It is a truth universally acknowledged that an exhausted mother in possession of a small child will, at some point in time, forget she's a wife. If she's anything like me, she will neglect to look her husband in the eye, make time for stolen kisses, talk about political turmoil in some faraway country, watch late-night TV, hold hands, snuggle, cook elaborate dinners, leave romantic Post-its around the house, ask her husband how his day was and listen to the entire answer before wandering off to finish the laundry, have sex in uncomfortable places at unpredictable times, have sex at all, go on a date or spend quality time together that involves more than pouring a glass of wine and collapsing into bed.
I did all of those things and more before we had kids. Things are different now. Turns out, kids have needs and those needs eat away at the hours I used to spend with my husband. The short period between getting home from work and hitting the sheets, once filled with cocktails and long conversations are now spent making dinner, packing lunch, overseeing homework and baths, brushing teeth, reading bedtime stories, giving good-night kisses, doing dishes and preparing for the next day when it will start all over again. As for weekends, well, let's say I did not appreciate the luxury of sleeping in and reading the paper until it was long gone. I'm looking forward to Little Dude's teenage years when I might get those mornings back. I hope my husband will keep me around until then.
Does any of this sound familiar? Please tell me I'm not the only one who has fallen off the marital wagon and neglects her husband. And where I say husband, you should feel free to insert the noun of your choice. If you are raising kids with your partner, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, baby daddy, baby momma, zebra or purple spotted alien from Mars, I do not care. If you are in a loving adult relationship and you can't figure out how to make time for both the grown-up and the kid(s) in your life, come join me in my rickety boat of self-doubt and angst.
I knew that having kids meant less time for myself. I didn't fully comprehend, however, how hard it would be to make time for my marriage. I have heard the cautionary tales from friends whose relationships withered and died because someone stopped paying attention to their partner. I don't want that. I just can't figure out how to invest as much time in the fabulous man I married as I devote to our kids.
It's not entirely my fault. My son deserves some of the blame. Since the moment he was born, I've been blinded by his shiny, happy, perfect beauty. Small things less than four feet tall with large saucer-like eyes are marital kryptonite for me. I am easily distracted by my son's vulnerability, his laugh and his enthusiasm for the most mundane things. He is warm and soft and smells good. I let him crawl between me and my husband in bed. I rush to answer his cries.
Want to cuddle, honey? Sorry, Little Dude wants a glass of water. You had a horrible day at work? Just a sec, someone has a skinned knee. Ready to go? Let me give the boy just one more kiss good-bye.
I find my son so magical that I can't help myself.
Funny thing is, I think my marriage is magical too. Not because we're perfect people with the ideal relationship. Not even close. There's the snoring, for one, which in my son is adorable, in a husband not so much. But my husband and I wouldn't have found each other without more than a little luck. Marrying him is as much a miracle to me as having a healthy child, especially since I got the better end of the deal. My husband is kind, generous, funny, wise, loving, loyal, decent and flawed in ways that make sense to me. He is good at remembering that even though we are parents, we exist outside of our kids. He plans date nights and remembers that in a couple of years our oldest will be in college, and Little Dude will be in school and we don't want to be strangers to each other when that time comes. He's the big-picture guy.
My better half reminds me that parenting isn't just about what we do or don't do for our kids. It isn't solely a top-down process. We have to pay attention to what we do or don't do for each other. It's fine to worry about what my kids are eating and if they're happy and what curfew should be. It's my job to comfort, nurture and protect them. But I have to do the same for that man I sleep next to every night. I overlook that. I forget that we have a relationship that matters every bit as much as the one I'm building with our kids.
This isn't a question of who I love more or trying to divide time between my husband and kids as if life were a pie I can slice into equal pieces. It isn't and I can't. I don't think there is a way to juggle everything perfectly. Balance doesn't mean the teeter-totter is always level. It may mean that I have to wait until Little Dude is old enough to go to summer camp before I get blocks of quality alone time with the man I married. I can wait. Until then, though, I can do better. I got into this parenting thing with the man who, this morning, surprised me with a delicate silver necklace "...just because." No matter how captivating I find my kids, or how tired or distracted I am, this is a man who deserves a few more stolen moments.
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