When Raising Kids Takes a Toll On Your Marriage

With the day to day of raising a young family, a marriage is sometimes simply going through the motions. Even with the best intentions.

It’s the end of the day and I’m sitting in the yard, swishing my wine around in a stemless glass. The mosquitoes have arrived for the summer and they’re relentlessly nipping at my ankles.

We’ve only been home for the evening – from school and my daughter’s ballet class – for a few minutes and she’s somehow managed to become entrenched in a monster of a tantrum. Something about not being able to find a book.

“Come back outside when you’ve calmed down, please.” I tell her, pointing to the door. She trudges inside, red-faced and screaming and slamming her rage-filled fists into everything in her path.

I hear her wailing from inside and out of the corner of my eye, can see her pressing her face up against the screened-in window. I’m pretending not to notice, pretending I’ve gone deaf. I’m checking my phone for the time and hoping my husband will walk in any minute.

The baby stumbles up to me with his arms outstretched and bangs his head on the table. I pull him up into my lap, rubbing his back and wiping the not-so-unusual combination of tears, snot, and dog hair from his upper lip.

I check the time again. Where is the pizza I ordered on the way home? Where is my husband? I’m tired of waiting for everything and everyone today.

Finally, my daughter comes back outside. She’s still whimpering, but lets me hold her hands and look into her eyes. We talk about how hard it is to calm down sometimes, and I believe every word she says. I love how honest she is in these moments – when she tells me about how she can’t stop crying, or how she doesn’t really know what’s wrong – because you don’t often hear people say exactly how they feel. We’re all a little afraid of not making sense.

“Anger did it again. Sadness did it, too” she tells me. “It’s not my fault, mommy. It’s all their fault!”

I nod. “I know,” I say, and I really do know. “Sometimes anger and sadness get the best of us, but we have to learn to control them. They don’t control us, okay?”

It’s not always true, but she trusts me enough that she sniffles and nods and makes her way into my lap. Now everyone is on me and the dog is trying to get on me, too, and I know it’s going to be one of those nights when that’s where everyone wants to be. There’s no sense in fighting it, or asking for space, or even moving a muscle.

I glance at the time. I glance over my shoulder. I swish my wine.

A few hours later, everyone is sleeping. It’s nearly nine and since it’s still a nice evening, I ask my husband, who has just gotten home, if he wants to sit out on the porch tonight. “Sure,” he says, enthusiastically. Finally! It’s time to relax. It’s my chance for a decent conversation with an adult today. It’s time to catch up. It’s time to enjoy one another. It’s time to just be, without trying so, so hard.

I nestle myself into a rocking chair and look up. But my husband isn’t looking at me, instead he’s tapping on his laptop. He’s working again, so instead of finding the connection I was looking to our marriage for, I practice my patience a little more.

We sit in our rockers that are maybe the only interesting pieces of furniture we own. They were my grandfather’s and they’re made of old, swirling wood. I rock and I rock and I swish my wine.

All day, all afternoon, I’ve been waiting, I realize. Waiting for the kids to tie their shoes or clean up their mess or calm down or eat their dinner. Waiting over an hour for the pizza while everyone melted down and way longer than I thought for my husband to get home from work. And now it’s 9 o’clock and here I am, waiting again and wondering where the day went.

Finally, I’ve grown bored, and vaguely angry. I huff and puff a little, then go inside and flip on the TV. I don’t have the energy to find something decent to watch so I just leave it on a game show I’ve never seen before and didn’t know existed. An hour ago, I was tired, nearly ready for bed. Now I’m irritated and lonely and wide awake, still, swishing my wine.

I’m trying not to be mad because I know there isn’t always time in a day for everything that you need in marriage, or anything that you need, no matter how badly you need it. I’m well-versed in this truth. I’m a product of divorce. I had my first baby before I even got married, so I know the drill.

I know that marriage is not perfect – I never thought that it was. But sometimes I think I’m too hopeful that all the pieces will fall just as they should, and we’ll have time to talk or laugh, that the kids will go to sleep early and easily, that all the work will be done for the day, and that we’ll both be in a good mood at the same time. 

I’m hopeful for connection because, in this season of my life, I sorely need it. I so rarely have time to visit with friends without children hanging from my limbs as I try to focus just enough to make conversation. I have hobbies and work that I love, too. But sometimes, like on these dull nights, it’s not enough.

For a half an hour or so, I sit there stewing, having no real reason to feel unsatisfied, but letting it wash over me anyway. Feeling the emptiness of all my efforts and needing something for myself, but not knowing where it is, at least not right now.

It is not in the bottom of this glass, or bottle. It’s not outside on the porch, staring into a screen. It’s too late to pour myself into work. I’m bored by the TV and too irritated to sleep. So I stew and stew some more and think about the day I had, how long it was, and how tomorrow will probably look the same, or close to it.

