An entertaining movie poses a challenging question…what effect do children have on a relationship?
The recently-released comedy Friends With Kids highlights the perils of trying to balance love, marriage and the baby carriage without endangering at least one of the three.
It is an issue which is rarely discussed, probably because it sounds selfish to complain that your sex life and/or your sleep life suffered for a period of years when your child or children were young. It would also be embarrassing to admit that during those years, if given the choice between more sex and more sleep, most moms and many dads would choose the sleep.
That, of course, can be a problem for the romance and the marriage. But it’s not just the sex that suffers. No one really clocks the fact that certain freedoms fly out the door when a baby comes through that same door. No good parent will ever again be without the niggling concern in the back of his or her mind about the well-being of their child. For a goodly number of years, a couple will not be free to stay out all night, spontaneously board a plane to Vegas or Turks and Caicos, or just lie in bed for a whole Sunday with iPads and Kindles and croissants and pizza.
Even quick trips to the grocery store or for a mani-pedi are no longer an allowable impulse unless your spouse or a sitter have been booked in advance. The joys of having a child are so great that it seems petty to note the loss of spontaneity, but then again, spontaneity is a large part of romance. And “yes,” a partner may well stray and somehow feel justified because they were feeling neglected by the other. It not only happens in the movies; it also happens in real life.
Tiger Moms, Helicopter Dads, and Spare the Rod
Another aspect of having a child together is that surprise of surprises you may not always agree on the care and raising of that child. Characteristics that used to be teased about affectionately (like you being a “sleepyhead” or having a “short fuse”) now become the battleground over how that will affect the baby.
Things you may never have noticed about the other, like a tendency to be judgmental or to get lost in fantasy football, suddenly take on epic proportions when a child’s well being is involved. And, it seems to be genetically coded that a disciplinary parent will marry a lesser disciplinary parent, and then they will battle over who is too soft and who is too tough. And “yes,” these battles sometimes do sabotage the marriage and kill love. Clients come in frequently complaining about the parenting style and standards of the other, and sometimes it is those very differences that led to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
It doesn’t end after the children get older, when their activities and education can take a big toll on everyone’s time and money. It is just a fact of our modern life that preschool (often private) is a given, after school classes in karate and hip-hop start long before first grade, every birthday party has to include everyone, and all these demands are even before the age of reason and organized sports for the children.
Then life just gets really busy. All of these demands on the free time of the adult can be a fertile ground for resentment. Whose turn it is to drive the travelling hockey star to God knows where can lead to many arguments if everyone is not careful. Words become accusations and arrows, and everyone gets wounded.
What’s a Couple to Do?
Back to “Friends With Kids” which is a romantic comedy and therein (romance and comedy) probably lie the answers to how to get through these inevitable issues.
A good sense of humor along with a sense of perspective can make all the difference. Obviously the majority of couples survives and even thrives through the early years, carried to some extent on the absolute lovability of their child or children, combined with the knowledge that these years fly by, though the minutes rocking a crying child to sleep seem endless.
Some tips for getting through those early years include the tried but true “date night” where you reconnect and remember how it all started, and at least a weekend getaway every 6 months so you can both refuel and get the R& R you need.
Surround yourselves with friends who are at the same stage because it really does help to commiserate and trade war stories. Think about a spiritual dimension for your family because you need to step back and evaluate what life is all about and forgive each other.
Finally, do not be too hard on each other and consider consulting an expert on decisions where you are really divided. You do not want to ultimately have to divide from each other unless there is no other reasonable option. Parenting does not get easier with a divorce.