The stress of parenting on marriage is insane. Luckily, a good marriage will bear a lot of weight. Its trunk is made to bend, sway, take on storms and the occasional freeze. A good (and maybe even a mediocre) marriage will survive all these stress factors. A struggling marriage might snap as it succumbs to the pressure.
Ours broke under the stress of parenting (among other factors). But we're growing back stronger than before.
I had the funniest encounter at the jeweler. I took my wedding ring in for repair after noticing I was missing a small diamond out of the setting (I was actually missing two). After noticing my toddler covered in lollipop sticky and realizing that my ring was filthy and in disrepair, the jeweler diplomatically encouraged me, “You know, you might choose to put this on only when you leave the house. Having children is really hard on a wedding ring.”
I just started laughing. Yes, ma’am, having children IS hard on a wedding ring. Having children is hard on a marriage. Having children is hard on your mental health, physical health, financial health, life goals, career goals, time management, emotional management, kneecaps, pets, countertops, wall paint, and car seats.
Having children is hard on a marriage
It’s the most incredible gift, to be entrusted by God (and in our case, another human family) to love and raise these tiny little people in the way of Our Lord. To protect them, teach them, model for them, trust them, and finally release them to make their way in the world. It makes my heart ache just thinking about it.
But LORD ALMIGHTY these children are hard on our marriage.
We’re just so tired and stretched in every direction all the time.
There are days where the sheer number of “things” I have to coordinate pushes me to near-or-actual tears. And right behind that lump in my throat is the voice of the guy downstairs who loves to feed me B.S. like “you know, you don’t have any business having personal or professional goals right now. This motherhood stuff is too hard.”
That is a lie. And a whole different story for a whole different day.
But the point is that being a parent can drain the life, energy, spirit, drive, and confidence right out of a person.
That is not the kind of “me” I want to bring to our marriage. And that’s not the kind of “him” I need him to bring to our marriage either.
We’ve seen each other through the worst versions of ourselves, so I know we can make it through literally anything. But as a general rule, we need the best versions of each other to make this circus run right.
Good things we do to reduce the stress of parenting on our marriage:
- Put our phones down when we talk to each other
- Ask each other how we can help/support the other
- Schedule a regular date night
- Take care of our individual and collective physical health
- Get enough sleep
- Set boundaries with our work
- Set boundaries with our friends/extended families
- Set boundaries with our children
- Read good brain food and talk about ideas instead of people or problems
Kids… even the world’s sweetest kids… wreck all of that. The stress of parenting on marriage is no joke. These kids need everything. There is So. Much. Need. Permission slips. Water bottles. Clean jerseys. Birthday party presents. Snacks. Bigger underwear. A bath. A bandaid. A signature. A chauffeur. A hug every 45 minutes in the middle of the blessed night. (None of this is a complaint, and I wouldn’t wish one single bit of it away. It just wears on a body!)
And our children are still little enough that their needs and problems are little. I pray every day that as they get bigger, and their problems get bigger, that God will see us all through. I have dear friends with teens and grown children and real big problems. Life-changing stuff that brings true worry and heartache. I can only imagine the stress that kind of parenting has on marriages. Someday we will be there too and I will realize yet again that I don’t know jack squat about this marriage and parenting thing.
We’re all just trying our best. And when we're stretched to the max, something's gotta give.
Bad habits we slip into when we’re exhausted from the stress of parenting:
- Scrolling social media instead of talking to each other
- Picking at the other person’s flaws or mistakes
- Losing our senses of humor/snapping at each other
- Letting the kids’ schedules trump our date night without rescheduling
- Staying up too late, sleeping in, and skipping coffee club (this is usually the first red flag waving)
- Overcommitting our calendars to work obligations
- Skipping sit-down meals where we pray together
- Assuming the other one heard/understood/received our communication
- Binge watching bad TV or get sucked into politics (one of us loves the fire of political debate and one of us wants to cry over all the discord)
- Failed connection in every area (mind, body, and soul)
Combine all ingredients, mix until volatile, and bake at a million degrees until it explodes.
No marriage can sustain that kind of unmitigated stress.
Which leads me back to our small-ish children: I’m a big fan of empowering our children to do just about any age-appropriate task they can, even down to their own laundry and simple supervised cooking. They will likely make mistakes and as they are learning, the mess they often make in the process creates more work for me in the right-now. But I am confident it will pay out in the long run. (she says as she cries and dust-busters laundry detergent granules off the soles of her feet and scrubs peanut butter off the counter which is what likely knocked the diamonds out of her wedding ring in the first place)
Teach a kid to fish…
I can hear this in my mother’s voice: I am not my children’s maid and I am not their personal assistant. I want these little people to make a way in the world and the best gift I can give their future spouses is an independent, capable, responsible human who sees a need and takes the initiative to meet it. If they are capable of a task, I will ask them to do it, even if I need to trip around the misplaced shoes until they get home from school. Not for a dollar, not for a sticker, but because we all live in this house and I expect it of them. (For the record, I am absolutely not above bribery and incentives. They work.)
This is not for the sake of standing on principle. Rather I’m trying to help our children develop simple mindfulness – and confidence in their own abilities - that will eventually make adult life much more pleasant for them and everyone else in their space. It’s work on the front end to teach kids how to do stuff but I’m playing the long game.
Noble pursuit, sure. But additionally, selfishly, I need their help. Because when I am exhausted, I get frustrated, and when I get frustrated, I snap. And the first person I’m going to snap at is the one I’m married to. He’s a safe snapping place. Thank GOD. But he shouldn’t always have to be, and I shouldn't have to be his easy target either. The stress of parenting on our marriage shouldn't push either one of us to a meltdown.
When mama ain’t happy…
Everybody in this house has to pull their weight. Because I can’t pull it all by myself. You know that saying, when mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy? It’s not because mama’s a miserable nag. It’s because she’s flat out exhausted.
The stress of parenting on our marriage is real but it doesn’t have to own us.
The cost for the diamonds I needed replaced in my ring was so minimal it wasn’t even worth filing the insurance claim.
The cost for peace in my marriage is so minimal – intentional time, intentional effort, intentional attention to what’s good between us. Refusing to believe the lie that “I have to do everything around here.” They’re not going to do it as well as I would. But guess what? I didn’t have to do it… and that leaves room in my mind and my heart for more rewarding things. For snuggles, and compliments, and reading, and jokes, and peaceful bedtime, and good sleep, and coffee club, and presence, and real connection, and a marriage I love.
PS: I shared a candid video of the jeweler story in our Facebook group. Have you found us yet? Come breathe fresh air at Heartfully Present on Facebook and @heartfullypresent on Instagram.