But my husband doesn’t know anything about my day – that I was a good mom even though it was hard. He doesn’t know about the tantrum, or the 28 times the baby bumped his head. He doesn’t know about the 15 times I opened and closed my computer, failing to work for even a few minutes, or the 20-minute workout I attempted to do in the yard, before the baby smashed a glass on the sidewalk and I had to sprint over and scoop him up before he stepped on the shards.

He doesn’t know that I ate bites of salad and pizza in between getting everyone water, and new water when it spilled, and napkins, and reprimanding the baby for throwing food at the dog. He doesn’t know how hard I had to try to breathe deeply, and not tell my daughter – who’d been talking incessantly for hours – to please, please, stop talking.

He doesn’t know how I helped everyone practice forward rolls. He doesn’t know that I clapped while they danced and dressed in costumes for an hour before bed. He doesn’t know that I sprayed whipped cream in their mouths as a reward. And he doesn’t know that I needed him to need me differently than they did, just for a little while, before the day’s end.

Today, our interactions consisted of: passing each other in the hallway, yelling out instructions to each other as he shoveled a piece of pizza in his mouth and tucked in one of the kids. And it wasn’t horrible – in fact, it was regular.

But these hurried conversations, these days gone by without connection, sometimes make it feel like our marriage has stalled. Like it needs to be nudged, or maybe even slammed into, by one of the front-loaders in my son’s dozens of truck books.

But it’s a marriage, with young children, and it’s mostly fine. So maybe eye contact, a back rub, or someone to watch “Bloodline” with me, all have to wait. And even though I wonder how much waiting is too much, or if we’re doing it wrong, or if it just is what it is, I do know that our babies won’t always need us so much, and that work won’t always be so demanding and that one day – one day, one day – there’ll be time.

I crawl into bed alone and type a text, “are you coming up?” But my phone dies before I hit send. Instead of going back downstairs to argue, or to ask him to come to bed, or tell him how I feel, I turn out the light.

My husband doesn’t come to bed. He sleeps on the couch, but it’s not out of spite. It’s because he knows that sometimes when he wakes me, I don’t fall back to sleep. It’s an act of consideration. And it’s one I appreciate, if not at night, then in the morning when I’ve slept the whole night through until my daughter comes in – wrapping her small, strong arms around me – and the baby cries. And I feel thankful, even if it’s wrong to feel thankful for sleeping alone.

Sometimes, I worry about what this all means – the distance that comes and goes. But I know that we can’t be in sync every day. Marriage is the sum of all the days, and the days are many. Some days, I swish my wine, and I practice my patience, and I remember that it’s okay to feel.

And sometimes, it’s okay to go to bed alone.

Survival and Family: Perspective on Stress From the Third World

Marriage, family, and stress all hold a different weight when the struggle to simply survive is a day-to-day affair.

To be free means to be released from being torn in two directions at once. It means to have one passion only – only one pearl of great price – rather than half a dozen conflicting passions.

But how can that be so in marriage? How can one be free when most people look at marriage as a loss of freedom? Being single is viewed as being free! Free to roll, baby! Marriage, and raising a family, is seen as stress.

But is stress bad? Is having a family really stressful?

Stress is recognized to be the cause of many major diseases. Trust me, as a lecturer of medical physiology, I understand the various diseases that arise out of the physiological stress exerted on the different body systems. Popular books warn us of the dangers of stress, and teach us to avoid stress or, failing that, how to cope when it arises.

Many of us here in Uganda are always glued to the western television channels. We like the western movies and reality shows. We love our celebrities so much! On those western channels, marriages are made and broken in weeks and the phrase “irreconcilable differences” has become common language to us.  

From the western world – where people enjoy liberty and prosperity – movies, seminars, and even church sermons deal with ways of eliminating stress. In sharp contrast, seminars and church sermons in our third-world country – where there is quite a lot of suffering and therefore tremendous stress – offer instructions on faithfulness, and sticking it out.

By and large, people in the third-world countries take stress of marriage for granted. When we are not struggling merely to survive, our joy in the family seems to make us indifferent to the cost of family service: raising kids, looking for food, paying school fees, fighting disease with little medicine, etc. And we generally live in quite large, extended families.

It seems that while our brothers and sisters in the west live in an artificially secure environment, perhaps those of us in the third-world have a better chance of seeing life as it really is. When the skulls of starvation grin at us, when danger makes life a day-by-day affair, when there is no technology to buffer the crudities of life, one has different values – values less inimical to humanity’s true essence in our hearts.

Being married, and raising a family, involves us in more stress, rather than less. The call of marriage and a family is a call to advance from stress to stress. Happily, it’s also a call to go from strength to strength. 

We’re mistaken when we suppose that stress is an evil that must be avoided at all costs. The same stress that kills can also make us tougher, stronger, more resilient.

One of the greatest men I admire is British prime minister Winston Churchill. During World War II, he was under ceaseless stress, working constantly, sleeping little, and bearing crushing responsibilities. His country could have been invaded at any moment, only 22 miles of sea separated it from the greatest evil power on earth. Yet his personality blossomed and he thrived on the experience.

