Whether you’re soon-to-be-parents or you simply want to help your marriage thrive in the midst of parenthood, here are a few ways kids affect marriage and what to do about it.
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When Levon and I were engaged, I was almost scared out of marrying him (not him, specifically, but anyone. at all. ever.)
We did a lot of preparing for marriage – we attended a marriage seminar, we talked to mentors, I read books, etc. And every time I turned around, someone was talking about how hard marriage was. So much so that one day, I finally asked my mom, “Is it even worth it??” I was honestly starting to wonder.
She laughed and said, “Oh yes. It’s worth it.” And indeed, it has been.
While it nearly scared me right out of my ring, I’m thankful for all the eye-opening honesty we received before our walk down the aisle. Without it, those first few years would have been a devastating shock to this girl who thought the wedding vows would usher in her “happily ever after.” And I think perhaps more couples need to be prepared with a good dose of reality before they commit to “’til death do us part.”
In the same way, I wonder if more couples would benefit from being a little better prepared before they add kids to their marital bliss.
Do Kids Affect Marriages?
There’s no doubt about it – having kids affects a marriage. (If you don’t think it will, you’re in for quite the surprise!) But does it help or hurt?
Much research has been conducted to determine whether the effects are mostly positive or mostly negative, and the results have been… inconclusive. Some studies say having kids makes marriages better, and some say it makes them worse.
After almost 12 years of marriage and eight years of parenting, I believe that while the effects of kids on a marriage are never neutral, they also aren’t inherently good or bad. WE decide which direction they will propel us.
Stripped down to the undebatable facts, having kids absolutely affects a marriage in significant ways. Parenting is a major undertaking with unique challenges, requirements, and responsibilities. Trying to continue as you were before you had kids will only lead to frustration (for everyone).
This, however, does not mean kids inevitably lead to marital distress. Changes to a marriage as a result of kids can be a challenge, but they can also be opportunities for growth and joy. The key is to be aware of how kids affect a marriage and take intentional steps to protect your relationship as you adapt to your new parenting roles.
My intention in this post is not to discourage any married couple from having kids. (If we could sit down over coffee, I would almost certainly encourage you to take the plunge!) But it is important to take this step with eyes wide open. While you can never fully understand parenthood until you’re in it, having a general idea of what to expect will help you prepare for it.
Whether you’re parents-to-be, or you simply want to help your marriage thrive in the midst of parenthood, here are a few ways kids affect marriage and what to do about it.
How Kids Affect Marriage (And What to Do About It)
Just as all the advice we heard about marriage while we were engaged helped me enter it with realistic expectations, I hope the following information will help you cultivate a thriving marriage as you undertake one of life’s greatest blessings. Here are a few ways kids affect marriage, as well as what to do about it:
Less time & energy to spend on each other
Kids require a lot of time and energy, which means you will have less to spend on each other than you did as a twosome. Your attention will be a little more divided, your schedule a little more full, your mental bandwidth a little more occupied. As a result, it’s all too easy to drift apart in the childrearing years, if you’re not careful. There is a temptation among moms, especially, to become so consumed with our kids that we neglect our marriage relationship.
What to do about it
Kids require a good deal of time and attention. They just do. So, in order to keep our marriages from getting pushed to the back burner, we have to be super intentional about keeping them simmering. Quality time together won’t just naturally happen, so we have to make time and space for it.
Many couples with kids scoff at the idea of regular “date nights” as being totally unrealistic in the little years, but with a little creativity, you can make it work. They just might not look like they did before. These at-home date night ideas are great for life with littles!
Related Post: 10 Practical Ways to Put Your Husband First
Less flexibility & availability
I remember the days when Levon and I could decide to go somewhere and leave within 10 minutes. We learned pretty quickly after our first child that doing anything and going anywhere was a much lengthier and more complicated process with kids!
This can be frustrating, especially if you’re a couple who loves outings and adventure. This can put strain on a marriage if/when you start to feel “tied down” or held back.
What to do about it
First of all, we can mitigate much of our frustration in parenting by adopting realistic expectations. We tend to get the most irritated when we expect to be able to do things as we always have. Realizing that things are going to take a little longer and be a little more challenging – and planning for that! – will alleviate a lot of that frustration.
It’s also helpful to remind ourselves it’s only a season. The little years can seem like they’re going to go on forever, but they don’t. As our oldest approaches his eighth birthday, we’re seeing just how true that is. When you feel yourself getting discouraged or resentful, remind yourself that it won’t be like this forever. One day, it will be easy to go places again.
