Marriage is not a game (Part 2)

“I looked for every loveliness, it all came true. I wished on the moon for you” -Billie Holiday

Since there was such a great response to my first post on marriage (you can read it here), I have decided to do a second part. However, I want to touch on the topic of how children can affect a marriage.

Many of my readers are parents as well. I’m an admin for a Facebook page called Mommies With Boys and I post links to my blog on there sometimes. I hope that many of you will be able to relate to this topic and hopefully it will shed some light or offer some insight to situations you may or may not be going through in your marriage. I know there are some of you who probably won’t agree with me, and that’s okay. Hopefully, many of you will.

Some of the things I want to discuss will go back to things I said in my last post. Others will be based off my personal experiences during childhood and now as a parent.

One of these topics is respect.

Respect should be a two way street, like most things in marriage. Not everyone feels this way though. I know a lot of people who feel that before they can give respect, it has to be earned. While this is true, people sometimes fail to remember that their spouse has already earned their respect. You obviously respected them enough to promise to love them “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,” so why would that ever change? (If you are in an abusive situation, I personally feel this does not apply to you and I STRONGLY suggest seeking help!)

I actually have a pretty good example of this type of general respect. A couple of months ago, the kids and I went to watch my husband do a jump (military jump, usually from an airplane or helicopter) and, naturally, we were there with a lot of the men he works with. While we were out there, an ice cream truck came out to the drop zone. I wanted to get some for the kids and myself and asked my husband if he was okay with me using his card to make the purchase. He said it was fine and I offered to get him something as well.

Had my card been with me and not in my truck, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the purchase. But I was holding his wallet for him and because I was using HIS card, I respected his property and asked him first. One of his buddies overheard the exchange and, according to my husband, proceeded to say, “You mean your wife actually asks you before she buys stuff?! Can you give me lessons?” My husband responded by telling him that it isn’t because he has some kind of “rule” dictating that I ask him, but rather because we have a mutual respect for one another.

It’s really as simple as following the “golden rule.” You know, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31 NIV) That’s all it is.

I touched on that some in my first post; I discussed how I always do my best to take my husband into consideration. In my most recent post (which you can read here) I talked about how once we become parents, we really learn how to be selfless and that we should take that selflessness and direct it towards those around us as well as our children. But learning how to be selfless shouldn’t start with our children – it should start with our spouse. I think that we know what unconditional love is when we get married, but I believe that we don’t fully understand it until we have children.

Now, I’m not saying you should be selfless to the point that your own health or mental well being is suffering. It’s extremely difficult to take care of others and make them happy if you aren’t taken care of and happy yourself. Everyone needs time for themselves too. What I am saying is that if you’re craving Italian and your spouse wants a burger and you got to pick the last time you went out to eat, set your own desires aside and let them pick. Chances are, they will be more likely to do the same for you another time.

You have to pick your battles.

While we’re on the topic of “picking battles,” I have a bone to pick with some of you moms (and dads) out there. Mostly new moms. Now let me go ahead and get this disclaimer out there: I know that what I’m about to say does not apply to y’all as a collective group. But if you find yourself thinking, “Oh crap. I do that sometimes,” then it probably applies to you.

To the new/first time moms (and some of you who have been moms for awhile now)

I know firsthand how exhausting it is to care for an infant. I’ve been through it with two of my own and am now caring for my friend’s son during the day while she’s at work. Earlier this week, I realized that it had been two (maybe three?) days since I had showered because I had been THAT busy and too tired to give a shit. Yes. I know the struggle is real.

I know how tiring it is to wake in the middle of the night (sometimes multiple times) to have to feed your tiny human (those of you who bottle feed, I give y’all MAD props! I have NO clue how you do it). I know how much it sucks to change a diaper and get peed on or better yet, have them dirty the fresh diaper before you can even get it secured. I know how repetitive it can all get and how you’d love nothing more than 10 minutes alone to shower or shave your legs or whatever (see paragraph above).