This can be true for us when we are working through the stress, and in reverence, of the institution of the family, we can thrive.

Maybe I Had a Baby to Teach My Husband How to Clean

Bringing a baby into the picture rearranged the division of labor in our house. And frankly, it was about time.

My husband is allergic to our vacuum. We never had any official allergy testing done, but every time I asked him to vacuum, he’d shudder like I do when I have too much dairy and quickly leave the room. So, I assumed an allergy.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to make him vacuum if we’d need to invest in trunks full of EpiPens. So I started doing all the womanly type things like cooking and cleaning (excluding tasks like sewing and scrubbing the toilet), and my husband did all the manly type things like fixing cars and spitting (excluding tasks like fixing cars and spitting). Until recently.

In the beginning of our relationship, I set the tone for the days to come. That was me: the one with the feather duster (sans French Maid outfit). I was the one cleaning. Yes, I’d ask him to vacuum for me here and there, and even though he always gave me a pleasant, “Sure!” his time frame was not always my time frame. My time frame revolves around the current epoch.

At some point I stopped asking because I simply couldn’t stand the dust bunnies multiplying on the floor like, well, rabbits. Admittedly, I did find his lack of cleaning initiative slightly annoying. It’s not like I’d decided to run a bed and breakfast with my husband as my only client. I’m a fair-minded gal (who likes to use the word “gal”), and I was hoping that our tasks would be divided up equally. This was never really the case.

Even though it was something I brought up repeatedly, it never changed. I was annoyed. I was bothered. I cleaned the whole house to distract me. That’s when the rationalizations set in: Since I was the one who had a hard time starting my day with an unmade bed, I guess it was okay that I was the only one that did something about it.

So I did. For a time.

Then, everything changed. 

I had a baby. 

I suppose the politically correct thing to say these days is we had a baby, but I was the one they sawed in half to get the baby out, so I’m taking all the credit for this one. After the baby, something about me changed. Besides my smallish breasts now resembling 1990s Pamela Anderson’s, and my baby-less bump jiggling like Jell-O as I walked, my brain became all-baby all-the-time. 

I stopped seeing the unmade bed and the dust bunnies. The phrase, “Will you please vacuum?” was replaced by, “I need some more sleep.” I simply didn’t care about all the household things that once had occupied my thoughts. I didn’t care who was doing them. I was too sleep-deprived to think about anything other than sleep, and our baby. (And maybe “Game of Thrones.”)

That’s when my husband stepped up and stepped in. These days my loving spouse does all of my womanly jobs as well as all of his manly jobs. My husband rescued his family from the dust bunny hoard. He cleans, he organizes, he vacuums, all while our dog must still be folding our laundry.

Three years later, my man is still taking care of us, while I’m still saying things like, “I need more sleep.” But here’s the best part: He does all the cleaning without me even asking! Maybe the tables have turned and it’s his turn to care. Or maybe he can’t stand the dog hair and baby spit-up sitting on the floor – or on me. Or maybe, just maybe, I nabbed a keeper.

I do know one thing about having a baby – it changes a person. And besides opening our hearts to a degree we never thought possible, it also made my husband crack open the vacuum. Having a baby changed the cleaning dynamic in our relationship. I’m alright with it.

Now, if I could only get him to cook. 

7 Things Healthy Couples Don’t Do

Everyone wants to be with someone who respects and admires them. Avoiding these behaviors is a good start.

Sometimes when I tell a bad joke or say something kind of, well, stupid, my wife reaches up, pats the top of my head, and gives me one of those “there, there” kind of looks. It’s about as condescending as it gets.

But it’s okay. You see, it’s a running joke we have with each other from a time we watched a wife do that exact thing to her husband, but in a very serious sort of way. 

All of us do hurtful things to our significant other from time to time, whether intentionally or not. However, it’s the couples who do these hurtful things consistently to one another that end up creating long-term issues in their relationship.  

Truth be told, I’ve done many of the hurtful things listed below at various times during my marriage. But the beauty of a relationship is that hard work makes it better. If you’re guilty of doing some of these things, know that with hard work, you can probably turn it around. If you aren’t doing these things, celebrate that fact with your significant other!

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I don’t tackle those here.

Here are 7 things healthy couples don’t do:

Apologize when they don’t mean it

I’m a middle child to the core. If there is conflict, I instinctively show up with donuts and a monetary peace offering. When I got married, that didn’t change. I made the mistake of apologizing for things that I inwardly didn’t think I needed to apologize for, and the result was that I started feeling bitter towards my spouse, as though she was the one making me apologize.

The truth, of course, was that I was the one in the wrong. Over time, I realized that I had to either understand why I truly should apologize, or I needed to talk it through more with my wife.

Healthy couples understand that getting long-term resolution, while harder to attain, is much better than forced short-term peace. 

Skip date nights

My favorite night out is a date night with my wife. I love it. It makes me feel so close to her.

