When I was growing up, the show Married…With Children was a popular sitcom-one my parents did not allow me to watch. Understandably, my parents were not open to exposing their 3 young kids to Al Bundy’s often crass and mysoginist humor, but looking back, I wonder if they worried we might pick up on other themes. Themes about the struggles of maintaining a happy marriage in the midst of the craziness that is parenthood. Maybe my parents didn’t want my siblings and I to watch this show for another reason. Perhaps they really wanted to be grandparents one day, and worried that the negative portrayals of “married with children” life would negatively affect their chances. The small screen portrayal of what life entails when people are “married with children” could have scarred us from ever wanting to be married with children of our own.
So we never watched it, and my parents have five grandkids.
Marriage and Balance
The daily requirements of parenting are enough to tax even the strongest marriage. Demanding, hyper, crazy, needy (but lovable, beautiful, and precious) kids can easily take up all of the energy a person has to offer. Especially in the early parenting years.
My husband and I were married for less than a year when I found out I was expecting our oldest child. Together for 5 years before we tied the knot, my husband and I had plenty of time to enjoy a fun, caring, and supportive relationship. We were so certain that our partnership would remain the same despite the addition of a third family member. We were wrong.
I remember when my kids were infants I would deny my husband the simplest hello hug and kiss because I felt my body had used up all of its capacity for physical touch through holding, feeding, rocking, bouncing, and carrying infants and toddlers.
It goes past physical needs. There are still many days when my children drain the emotional and mental reserves that were once easily accessible for adult conversation with my husband. Even if I am genuinely interested in how his day unfolded, I simply cannot focus on dinner conversations that used to flow so easily.
What’s a marriage (with children) seeking balance to do?
A new “married with children” catchphrase
There are mornings when our kids wake up way (way) too early. We are at each other’s throats by 6:30 and I find myself glaring at my other half with a discontent not meant for him. So my husband and I developed a code phrase to get us back in balance.
Don’t let them win.
This makes us laugh, and laughter always eases tensions. It reminds my husband and I that as grateful as we are for our little family, it started with us. And we are our most balanced when we are able to separate the “we that is parents” from the “we that is a couple.”
In my earliest blogging days I wrote a post about how marriage with kids so often feels like a CrossFit workout. That post was perhaps a bit too emotionally charged (with resentment) but there was one sentiment I still stand by.
Sometimes a marriage between parents feels like a competition.
Back then I wrote,
My life is starting to feel like a CrossFit workout where I need a white board to prove how many t-shirts I’ve folded, tears I’ve dried, and children I’ve calmed.
My husband pretty much stopped reading my blog after that post.
How about a different game?
Perhaps a different metaphor could be a cooperative game of Jenga-a favorite in our home. In cooperative Jenga, we all point out pieces that can give a little and those that need extra support.
Each of us is giving their 100% to build the tallest, strongest, most stable structure.
I don’t pretend this is easy. At all.
My husband and I have an extremely strong marriage, but even the best relationship will always have some wobbly pieces. There are certainly still days where the physical and emotional demands of kids tax my marriage. Sometimes it feels like my husband and I are competing in crossfit style. But there are more times when we are building a miraculous Jenga structure