—Jerry, married 27 years, 3 kids, 1 grandkid
It’s hard to have perspective about this stage of our lives. We can’t see too far beyond the next milestone: “Things will be so much easier when he’s potty trained/in preschool/making his own lunch/driving a car.” But we can get some perspective from couples who have been down this road already. Even though marriage and parenting have changed dramatically in a generation or two, the fundamental experience of adjusting to parenthood remains basically the same. The parenting veterans once found it as shocking as we do now. They felt their way along in the dark just like we’re all attempting to do.
When you speak with the married-for-decades couples about the early parenting years they usually stress three things:
1. this is just a stage;
2. this stage might just be the most difficult one your marriages will go through, but ultimately,
3. sharing the parenting experience will be the biggest reward of your lives.
-“Couples need to remember that this is just a season. It will pass. You will have time and energy for each other again.”
—Nancy, married 30 years, 3 kids, 2 grandkids
“I remember when my kids were little thinking I might die I was so tired. I do remember that very vividly. But now, when I look back at that time I just remember the good things—how a baby feels in your arms, or the funny things a toddler says. At the time, you don’t know how you’ll get through it, but after it’s over, trust me, you’ll miss it like you wouldn’t believe.”
—Sylvia, married 18 years, 3 kids
The Good News: This Is Just a Stage
According to those with hindsight, right now we are living just one chapter in the great book that is our marriage. Hard to believe it now, but we’ll have decades of sleeping in on Saturday morning, reading our newspapers, sipping coffee, and having uninterrupted conversation with our spouse.
Can you imagine a day that doesn’t begin with someone screaming and hurling a sippy cup across the kitchen in a wave of toddler fury? A day that passes without a single time-out? The kids, we’ve been told, will get older and quite simply, won’t need the same level of care and attention. One pastor told us, “I’ve counseled hundreds of -couples at this stage in their marriages. By the time the youngest child is in first grade, most of these problems seem to disappear.”
Even Better News: This Stage Is Uniquely Difficult, So Hang in There
Most couples we spoke to said transitioning from carefree couple to partners in parenthood, is one of, if not the biggest, tests our marriages will likely face. Some research indicates that women are more likely to suffer depression when they have young children than at any other time in their lives, including menopause and the empty nest years.
Maybe, if we can at least intellectualize that this is not it for the next fifty years, the diapers and the tantrums (the kids’ and your spouse’s) won’t seem so traumatic. Maybe we can all breathe a sigh of relief and stop freaking out about how our spouse just doesn’t get it, and move forward with confidence that things will get easier with time.
The Happily Ever After . . .
One day, in the very distant future, we will look back over our lives. Our gray-haired gurus reminded us that it will be our children and our spouse that will define what our lives were all about. Whether or not we feel proud of the way we have lived will hinge mainly on our marriage and our parenting. Here’s another way to look at it: the work and time we invest in our kids and marriage today will determine what our lives will be like tomorrow.
“Being a parent is the role of your life. It is both the toughest and the most rewarding thing you will ever do. Even with all the worry and the self-doubt, in the end, your world grows as your kids grow, and there’s no question that it’s worth it.”
—Al, married 34 years, 3 kids, 2 grandkids
“When you have kids, you and your wife will go to hell and back. Your kids will take you there. Looking back, though, it was the ‘worst’ times, not the ‘better’ times that made Jackie and me as close as we are today.”
—Fred, married 38 years, 4 kids, 10 grandkids
“I think I’m a much better person since I became a Mom. I’m more patient. I’m more compassionate. I know the meaning of selfless love. Those are three of the most important lessons in life, don’t you think?”
—Karen, married 30 years, 3 kids