Healthy couples realize the necessity of getting away from kids, stress, and responsibilities to inject some romance, fun, and relaxation into the relationship.

This investment always pays off. 

Fight about surface issues

Fighting is hard. It takes years to develop the x-ray vision necessary to see through the surface issues we all start out fighting about, and look into the deeper issues of why we feel hurt or angry.

Are you fighting about being home from work 15 minutes later than you said you’d be, or are you really fighting about whether work is the true priority?

Healthy couples challenge the natural impulse to focus on the surface issues and choose instead to look through to the heart of the matter. 

Believe in “the one”

Watch any movie with a love story in it and you’ll quickly learn how rampant a belief in “the one” really is. The problem with being in a relationship and believing in “the one” is that if you ever get into a rough patch, you begin to question whether you married “the one.” This often causes us to focus on exiting the relationship instead of putting in the hard work to fix it.

Healthy couples understand that hard work and unrelenting love is what makes someone “the one.”

Assume the worst

Couples who constantly assume the worst about each other can significantly damage to the relationship.

Trust is the foundation of every relationship and, when someone assumes the worst, it communicates distrust. Healthy couples understand the damage done by assuming the worst and therefore choose to assume the best, even if the facts don’t seem to line up.   

Split chores evenly  

On days that I happen to do more chores, or take care of the kids longer than my wife, I sometimes hear the voice of the “fairness monster” in my head: Look at all you’ve done today. And what has your wife done today besides absolutely nothing?

This voice is pure poison. Don’t listen to it. If you do, you’ll end up fighting and resenting your spouse.

Healthy couples realize that doing more chores than their spouse is an opportunity to increase the amount of love in their relationship. 

Prioritize work over the relationship

When you do your job well, people tell you as much, and they’ll pay you good money for it. When you compare this with the hard work and stress that at times comes with a relationship, it’s easy to see why people choose to avoid the relationship, and dive into work. 

Healthy couples realize that long term contentment comes from putting in the hard work to develop a healthy relationship. They may work hard at their jobs, but they also recognize that kind of work can’t bring the same kind of fulfillment that only a family can bring. 

5 Heartbreaking Reasons to Rethink Your Divorce

If you’re dancing on the edge of divorce, there may be a few things worth considering before calling it quits.

I used to think no one entered into divorce lightly. No one severed his or her family unit without months, and possibly years, of thought and effort spent trying to avoid this end.

I mean, parents were, of course, aware that divorce is the least favorable outcome, right? They’d read the research showing how deeply children could be affected by divorce, and would only proceed out of absolute necessity, right? After all, Psychology Today had this to say about the affect of divorce on children:

“Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a boy or girl no matter what the age. Witnessing loss of love between parents, having parents break their marriage commitment, adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, and the daily absence of one parent while living with the other, all create a challenging new family circumstance in which to live. In the personal history of the boy or girl, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before.”  

And yet, as I’ve watched various cycles of coupling and uncoupling over the years, it’s become clear to me: We are naïve about divorce, especially as it relates to children. We have no idea how difficult it’s truly going to be.

I fully recognize there are those tragic instances when divorce is inescapable, when issues of abuse or safety mean divorce is simply the only viable option. I also realize both partners are not always allowed a vote in the ending of a marriage. These are not the situations I am discussing today.

What we’re pausing to evaluate are those marriages where “love has been lost” or “the magic has died.” We’re considering the folks who wonder if perhaps the grass the might be greener elsewhere, and the time has come to divorce.

I am divorced, and remarried. The various reasons for my choice to initiate divorce aren’t appropriate for discussion here. However, what I can tell you is that I was totally unprepared for the difficulty of this transition.

If you’re contemplating divorce, here are five reasons you may want to reconsider:

Loss of time.

Depending on the structure of your co-parenting agreement, you may miss half (or even more!) of your child’s life.

I’ll never forget the day I put my son on the school bus for his first day of the third grade. He was looking grown up, feeling brave, and filled with wonder. As his tiny face – equal parts apprehensive and excited – disappeared onto the bus, the realization hit me that I’d miss exactly half of his life that year.

I would not greet him at the bus stop after school and ask how his day had been – for exactly half of the days of this school year. I would not check his backpack and go over school papers, teacher notes, and invitations to parties – exactly half of these days. I would miss exactly half of his good days and bad days. I would miss half of his bedtime stories, bath times, and overflowing bowls of cereal.

I started sobbing right there at the bus stop. And I continued crying throughout the day, even as I welcomed my own group of incoming freshman to my classroom. Funny, I thought, I’ll see these students more days of the upcoming year than I’ll see my own.

Loss of Ritual.

Can I tell you how heartbreaking it will be as that first Christmas or birthday rolls around when you begin to fire back emails or texts negotiating who gets Christmas morning or eve?

Can I tell you how much your heart will ache when you wake up without your child on that first birthday and your social news feeds fill with notifications that your mutual friends have all “liked” the pictures of your child eating their birthday breakfast with your ex-spouse?

