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Cara McDonough Headshot

Forget the Children, Let's Talk Marriage

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I have two small children and when I'm concerned about some aspect of their upbringing, there is no shortage of parenting advice.

In fact, the advice assails me. The rapid-fire output level of today's child rearing advice gives me a slight case of heartburn as I attempt to digest it in its entirety.

I've no doubt you've experienced this, too. Every Facebook login yields a list of blog posts I should read, recommended by friends. There are well-written essays on important subjects, like teaching our daughters to be strong women, and there are laugh-out-loud pieces on the trials involved in living with a toddler.

There is not, however, too much information on what you should be doing with your spouse while all this extreme parenting is going on.

Sure, there's the ever-present suggestion that you two should go on a "date night," and, believe me, you should (preferably one that involves plenty of wine).

But while there is an onslaught of advice out there about planning a wedding and having children, there's not so much about the relationship which -- for most of us -- comes in the midst of all that.

I've been thinking about this lately as my husband and I experience the joyous whirlwind of plentiful family engagements and upcoming weddings. My brother will be tying the knot next month, his sister next year and several cousins are in the dugout.

Giving marital advice, in this day and age, seems boring. Old-fashioned, almost. Lots of couples live together first -- we did -- and what can you say that's remotely helpful? Besides, you know, "Remember to go on date nights!"

My husband and I got married in a Catholic church, as we were both raised with the religion, although neither of us had been to mass in, well, a long time. As not-exactly-practicing Catholics, we were a bit daunted when we learned we'd have to attend a Pre-Cana workshop, as dictated by the church. Feeling unnerved, we went out for a cocktail before the day-long event.

I was surprised, though. I thought we were in for weird speeches on the evils of birth control, but instead, we were treated to a frank discussion on the nature of being a married couple -- on what it would feel like to be together, forever.

What I remember most, in between filling out personality quizzes and laughing about each other's eccentricities, was the priest explaining to us that, should we have children, the marriage was to come first. The children, second.

It sounds crazy to recommend that your children come second, right? And I realize that a priest saying it to a bunch of couples just weeks before their wedding day is way different than saying it in the midst of long pregnancies and tending to sick children and a sea of birthday parties and job decisions and... life.

When he said it, after all, it was theoretical. Of course the marriage will always come first, I thought.

Now, however, wading through the infinite demands of having a young family -- including trying to find time to read all those parenting articles -- I get it. The marriage should come first. And while getting swept away helping to plan all these family weddings, I thought it might be fun to give marriage a bit of attention.

Not that it isn't getting some already, and good attention at that; with 13 states, as well as Washington D.C. now allowing gay marriage, I'm hoping there are many more on the horizon.

So, what if we forgot about the children for a little while? I propose at least a brief break from thinking and writing about the trappings and challenges of parenthood (a subject I cover frequently) and turning our minds to that relationship that was there in the beginning.

Because before our particular family was a foursome, we were a pretty awesome twosome.

How about some modern marriage advice? I'll start.

1. Go on date nights, sure, but also revel in the comfort of your home. Make popcorn and get lost in a good series that you stay up way too late binge watching, and then complain to each other about how tired you are over email at work the next day (may I recommend "Game of Thrones?").

2. Create a joint online calendar so you don't have to spend your precious time together talking about dentist appointments and the timing of dinner parties (and you can spend more time, ahem, talking about what happened on last night's episode of the previously-mentioned series).

3. Lest you want to kill each other, never do-it-yourself when moving. Always hire a moving company.

Your turn. What's the best advice for a happy marriage?