However, cut the new dad some slack! If you’re a stay at home mom, chances are he spends even less time with baby than you do because he is out working to provide for y’all so that you are able to stay at home. Respect and appreciate that. Don’t attack him when he walks through the door. It’s like hitting him with a brick that says, “I’m pissed because I’m the only one who cares for this kid and you have no clue how hard it is for me!” Real nice, right?

Aside from that, because he spends less time with baby he is NOT going to know how you usually handle things. Don’t expect him to know exactly how to handle something or know how frequently you feed baby, how to tell if they have a dirty diaper, or when nap time is. I don’t know anyone who can read minds, especially out of the guys I know. They don’t have that motherly instinct that is ingrained in us. You have to tell them and teach them. 

On top of that, they may not be comfortable with how you handle some situations or maybe they just don’t agree with you on something. Listen to their opinions and take them into consideration. After all, they are the other parent. I have found that it’s usually just best to take a step back and let dad and baby figure out what methods work best for them. It also encourages their bond.

I’m sure I pissed off some of y’all by saying those things, but it’s the truth.
And guess what?
I don’t care.

Want to know why?

Because I have been guilty of those things and I have witnessed firsthand how much of a negative impact they can have on your marriage.

What you can do instead of those things:

TALK with your spouse and explain to them how tired you are and how motherhood carries a much higher workload than you imagined and it requires a lot of you emotionally. Let them know that there will possibly be days where you need to vent to them about stuff that seems meaningless to them, but that it will make you feel better if they offer a listening ear (and maybe a box of tissues). Maybe set up an agreement with them where they get 30 minutes to unwind from their day when they come home and then you get to take 30 minutes to yourself while they watch baby. Or vice versa. Whatever works for both of you.

ENCOURAGE them to spend time with baby alone. Don’t jump down their throats when they do something the wrong way or differently from you. It took you some time to learn the ins and outs and it’s going to take them some time too. Be patient and helpful without being patronizing.

COMMUNICATE your feelings to your spouse. Don’t get mad at them for something and then storm off and say something like, “Well I guess I’ll just do (insert whatever)… like I always do.” Tell them how their actions make you feel. “You know, when you say/do/act like (insert action/words/whatever), it makes me feel (insert feelings).”

LISTEN when your spouse brings something up. Hear them out on whatever it is they have to say. If they are offering their opinion on something, take it to heart, and try your best to find a solution that works for both of you. When they come to you to express their feelings, don’t turn it into a competition by saying things like “Oh yeah? Well you (insert whatever it is that pisses you off)!” Again, hear them out.

BE APPRECIATIVE of all they do to provide for your family. They work to provide (or to help provide, if you both work) for your family. It’s not exactly fun to work hard for pay you know isn’t going to be spent on the things you’d like to go and do or buy (working moms, I know you know the feeling).

To the new/first time dads (and some who have been dads for awhile now)

On behalf of all moms, I would just like to say, “Sorry!” We’re all kind of crazy and hormonal from time to time. It’s nothing against you guys.

I have no clue what it’s like to be a dad (I don’t have the right parts for that!) but I do know that the responsibilities y’all have are different from those of us moms and equally important. I am a stay at home mom and I know that if it weren’t for my husband working his butt off, I wouldn’t be able to stay home with our kids.

I know that it took longer for my husband to get the hang of the whole parenting thing. He still doesn’t like diaper duty and toddler tantrums or crying in the truck are probably two of his least favorite sounds. He sometimes takes a “suck it up” attitude in times where I’m more likely to comfort. But he can throw them in the air higher than I can and wrestles with them and takes them on adventures and so much more.

