Every night, we go on a family walk. We get the boys completely ready for bed and then strap them into their strollers, hoping they’ll fall asleep while we cruise the neighborhood. Our five-year-old gets comfy and quiet quickly, but our two-year-old often interrupts our conversation, usually to talk about cats or the moon.
One of us will be in the middle of an idea or story, and the two-year-old will look up at us and say something like, “Meow, meow?”
We’ll assure him, “Yes, we are going to see Peaches, the cat.”
But he doesn’t stop there. He likes to play this (not-so) fun game in which he asks, “Huh?” over and over again, trying to see how many times we’ll repeat ourselves.
We gently ignore him and carry on with our conversation, and I do this with surprising ease. Years ago, I would have fretted that doing so would make him feel unimportant. I would have told my husband, “He needs to feel heard and understood. If he wants to talk we should listen and engage.”
I’ve since realized that even though we’re all present for these family walks, they’re not really about the family. They’re about us: the couple.
In the time before Josh and I made sweet babies, it was easy to hang out. He would come over to my apartment with his guitar, and I’d sit and watch him play. We’d think of something we wanted to make for dinner, go to the grocery store, and make it side by side. We’d lie in bed when we woke up and talk about all the places we’ve been, and all the ones we wanted to go to. Once I met him in Panama and we walked the beach, climbed rocks, and slipped around wet clay while looking for waterfalls and sharing our hearts. Connecting was effortless.
But parenthood came and changed us. In many ways, our relationship grew deeper. We became a family, and nothing has ever been more meaningful or magical. What we share is so intimately ours that it binds us like glue. Although the journey has been sacred to us from the beginning, the demands of it have taken away the leisurely nature our time once had.
When we were new parents, this realization made it hard for me to relax. Time was scarce, and all of it needed to be seized. Despite planning and prioritizing, it seemed our time as a couple usually got sacrificed. Rather than enjoy endless togetherness, we tagged each other in and out. We took turns doing things we enjoyed alone because we could no longer do them with a baby. I’d run to the gym, then he’d run to the beach. We’d go for meals, but rather than appreciate the company and experience, we’d take turns walking the babe around so the other could swallow a bite. We’d have quickies on the couch, always unsure of how much longer we had, while our sleeping infant claimed the bedroom.
We have more bedrooms now and more experience, but it’s still hard to do it all. Sometimes we do our own thing because we have individual goals and hobbies, but other times it’s the logistics of parenthood that require us to divide and conquer. He stays with our boys so I can run to the store alone and then takes them out back while I prepare dinner. I take them out of the house so he can get some rest after a tough week of work, and when bedtime approaches, he takes Thing 1 to his room, and I take Thing 2 to the other.
In the busyness of our days and the attention our children require, it’s the effort we put into each other that we have to be most conscious of. As a couple, we are the foundation of the family, and if we aren’t connected, the structure isn’t strong. It’s ironic that it’s often our obligations to our family that stretch us thin and divide our attention, but it’s for the sake of our family that we must come together daily to nurture the love that brought us everything we have in the first place.
We don’t stay up late or wake up slowly anymore, but we ignore our children while on our family walks so we can put our love first. We ignore them because talking to each other for the sake of opening up and sharing is crucial for our relationship, and we can’t just assume we’ll get another 30 minute block some other time. We let our walking time belong to us because we’re away from our technology, away from the house chores, and can remember that we’re not just roommates who share the business of raising a family, we’re soul mates who need to stay connected in that place. We’ve also realized that this isn’t selfish at all. Nurturing our relationship isn’t only for our well-being, but for that of our children too.
Come to think of it, our family walks are totally for the family, even though they’re all about us.