That first Christmas Eve when you go to sleep in a silent house with no children, without partaking in any of those special holiday traditions which were once so special to you, you may find yourself wondering if your spouse was really that bad. Could anything be worse than the gaping hole in your chest eating you alive at this very moment?

Loss of Control.

The first time your child tells you about mommy or daddy’s “new friend” – and all the time they now spend with them – you’ll become suddenly aware of how little control you have over their lives outside of your home. What if they don’t like mommy’s “new friend?” Will mommy listen?

I once ran into friends at a gathering whose home my son stayed at on weekends with his dad. They shared a “funny” story with me about how they’d walked into the kitchen to find my eight-year old son standing on their kitchen table crying, terrified of their two yapping dogs. They laughed. Tears escaped the corners of my eyes without my permission. My son was scared. He needed me and I wasn’t there.

Before you divorce, consider all the people who’ll have access to your child, all the moments in which you’ll have no control.

Loss of Relationship.

This divide of time, of homes, this loss of ritual makes the cultivation of relationship harder for everyone.

Your children can’t go to the birthday party of the friend at school because they will be at dad’s house that weekend. Grandma and Grandpa could swear they haven’t seen the kids in a year. (It’s been a month.)

You have one week of vacation time in the summer with your child. Should you visit extended family or make memories with your own family unit?

Oh, and now that dad has married his new friend, your child has another mom. So, how will you remain relevant in your child’s life when they are away? How do you stay close to your kids when you are missing so much of their lives? 

Loss of Resources.

Maybe you feel you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse will have an amicable divorce and the litigation will be minimal. For your children’s sake, I hope this is the case.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe it will be. Emotions run too high when we fear losing access to our children, when things feel unfair, and perhaps our relational hurts begin to play into our decisions in the mediation room. Litigation becomes costly in every sense of the word.

Our emotions are a tangled exhausted mess. Our children feel this tension. We have little to offer our children financially, emotionally, or relationally.

If you are approaching divorce, you’re about to enter into a world of stress like you’ve never known. And so is your child. Your awareness of this reality is of crucial importance during this undeniably difficult, and often fully heartbreaking, transition.

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If you’re going through a separation, divorce, or co-parenting situation, don’t try to do it alone. Find resources and support. Start here:

Help Guide 

Good Therapy

Smart Stepfamilies

Dear Husband: I’m Not the Person You Married

After kids, it becomes more and more difficult to be the partner we’ve been before. One mom makes the case why in a letter to her love.

Dear Husband,

I am sorry.

I’m sorry that you’ve been neglected for the last four-and-a-half years. I’m sorry that your needs are secondary. I assure you, you are still one of my top priorities – you just aren’t on the top of the list anymore.

I know that you have needs, wants, dreams, and desires. When I tell you that I want to be the one you lean on, I mean it. I know you are tired of my excuses of being tired, having a headache, or am already snoring when you snuggle up next to me. Trust me, I wish I had the energy I had five years ago. Hell, I wish I had the energy I had two weeks ago when I washed, folded, and actually put away all 10 loads of laundry. Of course, you didn’t see that because I was letting you get some much needed sleep.

I know that some days it feels like we have a business partnership. And you’re right. Some days – even weeks – feel that way. Know that I want better for our marriage, for us. Because together, we are damn good.

The problem is, my life, my brain, and my body are so wrapped up in being a mother to those little boys who look exactly like you. Even after they’re sound asleep and we’re sitting on the couch watching a movie, my brain is still in mother mode.

I’m thinking about tomorrow; I’m thinking about 10 years from now. I’m wondering if you have work clothes for tomorrow. I’m worried about money, milestones, and milk. Do we have enough milk? I can’t turn off being a mom. It is who I am now. And it is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting.

I don’t want you to think you aren’t as important as you once were. I couldn’t live this life without you and I wouldn’t want to, either. But the simple fact is, you’re an adult and you can do things for yourself. You can vote, so you can make your own lunch. You are legally able to drive a car, so you can figure out how to make a doctor’s appointment.

When you come home from work you, unfortunately, are getting the worst version of me. I gave our children the best. A little secret: sometimes, some days, there just isn’t a best version of me. There just isn’t.

I can’t worry about your health, the boys’ health, the pets’ health, and my health. Who do you think gets ignored? It’s not you. It’s not our children or our pets. When I say I don’t feel well, when I say I haven’t been sleeping, it’s because I haven’t been taking care of me.

Yes, you tell me to go to the doctor, to eat better, to drink more water, but I am my very last priority. I know I need to change that and I’m not complaining. I’m explaining that when something has to give, because no one person can do it all, I am the thing that gives.

I’m worried about your sleep apnea, your allergies, your knee spasms. I am worried about the rash Alex has, and the snotty nose that Ben suddenly started with. I am concerned about our dog’s ears and what it’s going to cost to take her to the vet.