But I also know that after working all day, he really wants to come home and have a little quiet time before he has to put on his Super Dad cape and rescue his wife in distress. Sometimes, he takes what I think is a little too long for quiet time and I’m left feeling like I’m alone on handling kids. Sometimes he’s had a rough day at work and it’s still so fresh in his mind that he doesn’t realize I’m on my fourth cup of coffee and struggling to focus on cooking while the baby is playing with tupperware and the toddler is throwing cars across the house. It’s in those moments that us wives are most likely to rip you a new one. Not because you actually deserve it, but because we’re so tired and we just want SOMEONE to pay attention to us and help.

With that being said, help her out! She is only one person and can only do so much before she reaches her limit. And when she reaches that limit, well… bless your heart! Be attentive to her needs. Don’t bring work issues home with you – your family needs you. Take time for yourself, but don’t forget that she needs alone time and the kids need time with you.

If you need help figuring out how to do something for baby (diaper changes, feedings, dressing, etc.), don’t let your pride stand in your way. There is no shame in asking for help or asking to be shown how to do something. You and your wife are a team. Teammates work together towards the same goal. Don’t forget that.

Don’t assume because she’s with the kids more frequently that it means it’s okay for you to make plans to do things that would involve her having to stay home alone with the kids. She is NOT your personal baby sitter! Yes, she is their mother, but YOU are their father and that means you share an equal amount of responsibility.

So, dads, here’s what you can do:

CONSIDER her feelings. When you come home from work, ask her how her day has been. Tell her you’d like to change out of your work clothes first and then you will spend some time with the kids while she grabs a shower or gets dinner ready or whatever it is she needs from you. Offering to do that for her will help her more than you can imagine. It reassures her that you have her back and support her.

TELL her how much you appreciate everything she does for your family. Taking care of tiny people all day (or even after she gets home from work) isn’t always the most fun job in the world. It’s taxing – emotionally, mentally, and physically. Not to mention cooking and cleaning. Show your appreciation for the things she does for you too. Folding your laundry, fixing your lunch, helping you get ready for work, etc.

OFFER to take the kids out for a few hours so she can get housework done or relax for a bit. Or offer to stay home with them while she goes out with the girls. If she’s a stay at home mom, chances are she is DYING for some adult conversation and a good glass of wine!

TAKE the initiative to help her. If you see that the trash can is full, take it out. If the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, empty it. Don’t wait to be asked. You are an adult and just as much a part of the household as your wife is – don’t let ALL of the chores fall to her, especially if it’s obvious she is having a rough day or could use a helping hand. Your wife is not your mother. It is not her job to constantly pick up after you and put your things away.

 

Now that I’ve laid it all out there, I have something I want to add on that is directed at both parties:

Always try to one up yourself.

I have read a lot of posts that say you should never stop courting your spouse, and I completely agree with that. However, I feel I’m taking it a step further here by saying that you should always act as if you are your biggest competition.

If you are usually the type to do a random act of kindness for your spouse once in a blue moon, then start doing them more frequently. Tell your spouse how much you appreciate something they have done for you and compliment them. Do it every day. Tell them how much they mean to you and how thankful you are to have them in your life.

Those are all examples of things my husband and I do for each other. We don’t do them once a week, every 4 days, or every other day. Those examples happen every single day, multiple times a day, in our household. I am constantly telling him that I love and appreciate him and that I am blessed beyond measure to have him in my life. I do the same for my children.

Doing those things creates a spiral. Not a downward one towards destruction, but rather an upward one – constantly rising higher and higher.

Marriage is not a game. It’s not a battle of “he said, she said.” It’s not a power struggle. It’s two people accepting the person they married exactly as they are and helping them learn how to grow in their strengths, conquer their weaknesses, and succeed in their dreams. It’s lifting each other up, with love.

Pay It Forward

I recently started watching my friend’s little boy during the day. He’s just over 11 weeks old and as sweet as could be. Her maternity leave was up and she was returning back to work. Like MANY first time moms in that situation, she worried. Will I have enough milk? Will it be too much trouble for her to watch him? How will I handle my first day back at work? What will his day be like? Will I cry? Will he cry? Will he be okay? Will I be okay?

