Yesterday, this terribly sad editorial about a writer who blames having children for the destruction of her marriage popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. I made the mistake of reading the comments, which were split between people calling this couple terrible and selfish, and child-free people using it to justify their life choices. After reading it, though, my first thought was this: perhaps their perfect pre-kids marriage wasn’t as perfect as she believed.
I am the first person to admit, if you don’t want kids more than you want to sleep, they are not for you. But she wanted them! Not just one, but three (and then surprise! she got four). And then she blamed the challenges the kids brought to her marriage on its destruction.
The kids aren’t the problem, though. Kids do challenge a marriage, but it’s only because kids come with built-in adversity. Being responsible for another human is stressful, and sharing that responsibility with another person adds stress to the relationship. Every marriage will eventually be tested, but when you have kids, you’re essentially signing up for an endurance trial for yourself and your marriage. I don’t know, maybe there are child-free couples who make it through marriage without adversity. I doubt it. I suspect if this couple had decided not to have children, they eventually would have encountered a challenge great enough to break them. You either get through those challenges together, or you fall apart.
From my personal perspective, it’s hard to know whether the incredibly easy years of my marriage were easy because we didn’t have kids yet or because we were young and the relationship was relatively new. We’d only been married two years when Judah was born. The only really hard months of our marriage so far were the ones that followed the birth of each of our kids. And yes, it was much harder after Noah than it was after Judah. We were tired. We were stressed. We were emotionally drained. There is little time to take care of yourself, let alone worry about another person. You put your head down, and you go into survival mode. And as everyone will tell you, it’s totally normal. Adding a human to your family is tremendously stressful, and even the strongest marriages take a temporary hit with that kind of stress. We bickered more. We kissed less. And for those few months, everything seemed harder. But never once did I think my life would be easier without my husband. I reminded myself daily that this was hard, period. It wasn’t hard because of him or because there was something wrong with our relationship. In fact, even on the hardest days, I recognized that even the bad days were better with him in them.
I think the difference between the couples who make it and the ones who don’t is that they eventually put their heads up and realize they’re neglecting the most important relationship in their lives. For me, it happened when each of my kids was about 4-6 months old. I woke up from the sleep-deprived induced haze, and I realized that if I didn’t start putting in that effort again those weeks could turn into months, and months into years, and eventually I wouldn’t recognize my previously loving, devoted marriage. The trick is keeping that temporary adversity from becoming a permanent problem. And make no mistake, if you love your spouse and want your marriage to last, he or she has to be the most important person in your life. Collectively, you will always put the kids first, so individually, you have to put your spouse first.
Will your marriage ever be the same after kids? No, but it’s not your marriage that changes. It’s your life. YOU change. Your circumstances change. Your marriage can either adapt or fall apart. You can’t blame the children, though. That’s a cop out. It wasn’t the kids that damaged this marriage; it was the adversity.