While I’m thinking about it, I’m worried that the fish have too much algae in their tank and the water needs to be changed. I’ll just add that to the never-ending list of things I will feel guilty about when I’m trying to sleep tonight. None of this is your fault. I’m not blaming you, or wishing you were any different.

You do extraordinary things for our family. You work harder than any person I know. You care more about everyone, including me, than any other human I have ever met. I love you a little more each time I see you help someone knowing you will never get anything in return. You are the kindest, most loving father to our children. There is a reason they cry when you leave for work. Yes, it stings a little but knowing that you are their role model in life fills me with love and pride.

I am not the person you married 11 years ago. I have changed and evolved into a wife, mother, friend, and keeper of all schedules. I am a party planner and a personal shopper. I am a chef specializing in chicken nuggets and pasta. I am a housekeeper who can’t keep a house. I am the cheerleader and the librarian. I am the night and the day nurse.

I wouldn’t change any of it. I don’t want any other life. I love you and I love the life that we created. But I am not the spontaneous, beer-drinking, sexy bad girl you met way back when. I am a mother. And it is all of me.

Love Always,

Your Wife

That Time I Felt Like My Husband’s Nanny

It’s an odd thing, as a wife and mother, to feel like your husband’s employee.

It’s an odd thing, as a wife and mother, to feel like your husband’s employee.

My family and I recently went on a three-week trip to Los Angeles that was, in my mind, meant to be a vacation. The reality that I was tragically reluctant to face is that my husband was there to work as much as possible. The kids and I were there to get a little break from winter and to hang out with him when he wasn’t working or going out (which he often qualifies as work).

The first few days were cool. My husband hadn’t lined up a bunch of meetings yet, so we spent time as a foursome going to the beach and visiting our favorite Japanese market for ramen and adorable Hello Kitty-esque candy. We even went out as a couple one night and I got to meet a bunch of people who had only existed in my life as names and job titles until that point. It was wonderful.

But my husband is essentially a freelancer – and a good one – so the pressure to set meetings and make coffee dates and get his hustle on quickly overpowered any desire he might have to languish in “pleasurably touristy” mode. In four short days, our vacation was over.

The mistake I made, the same one I’ve been making since the beginning of our relationship, was to take his exit personally. Every time he left for the day, for another series of meetings, for another dinner with so-and-so followed by a night of grown-up debauchery with whats-his-and-her-names, I swallowed another nugget of judgement and hurt feelings. When is it my turn to go out? I thought. When can I just flit off for some adult fun? And when are you going to hang out with ME?

Rather than continuing on in vacation mode without him, I let his preoccupations become my own. Very quickly, I began to feel as if caregiving was the only purpose I served in my family; like my life outside of caregiving had ceased to exist. Here we were in one of the most interesting cities in the world, and I was still just heating up fish sticks and washing dishes and folding laundry. I ignored the opportunities for adventure that were all around us and foolishly placed my husband’s immediate need for round-the-clock childcare at the top of my priority list. In doing so, I not only cheated my kids out of some super cool experiences, I also failed miserably at the task of self-care.

It’s pretty damn challenging to maintain or achieve a healthy opinion of yourself when the work you do – the stuff you spend most of your waking hours doing – has a low perceived value by society at large

The whole time, I was waiting for something. I wanted to hear my husband say, “Hey. You’re awesome.” And that’s not even the whole truth, because he did say, “Thanks.” A number of times. But I wanted him to say, “You know what? Screw it! All I want to do today is give you a day off, and then the next day I want to hang out with you and the kids because you are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN MY LIFE. And furthermore, you’re the best mom there ever was.”

That’s what resentment told me I needed to hear. That’s what low self-esteem was hoping to be told.

It’s pretty damn challenging to maintain or achieve a healthy opinion of yourself when the work you do – the stuff you spend most of your waking hours doing – has a low perceived value by society at large. I was particularly susceptible to this trap while in LA, away from my routines, support system, and without the seven hours a day to myself that my kids would normally spend at school.

But one day, unfortunately quite late into the three weeks we were there, I woke up and decided I didn’t want to be angry anymore. I didn’t want to hold on to resentment towards my husband when, really, I was pissed at myself. Because I know better.

I am aware of what I need to do in order to feel like my non-financial contributions to our family really matter. I’ve been to hours and hours of therapy, I’ve read books, and I’ve talked to fellow primary parents (mostly women) enough times to know that looking anywhere other than within for the reassurance that I’m doing a kick-ass job, that I’m worth a whole hell of a lot even when I’m not earning money, is futile.

So I walked out to the living room and gave my husband a hug. Then I walked back into the bedroom and took out my journal. I wrote down all the things I wanted to do in LA before we left and made a promise to myself – not to anyone else – that I would do them. I stopped focusing on what my husband was doing every day and paid actual attention to what I was doing. I set aside small amounts of time each remaining “vacation” day to do a little bit of work that might earn me dollars. I even got a massage – and then, a few days later, I got another one.