Before he started coming here, she and I had several conversations; many of which included the topic of sleep, or lack thereof. He is a VERY smart, alert, and active little boy and because of that, he fights off sleep – much like my son did around that age. He wants to take it ALL in – no breaks!

Isn’t he just precious?!

However, sleep is extremely important for babies and little children. Their bodies need the rest – especially if they are highly active. Plus, us moms need some quiet time too! (I don’t know about you, but after about 30 minutes of “peek-a-boo” and another hour or so of rattling toys and clapping and quietly saying, “Look at you,” “Great job,” or “Yay,” I’m beyond ready for nap time. I have to regain my sanity.)

When I had my son, I knew that sleep was important and did everything I could to make sure he got plenty of it. And I’m serious when I say I did everything I could. From spending and hour and a half pacing my living room while gently bouncing and swaying my screaming/fussy/tearful infant son to rocking for 45 minutes in the chair while I said “Shhh…” over and over or putting him in his swing or bouncy chair and sitting right next to it for 30 minutes while I stared at him and tried to will him to fall asleep… Those are things that would drive ANYONE crazy.

But when you’re a sleep deprived, determined, frustrated first time mom… I can’t even accurately describe what it’s like.

You become frantic and willing to do anything you can think of. The longer you listen to them cry, the more difficult it becomes to maintain your cool, calm demeanor. Then you start to cry because, dammit, you just want to sleep (or eat, or pee, or shower, or put the dishes away… etc)! But you can’t until this tiny person closes their eyes and drifts off into dreamland. Even when that happens, you still hold your breath for another 30 minutes because you’re afraid you’ll have to start all over if you accidentally wake them up.

I experienced all this and more with my son. It wasn’t until he hit 6 months that I finally realized that my sleep was important too. Little guy’s mom and I were talking about sleep again today and she said, “I don’t know how people do it with no support system.” I replied, “With medication.”

Okay, so that isn’t true for EVERYONE. Some of you out there just might be Miss Perfect Mommy and you totally had the hang of it all the second they handed you your tiny bundle of joy. If so, you’re not normal.

No. Seriously. You’re not.

The normal thing to do is question yourself. Wonder if you’re doing everything right. Question how one tiny choice now could possibly affect their lives later on down the road. Compare yourself to all the other moms you know…

Motherhood is one big mind game. 

Honestly, I think motherhood has changed a LOT over the years but I’m not completely convinced it’s all for the better. Social media has a lot to do with that, in my opinion. So does television. It’s like society has placed some unreal expectations on mothers these days.

I see so many moms who try to do it all and they end up focusing on the mom they think is ideal. In reality, they spend so much time trying to meet the standard set by society and they lose sight of the mom they really are.

  • Instagram – Thank you for showing us that all moms can be “photographers” and document every second of our lives and ensure perfection with just the right filter. Oh, and to the moms who have time in the morning to dress themselves well, do their make up, take a picture, and then upload it to Instagram, pleaseeeee stop! You’re making the rest of us wonder if you have a maid, a nanny, or if you place your children under some kind of magical spell while you get ready for the day. Maybe it’s all three.
  • Facebook – Susan’s daughter can play Pachelbel’s Canon in D on piano at the age of 5? So what! Let me upload this video of my 3 year old solving algebraic equations while reciting the alphabet backwards. Let’s see her one up THAT! Oh! Looks like Catherine has been hard at work today! They’ve made pancakes from scratch, had a snack, built an intricate train track, chased butterflies outside, and created those… whoa! What IS that? Those must have taken forever! Wait… you mean to tell me it’s only 10 AM? But HOW did she get all of that DONE?!
  • Pinterest – Ah, yes. Thank you a million times for shoving in my face how creative every other mom is, except me. Please. That’s an excessive amount of glitter and there’s no way I can get my kid interested enough in that.
  • Mom Forums – You know… The Bump, Cafe Mom, etc. Those horrible places where moms go to post questions, in need of legitimate help, and then are shot down, judged, and belittled by their peers. There are even pages similar to this on Facebook. Usually they are run by a set of admins who post your question anonymously, but there’s almost always someone who walks into that post with a baseball bat – ready to send heads rolling, just because they think they are number one and screw your opinion (I’m very familiar with this. I am an admin on a Facebook page and we see a lot of this).

