On most days, parenting is all-consuming for me.
I’m not necessarily proud to admit it, but it’s true that there are too many days when I fall exhausted into the sofa after we’ve finally gotten our daughters to bed, and I have to nearly force myself to want to spend time with my husband, rather than just vegetate with wine and Netflix episodes of Gilmore Girls. There are too many nights when I do “fail,” and we do just veg out, with wine and TV.
I don’t feel like a failure in my marriage, but I can’t help wishing I was more of the breezily sexy, well-slept unicorn-mother from Gilmore Girls than the easier sitcom-fodder of a mom—grumpy and barking orders, with tired rings around her eyes; messy hair in a bun.
I care deeply about my femininity, as I’ve learned to individually claim it. I’m passionate about marking my thoughts and needs with firm, red-penned lines. I love myself. I exercise daily and enjoy putting on makeup and kind-of-cute clothes, even when I know that my biggest outings will likely be meeting the school bus at the edge of my driveway before I make lunch.
I don’t ever want to become the sort of individual who lets my own health, interests and joy fall to the wayside because of work or child-rearing, and yet it happens because, conversely, I don’t want to become the self-focused narcissist who can’t transition towards the stark realities of aging, or, most importantly, that I’m cocooned inside of this period of my life where others—namely my children—truly do matter more than myself.
We are parents raising tiny, vulnerable human beings, and they physically need us now when they’re small, and they’ll still emotionally need us—and the safety of our boundaries–even as they grow.
Lately I’ve been too rigid about what I’m expecting from my husband while we jointly navigate this totally glorious, and equally difficult, time of our lives—when we raise two kids under the age of five.
I had this semi-aha moment—semi because it wasn’t exactly new, but I had a flash when I was mentally able to crawl outside of my cave of Goldfish crackers smashed into the carpet—and I realized that he’s working as hard as I am to be a good person, much less a good parent. (Duh.)
We need to cut each other more slack. We need to remember to create the time to be in love, too.
Recently while writing, I recalled something special about “us” from our early years of dating. I was looking at an old photograph, and suddenly it slipped away that he had pissed me off that morning during our coffee-and-toast-making routine.
My unnecessary anger fell to the floor with those Goldfish crumbs, and I was loving-wife goo wishing that my husband was next to me as I sat typing, instead of at work while I waited for him to get home, after having a long day with our kids.
Yet parenting is consuming, and it’s only because we love our children. We’re all just trying our best to keep them healthy and thriving, and to keep ourselves thriving, too. Sometimes, however, someone’s needs have to give.
Romantic relationships aren’t always 50/50. More authentically, they vacillate—one day being 10/90 and the next being 80/20. And if romance isn’t expected to float along on a plateau of 50/50, then it’s even more widely accepted that these early years of the parent-child relationship should never attain to be anything besides what they are: parents raising an initially dependent child.
I do look forward to future years together, when our kids are more independent, and we have more times for ourselves as individuals, much less as a couple. This said, life is cruel and, frankly, shit happens. I don’t want to put all of our happiness on hold, because we never know what will happen. (Perhaps pessimistic, but true nonetheless.)
I have no desire to end up being one of those couples that have forgotten why we’re friends, let alone lovers.
So, we nurture our relationship as best as we’re currently able. This means showing love in possibly less romantic ways than was expected before we had our two daughters.
It means that he brings home my favorite Sicilian sausage from the grocery store for dinner, despite the fact that he doesn’t even like sausage.
It means he stops and gets cash out for our daughter’s gymnastics lesson so that I don’t have to cart the kids to the bank.
Real love simplifies. It becomes making toast and coffee for him in the morning, or leaving him alone in the bathroom when all I really want to do is get in there and put on some mascara.
It means that we decide to flip off Gilmore Girl, and kiss.
I’m not suggesting that we throw away date nights, or stop trying to find great babysitters, but these activities should be treats for an already happy marriage, not how we’re staying connected with each other.
We need to talk—every day.
We need to stop demanding what we can’t give now.
We need to open our tired eyes enough to see this love that’s right here, in between diaper changes and getting to the school bus on time.