I was reminded (for the 6,753rd time) that we miss so much goodness in our own lives when we focus on what someone else is or isn’t doing. In my case, the someone else is almost always my husband, who has a gloriously full and interesting life that’s completely separate from our family (namely, a work life). He has more opportunity or excuse to do this, depending on how you look at it, because he has to be out in the world earning a living. He must necessarily focus on himself for hours or days at a time, so he’s good at it.

I’m out of practice. And I know it hurts my kids almost as much as it hurts me. Before that morning when I decided to let this shit go, the day before, in fact, I yelled at my daughter. She was being annoying and cranky and didn’t want to do her school work. She slammed a door, and I erupted.

Two minutes later, I was crying in one corner while she cried in another and I thought, “I’ve hit a new parenting low.” I went over to my daughter and lay my body across hers. We cried together for a few seconds, and then I said, “I’m so sorry I yelled. I think you and I are feeling the same way, actually. Let’s be kinder to one another.”

Let’s be kinder to ourselves.

19 Ways to Include Your Kids in Your Wedding

Over 50% of families are remarried. Many couples face wedding planning with kids in tow. Here’s how to let them join in and feel included in the big day.

According to the United States Census Bureau, over 50% of all families are remarried and 1,300 new stepfamilies form every day.

boy smiling wedding

More couples face wedding planning with little ones in tow. Letting your kids help with wedding planning and giving them roles on the big day helps them feel included in this important milestone.

Here are 19 ways to include your kids in your wedding:

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]1 | Tell the kids before you pop the question.[/su_highlight]

Involving kids in the proposal will make them feel included from the very beginning. It also gives them an opportunity to ask important questions and to address their concerns.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]2 | Let kids help with the menu.[/su_highlight]

What’s fun for kids is sometimes fun for adults too. How about including mini pigs in a blanket, chicken and waffles with maple syrup, or cheese quesadillas on the wedding menu?

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]3 | Take kids cake and dessert testing.[/su_highlight]

Bring the kids along for cake testing, or let them pick out a dessert to add to the reception. How about ice cream sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, or mini peanut butter cups?

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]4 | Make a playlist with your kids.[/su_highlight]

Brainstorm a list of favorite dance songs with your kids. They won’t all make the cut, but when they hear the band or DJ play one of their picks it will make their day.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]5 | Build a website with the kids.[/su_highlight]

Create a website for your wedding weekend complete with places to stay, eat, and things to do. Kids can help brainstorm some of her favorite spots to dine and spend time.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]6 | Collaborate on the Guest List.[/su_highlight]

The problem with getting married when you have kids is if you invite every relative and friend with kids, you could end up with more kids than adults at the wedding. You might consider a kid-free wedding, except for your relatives. Kids can also help list family members and close friends who should be there on the big day.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]7 | Design stamps for save the date cards and wedding invitations.[/su_highlight]

Commission your kids to design some romantic logos. Turn your favorites into stamps for save the dates or wedding invites.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]8 | Go shopping together.[/su_highlight]

Take your kids wedding dress shopping with you. Their honesty will be refreshing, and they won’t hesitate to tell you if you look like a marshmallow or a doily. It will be fun for them to pick out their own outfits for the wedding too.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]9 | Mail out invites.[/su_highlight]

You’re going to need help sealing all those envelopes. Give the kids sponges, set up an assembly line, and walk the invites to the mailbox together when they’re finished.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]10 | Stuff gift bags.[/su_highlight]

Kids can help design the gift bags for out of town guests. You can stuff bags together and drop them off at the hotels.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]11 | Pamper yourselves on a spa date.[/su_highlight]

Include your kids on a spa date complete with manis and pedis the week of the wedding.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]12 | Spend the night with your kids the eve before the wedding.[/su_highlight]

Take some time to spend some quality time with your kids the night before the wedding. Stay in a fancy hotel room and order room service, or go for a moonlit walk and talk.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]13 | Give kids a role in the ceremony.[/su_highlight]

There are all sorts of ways to include your kids in your wedding. Ask them to be in the wedding party as a bridesmaid, groomsman, flower girl or ring bearer. If you have a kid who is comfortable in front of crowds, he or she can read a poem, play an instrument, or sing a song.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]14 | Let your kids give you away.[/su_highlight]

Break with tradition. Let your kids walk you down the aisle.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]15 | Include your kids in your vows.[/su_highlight]

Write your kids into your vows. Make it a surprise. They will feel included during the ceremony too.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]16 | Have a unity ceremony with candles.[/su_highlight]

Include your kids in your ceremony. The couple lights two candles. Then they use those candles to light a candle for each kid in the family.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]17 | Give kids cameras.[/su_highlight]

Let your kids play photographer. Give them disposable or polaroid cameras. Include some of their photos in a scrapbook, wedding album, or thank you notes after the wedding.