Whatever happened to it taking a “village” to raise a child? Seeing a struggling new mom and offering words of comfort? Putting the offer to help on the table every chance you get? Sharing the stories of your own struggles? Encouraging her or playing peek-a-boo with her baby in the grocery line while she unloads her cart? Us moms need those things too!

Call up one of your mom friends and offer to watch her kids for a few hours so she can get her grocery shopping done in peace. Talk with her about a time when you felt like you had failed as a parent. Offer encouraging and kind words. Give her a knowing smile and then offer to help unload her cart if you see she’s dealing with a fussy baby too.

When we become mothers, we are expected to become selfless and place the needs of someone else before us. It may not always come easy, but it’s a learning process and something that can be mastered. But who says that selflessness has to only extend to our children? Why can’t we extend it to those around us as well?

Say you see a mom at your child’s preschool trying to juggle a four year old, a two year old, an infant in a car seat, backpack, diaper bag, and find her keys in her purse. Do you sit back and watch her struggle with everything she has and think to yourself, “Well, I have my own issues to deal with. She will be fine,” or could you take 5 minutes of your day and offer to stand next to her van and watch the two little ones while she runs the older one inside to school? Personally, I would pick the second option. I can usually spare 5 minutes and if I know it’s going to make someone else’s life just a little bit easier, then it’s totally worth 5 minutes of my time.

I always try to think, “If I were in their situation, would I be glad someone had offered me a helping hand?” If that answer is, “Yes,” then I do it. Even if it means maybe my life gets a little more complicated.

I have applied that thought to countless situations. I’ve helped multiple women with their breastfeeding journeys. I could have easily given them a virtual pat on the back and sent them on their merry way, but instead I chose to keep in contact with them, check up on them periodically, send them articles I found that related to their issues, etc.

Why did I do that?
Because I was once a first time breastfeeding mom and had someone done the same for me, I would have been on my knees thankful.

So now I’m helping my friend out with her son. I watch him for her while she’s at work. Yes it provides us with some additional income, but that isn’t the main motivation behind it for me. I know how worrisome it can be to return to work and know that you are trusting your child into the care of someone else. I’m not a baby expert, but I have had two of my own and they seem to be thriving so far! She also breast feeds and uses cloth diapers. I am extremely familiar with both. I have also been giving her advice regarding her son’s latch and tips she can use for encouraging a strong latch and bond between them.

And then there’s the topic of sleep. She’s brand new to this and still learning the ins and outs. However, sleep “schedules” are something I mastered with both of my kids. I offered to work with little man on his and he’s been napping a grand total of about 5 hours a day every day he has been here.

I’m pretty sure she’s now convinced I use some kind of black magic.

I can assure you, it’s not black magic. And I don’t have him on a rigid schedule. But I already know what common sleep and hunger cues look like for babies his age and therefore, it’s much easier for me to recognize at what point he needs to be laying down. Because I know that, I have pretty much figured out about how often he naps and when we hit that “sleep window,” I know to keep my eyes open for his sleep cues.

Is it time consuming? Somewhat. But it’s far less time consuming for me than it is for her and if me taking some of my time now saves her time later on down the road, eases her life, and allows her to better plan her days, then it’s totally worth it.

That’s the kind of attitude I’d like to see more mom’s take.

“If I take         minutes to help                        with                         , will it make them happy? Will it make their life easier in the long run?”

If the answers to those questions are, “Yes,” then just do it!

I’d be willing to bet not only do you put a smile of their face, but you will put one on yours too.

Pay it forward.