Kids don’t need to signal the death of all your adventures, however. You can train your kids from a very early age to be able to go with you. I’ll admit we were not good at this when our first two were little, and we regret it now. With our third, we are trying to work through the hard so that it eventually becomes easy.
Finally, you can make a point to slip away for a day or weekend (or more) for some adult time without the kids. We’ve taken the occasional weekend away, and it’s always fun to go where we want and do what we want like we did in those early years. (And by Day 2 or 3, we’re always ready to collect our kiddos again!)
New and additional stressors
Life, in general, brings its fair share of stress, but parenthood adds a whole heap of extra stressors. Financial concerns, caretaking duties, scheduling logistics, health issues, and all the thousands of daily decisions that need to be made can put extra stress on a marriage. Compounded, of course, by lack of sleep and sheer physical and mental exhaustion.
What to do about it
One of the biggest keys to nurturing your marriage amidst the stress of kids is open and honest communication. Share your concerns, discuss decisions, and talk about what’s on your mind. Don’t assume you know what each other is thinking and feeling – get everything out into the open. Invest in improving your communication patterns.
The next key is to practice selflessness. We all have a tendency to think we’re doing the lion’s share of the work or getting the raw end of the deal. What if, instead of always looking out for our own interests, we also looked out for the interests of our spouse? (Philippians 2:4) It’s amazing how much our marriages flourish when we both practice taking care of each other’s needs.
Finally, in the midst of all the extra stress parenting brings, it’s vitally important to have a team mindset. Rather than a “you vs. me” attitude, adopt an “us vs. the problem” mentality. When issues arise, choose to unite forces and tackle them together, rather than turning on each other (which is so easy to do) or facing them alone.
Conflicts over parenting differences
Marriages are usually made up of two very different people. Who then bring two very different pasts, personalities, and perspectives into their parenting. This is a quick and easy recipe for many, many, MANY conflicts in a marriage. (Or is that just us??)
What to do about it
My husband and I are about as different as two people can get, so we have had many rounds in the ring over differences in parenting styles. Though we still have the occasional disagreement, we’ve learned a lot over the years and are now MUCH more unified in our parenting.
Read my full post “What to Do When Your Parenting Styles Clash” to find out how we got there.
General Tips for Marriage After Kids
In addition to the advice above, here are some general tips that have helped us keep our marriage healthy and thriving after having kids:
- Strengthen your relationship before having kids
If you don’t have kids yet but are considering it in the future, now is the perfect time to start preparing. Get some of the kinks worked out in your relationship (we all have them!), discuss your parenting philosophies and goals, and make a plan together for how you’re going to protect your marriage once the kiddos come.
- Learn, learn, learn
Read books and articles, talk to couples you know who have maintained a strong marriage after kids, and ask God for wisdom.
- Have a positive view of kids and parenthood
One huge factor in whether a couple grows or crumbles under the pressure of parenthood is their overall view of children. If both parents have a very positive view of parenthood, they will be more likely to bond in it. If, however, parents view parenting as drudgery or a burden, they will likely experience more strain on their marriage as a result.
How Kids Positively Affect Marriage
It is important to know and understand the challenges kids can bring to a marriage, but I don’t want to end this post without talking about the joys and delights they bring. Because there are many! Here are just a few:
- Parenting causes you to learn and grow
I’ve never in my life grown as much as I have as a parent. Our kids have taught us, stretched us, and developed us, both personally and as a couple.
- It brings opportunities to have new adventures together
You may not be able to take off at a moment’s notice and climb mountains (or whatever it is you adventurous people do), but raising kids is the ultimate life adventure. And it’s a pretty fantastic experience to get to do that together.
- You get to watch each other as parents
I loved Levon before we had kids, but watching him as a daddy makes me love him in a whole new way. There is nothing like watching the person you love most in the world love the other people you love most in the world.
- It’s a great opportunity to grow closer as you raise your kids together
Can parenthood pull you apart? Yes, if you let it. If you’re intentional about it, however, raising kids can be one of the most unifying and bonding endeavors you will ever take together.
It’s an undeniable fact that kids affect marriage in a big way. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Rather than a reason to forego parenting altogether, this awareness is a wonderful opportunity to prepare for it. My hope is that the information above will help you enter into parenthood equipped to know what to do when the challenges come.
And if you’re wondering, as I was on the brink of entering into holy matrimony, “Is it even worth it??” let me assure you…
“Oh yes. It’s worth it.”
For Better or For Kids — Ruth Schwenk and Patrick Schwenk
Great Parents, Lousy Lovers: Discover How to Enjoy Life with Your Spouse While Raising Your Kids — Dr. Gary Smalley & Ted Cunningham
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