Sometimes, in the throes of childrearing, we forget who we are. We lose touch with ourselves, as the individuals that we are, and our identity becomes “parent”. Parenthood – as wonderful and gratifying as it is – is fraught with structure, soiled diapers, extra-curricular schedules, appointments, unknowns, really gross bouts with bodily fluids, doubts, necessary evils like braces and the bills attached to them, urgencies and emergencies, and demanding little tyrants who need you for all of the things. Our children need our time, our attention, and they need us to cut their slices of apples just so. It’s easy to let ourselves slip away into the fulfillment of all they require, to fall victim to the urgent versus the important.
There is another thing, that becomes disposable in a sense, other than our identities before children, and that is our relationship with our partner. Sometimes you don’t even notice it, especially during those challenging seasons of young children; the months of every-couple-of-hour feedings, sleepless nights, demanding days where you’re simply trying to get through the next hour or two, teething pains and so much more. During these times it can truly feel like you have nothing left to give.
That was me. One hundred times over, my relationship with my husband took a backseat to our daughters’ daily schedule and routines, and tending to “us” felt like one more thing on an already overwhelming To Do checklist. While we were partners in life, there were times where that meant simply agreeing on meal plans and making sure we were each pulling our own weight in the household and child-rearing duties departments. We both have demanding careers on top of it all, and sometimes (OK – 98% of the time) after tending to everyone else’s needs and wants all day I didn’t even have the time, energy or motivation to take care of my own. Enter stage left my husband, and the need to foster our own marital existence, and I just felt overwhelmed all over again.
Disposable sounds really harsh and unfeeling, but when weighed against all of the other pulls for our attention and time, our relationships can fall into the “I’ll tend to that later” or “I have just one more thing to do and then I’ll get to that” category and that well of time, energy and space is a resource that is too easily depleted. Tending to the health of my marriage takes the back burner most days.
While working towards a better understanding of myself, and connecting with who I am as a woman, I have learned to place a certain emphasis on carving out time for myself, creating space for and cultivating my passions, however I also have come to recognize that my time with my husband is equally as important as the time I make for myself. He restores me in a way that is as fulfilling, if not more so, as an hour to sit and read, or journal, or paint. It’s infinitely easier for me, however, to chase my personal soul-filling agenda when he’s at home watching the kids than it is for both of us to get a chunk of time to spend together sans kiddos. Take this week for example: he’s traveling for work, returning on Wednesday, I have to attend a music festival for one of my daughters that same night, I have a new class that I am enrolled in and starting Thursday evening, and then we’re at Friday and I have literally not seen my husband in five days. This song and dance is very much the soundtrack of our lives in the season that we are in. I’ll need to get creative and ask for some help in order to carve out some time to spend with him, and I’ll admit that it’s easier to turn away from the challenges that are presented with scheduling childcare or asking our friends or family to watch our kids. However, it is far better than the alternative.
We have to be intentional with recognizing and reaching out to connect with our partners; otherwise, our relationships fall to the wayside in the grind of the every day. My husband and I have had a number of conversations about this; I’ve had a number of conversations with women who have experienced the same, and have the same sorts of conversations with their partners. Relationships take work – they require the same daily amount of cultivation and growth that personal development, goal-setting and pursuits of personal passion take. I need to be mindful that when I have one hand pouring out glasses of milk for dinner and the other preparing a bowl of Halos for my three-year-old’s snack time the next day that taking the time to greet my husband when he gets home from his hour and a half commute from work is only a 30-second detraction, rather than a mild annoyance of “can’t he see that I’m busy and can he not just wait five minutes until I am done”. Because that connection, and that acknowledgement, is essential to the foundation of our relationship. Perfectly portioned glasses of milk and equally sectioned Halos are not.
When I am not intentionally recognizing my relationship with my husband daily and purposefully scheduling time for just he and I, our lives fall into routine. Left to routine, we become little more than roommates.
So, while you’re biting your nails thinking about what to do for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, perhaps utilize this day as a facilitator of what your next month will be, or what your year will be focused on, in connecting fully and intentionally with your spouse or significant other. What are you building today that will improve tomorrow? What are you focusing on this month that you will build upon next month? What are your relationship goals and intentions for the end of this year, and how will you work purposefully towards them?
One of my favorite days last month was spent mattress shopping; who would have thought that something as mundane as shopping for a mattress could be entertaining and a way to connect (minus the sales guy). However, we had a valid excuse to ask someone to watch our youngest, it gave us a chance to work towards a common goal, have a nice lunch out, and lay around in the middle of the day without worrying about who might need us if we didn’t get up.
And you know what? It’s good for our kids to see us commit to our relationships, to recognize that while they are the among the most important focus in our lives, they are not the absolute center of our universe every minute of the day. That having a healthy, fulfilling relationship is important – that is a foundation they will build upon when they start to seek out a partner in life, and that’s as good of a gift that we can grace our children with as any. Add to that the fact that kids grow up far too quickly, develop friends and interests outside of ours, and if we don’t have a solid foundation built, there will likely be crickets chirping when it is just the two of us again if we don’t commit to and grow our relationship now.
So I’m blocking off some time specifically for cultivating “us” as consistently as possible. I’m working to ensure that although there are times we might disconnect from each other when life gets busy, I am being intentional in making sure that there is pre-allotted and committed time to ensure the time we spend together doesn’t shrink from days, to weeks, to months. My husband and I as a unit are the most valuable when we are fulfilled in both our personal interests and our marriage, and I must make a constant, consistent effort to not forget that.