Our baby girl is in a bit of an exploring phase right now. She’s crawling and pulling herself up and consequently no cupboard or bin is safe from her tiny fingers. Belatedly, we decided to do a bit of childproofing (I.E. Put a lock on the chemical cupboard under the sink, which she remains obsessed with). When our son was that age, we did a lot more – lining any head-bumpable surfaces with pipe lagging, soft corners over the hard ones of the coffee table etc, but it took him all of 5 minutes to destroy it. So this time, we just did the essentials.
But one thing we didn’t think so much about was childproofing our marriage. Which is why I’m thinking about it now. Having a baby turns your marriage upside-down. There’s no denying it. You take on these new roles of “Mommy” and “Daddy” and within that, it can be hard to relate to each other. You can feel more like colleagues working together on an important project than lovers. But it’s important to remember your real relationship. So how do you do that?
Step 1 would be to remember that this is a temporary phase. At the forum we often use the saying “this too shall pass,” which means that every difficult bit of child-raising is just a phase. Potty training? It will pass. Sleep regressions? It will pass. Your 3-year-old eating nothing but cucumber and bread? It will all pass. And so too will the “colleagues” phase. It sometimes feels like I’ve been doing nothing but parenting for almost four years solid. But we have a second child, so at some point my husband and I must have had some time to ourselves. And the second time round, it is that much easier to remember that it’s all temporary. Right now, we’re sleeping with a baby and being woken by the preschooler at the crack of dawn, but in 5 years time they will be 6 and 9 and well capable of getting themselves up and having breakfast without us. That’s assuming we don’t have any more…
Having said that, you need time to yourself even in the baby phase. Any baby can be left for a bit eventually. We left Reuben for a date when he was 10 weeks old, as he happily took a bottle in lieu of breastfeeding and he didn’t seem that bothered about where we were. Eva is a much more attached baby, turns her nose up at a bottle and she wasn’t left until she was around 10 months old. But we had to do it sooner or later, and for the sake of our marriage needed some baby-free time. So, we just did it – quick, like ripping off a band-aid We went for dinner somewhere local and she spent 2 hours with some good friends from church. She didn’t drink any of the formula she was offered, but she was reasonably content for the first 90 minutes and after that, they coped until we got home. If she can be babysat, anyone can – and alone time is so important for a marriage.
Equally important is talking to each other, even when the children are there. I recently saw a picture that perfectly described my introvert husband, and his need for a “hamster ball of personal space.” So I’ve come to realize that Reuben and I both bombarding him with tales about our days as soon as he steps through the door is probably a bit hard for him to handle. But I’m an extrovert, and I need to tell him about my day- the time he said, “I know what you’ve done, I read your blog,” didn’t go down well. But I pick my moments – when Reuben is in bed and Eva is quietly feeding, that’s the time to catch up.
The last thing I’d say is to find out and remember each other’s love language. I never knew what mine was until lately because I liked them all. But a few incidents made me realize it was probably “gifts.” Our old pastor’s wife also had gifts as her love language, and her husband bought a lot of mops and door numbers for her birthdays before she pointed out where he was going wrong. My husband has done pretty well this year because – and there’s no sane way of putting this – I bought him a diary with certain significant dates highlighted. It’s more complicated and less control-freaky than it sounds, honest. But the point is he’s showing me he loves me in a way I appreciate. And his love language is touch, so that’s easy enough and a lot cheaper than gifts.
Which brings me onto sex. There, I’ve said it. My mother may be reading this, so I’m not going to go into any great detail, but there are two main schools of thought on post-baby sex. One is that it’s important to get back to normal as soon as possible after postpartum healing. The other is more of the “this too shall pass” mentality, where you accept that things are not normal, but it’s only for a limited period. Both approaches are valid, but the important thing is that you both agree on it. If you’re co-sleeping and one of you (normally the woman) is breastfeeding around the clock, then chances are that you’ll abstain a bit of the time. It’s not unusual for some women to feel “touched out” if she’s breastfeeding a baby and being clambered over by an older child. More touching is probably not at the forefront of her mind. But see the above evidence – we had a second child. As do many other people. The “touched out” phase passes, but it’s the agreement that’s important. 1 Corinthians 7:5 says:
“Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.”
It may be more that you can devote yourselves to your children, or to sleep but the key bits there are the “mutual consent” and “for a time” parts.
But praying together is obviously important too. I know it’s an old cliché that the family that prays together stays together, but it really is a good exercise for your relationship. Spend as much time as you can together, pray over the things that are bothering you, pray over the noise of the baby destroying the house and, most importantly, try to remember who you both were before you had kids. If you’ve referred to your spouse as “Mommy” or “Daddy” more often than you’ve used their real name, then it’s probably time for a date! Having kids is a wonderful responsibility, but so is being a husband or wife. Remember that.