepared by being wiling to share with not-yet-parents about the nitty-gritty reality that parenthood can be. I know it’s not like this for everyone, but I also 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. And then, we commiserate to those who have also been through it, but keep quiet around those thinking about having kids. This needs to change.
Honesty is essential
In the moment when I shared my experience, my new friend appreciated this honesty. Though I confirmed her fear, I think I was also able to calm those fears a bit. I helped her understand it’s normal that marriage changes when you have kids and that you can get through it. It’s not to say we should lay it all out there to anyone who will listen, but if you have a genuine friendship, or sense that someone is looking for honesty, don’t be afraid to give it to them.
Whether this woman decides to have kids or not is up to her and her husband. I hope she does have kids. In the short time we talked, she seemed like she’d make a great mom. I’m glad we were able to have an honest conversation about the idea that marriage gets tough after kids. Being able to talk about it was helpful for me too.
As moms (and women) 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- you are not alone. In any of it. So don’t be afraid to reach out or to speak out- there are huge benefits for both 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?