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]18 | Include some of their favorite things in the wedding.[/su_highlight]

There are many ways to include your kids’ interests in the wedding: a family pet as a ring bearer, using their favorite colors in your color scheme, or having one of their favorite activities available like Legos at the wedding tables. Is your kid into Star Wars? Storm Trooper ushers anyone?

[su_highlight background=”#f1c40f”]19 | Toast your kids.[/su_highlight]

Your wedding party, relatives, and guests will be toasting you all night. Prepare a special toast just for your kids. It’s a big milestone for them too.

8 Situations You Might Count as Dates

My husband I have 9 or ten dates per year—tops. Unless you count the following. Which I sometimes do—and so might you.

My husband and I have been married for 11 years. (Happy Steel Anniversary to us!) We love each other, even still like each other. Most of the time. Also: we have two youngish kids, only one of whom sleeps. We have work. Extended families. Friends. So much laundry. You get it.

If I had to estimate, I’d say we might have a 9 or ten dates per year—tops. Unless you count the following. Which I sometimes do—and so might you.

1. Grabbing two Americanos at Starbucks, then sipping them side-by-side at the Supercuts next door while your kids simultaneously get haircuts.

2. Riding in the front of your Swagger Wagon while your children sleep in the back. (Talking: optional.)

3. Working on your laptops across from each other at the dinner room table after the kids have gone to bed. Note: Counts only if one of you pours a drink for the other. It can be coffee.

4. Drinking wine and whiskey on the couch while watching a series of Netflix previews before mutually deciding nothing is actually worth staying up for two more hours.

5. Exchanging back-and-forth texts that do not include any content referencing picking someone or something up from somewhere.

6. Listening to the same audiobook—at different times during the same library borrow period (book doubly renewed, natch)—and discussing it the next time you’re in the Swagger Wagon with sleeping children.

7. Taking turns going for a run while the other watches the kids—and, at least once while jogging, thinking fondly about the other person.

8. Washing and drying the dishes together (by hand) and continuing the conversation you started before your kids began beating the shit out of each other in the next room over a Pokemon swap gone awry. They can work it out. Plus, sometimes you just need to put each other first.

Talking to Your Kids About Same-Sex Marriage

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states, people celebrated, lamented, cried onto their keyboard, changed the filters on their Facebook profile pictures, etc. Like bellybuttons, everyone is entitled to their opinions about the ruling. But as parents, it’s important that we understand that this ruling is an enormously progressive (and, in my opinion, awesome) event – and doubtless a historical one. America’s legalization of same-sex marriage will be in history books, and it’s our turn as parents to share in this moment in history with our children.

When I read the news on Friday, one of my first thoughts was that my son is going to grow up in a country that is (again, in my opinion) far greater than the one in which I grew up. Being a Christian myself, it may be somewhat controversial for me to say that, but I do believe that the country is a better one now simply because this ruling demonstrates our love for one other and desire for others to feel the love that we feel.

As parents, we have the choice to:

1. Let our (perhaps negative) reactions to this news keep us from explaining it to our kids, or

2. Tell our kids about gay marriage and allow gay marriage to become just marriage (or, in other words, a normal part of the world in which we live).

It may be difficult for us to choose the latter, however, even if we are in full support of gay marriage. This happens because when we look back at our childhood, the idea of being gay (and certainly the idea of being gay and getting married) was not a common one.

Until recently, the media did a horrible job portraying homosexuality, from kids’ shows to films to music to commercials and on and on.

Many of us joke about shows that have the signature minority best friend character and things like that, but rarely did they portray a gay character (and certainly not as the protagonist). Of course, things have changed enormously for the better for homosexuality on TV (which NPR predicted in 2012).  In Variety, TV columnist Brian Lowry said for  that, as far as homosexuality showing up on television, “there’s pretty clearly no turning back.” Homosexuality will most certainly continue to be a huge part of pop culture, no longer being a unique aspect of the small screen. In a recent New York Times article, Jodi Kantor even analyzes the ways in which the normalcy of homosexuality in art may negatively affect it just simply because it is no longer as rare, and therefore inspired by its own individuality, as it once was.

Though I hope the fervor for homosexuality in pop culture continues, the point stands: it is officially present and accounted for.

So what does that mean about the conversation? That means that the demand for it is most assuredly coming to your computer, to your movie theater, and to your living room. It’s not just Ellen DeGeneres or “Glee” anymore. And since so much of the way we raise our kids comes from retaining or tweaking the way we were raised, we may find ourselves unsure of how to approach the normalcy of gay marriage.

So maybe it will still be a little while before some of us think of gay marriage as part of the traditional marriage sphere of everyday life. I think that’s okay, and I don’t want to hate on people who are making that change slower than others. But the bottom line is that our kids need to hear from us on this issue. Older kids will form their opinions; younger kids may want to adopt the opinions of their parents immediately. Either way, it’s important that they know the significance of this decision.

Whether you agree with the ruling or not, the ruling placed love above hate in this country, and that is something worth sharing with the ones we love most: our families.