My ex-husband and I got married with the intention of one day having children.
That was actually a thing after our very first date. He really wanted kids; I was unsure. He told me that if I wasn’t at least open to the idea of having children one day that we wouldn’t have a second date.
I love my children. I’m so grateful I had them. And (since it’s not a “but”) I also know I would have been perfectly fine if I’d never had any. My life would look a lot different, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today, but I would have been okay being child-free. I explored how I felt about it more and came back to him with the equivalent of a vague maybe.
Eventually, I grew to want children a lot, and I even went to great lengths to have the children I got (87 shots, three minor surgeries actually. Thank youuuu, infertility).
Regardless, my ex-husband and I married with the intention to one day have children. We naively thought that children would bring us closer.
Women, not surprisingly, bear the brunt of being parents. Not only do they have to carry the children and go through all of the physical and psychological changes involved with that process, women often have to deal with gender-stereotypical ways of parenting.
Even if both partners have a full-time job, the woman is more likely to be the one who gets up in the middle of the night or has to take off work to pick up a sick child from school. She’s also more likely to handle a greater percentage of the household chores and parenting at home, while the man might spend more time and energy on working to provide financially for their household.
Having children will change your marriage, and it will be mostly in not good ways.
Knowing these dismal conclusions upfront is important because you can make some solid strides toward bettering your relationship before you have kids, and after.
Here are specific things I wish I knew going in:
1. Whatever problems you have now as a childless/childfree couple will be exacerbated once you have kids.
If you already struggle communicating your needs and how you’re really feeling or resolving fights, you will find this even more difficult once you have kids.
Often questions about your day will be replaced by questions about who is going to make the kids’ lunches or when little Bobby is going to soccer practice and who is going to take him there. There will need to be more negotiation, and if you want to connect with your partner about your day or your feelings, that will need to be scheduled around the time that it takes to handle the business of raising kids first.
Proper conflict resolution becomes even more important too because you will be dealing with a greater amount of stress and lots and lots of disrupted sleep.
If you already know you struggle with these things, attending couples counseling before you have kids or once you learn you’re pregnant can be incredibly helpful. Couples counseling would be a place for you to learn how to communicate what you need to as well as learn how to handle conflict in a way that works for both of you.
2. Romance will be harder.
Romance can be easy to give up when you’re exhausted from parenting or don’t feel all that connected to your partner. It can be so much easier to send your partner a text like, “Can you pick up the groceries?” instead of “You’ve got a cute butt.” Couples often can become more like business partners.
On top of that, many women experience a lot of sexual changes following a pregnancy. Their bodies change. It can be harder to lose that dreaded “baby weight” when they barely have time to shower, let alone eat right and go to the gym. Their self-esteem can drop as well. They also may be far from feeling sexy when they’ve barely been sleeping and have spent most of the day up to their elbows in poop.
Sex also may be painful for a while following a hard delivery, and then women might feel fearful about experiencing that pain again and not want to have sex. Some women completely lose their libidos after having children, and their partners might be confused and frustrated that they can’t be intimate with their wife anymore.
Actively choosing to be romantic becomes important.
It seems counterintuitive to schedule romance, but you have to in a marriage with kids! This could be planning just ten to fifteen minutes every night to check in with each other, making an effort to not just be “business” partners, but romantic partners.
This can also look like scheduling regular dates, once a week or however often you can get away, where you aren’t allowed to talk about the kids. Some couples even schedule when they’ll have sex regularly just to keep it on the table since it’s so easy to put off, or they might see a sex therapist to help with issues following having children.
You can also “schedule” romance by remembering to appreciate each other: telling your partner he looks hot today or thanking him for taking out the garbage. These little things add up.
Again, it doesn’t feel romantic when these things are being scheduled, but it shows that you’re making your romantic relationship a priority and not allowing it to be subsumed by your children and their needs.
While this all paints a dismal picture of parenthood, most parents rate parenting as their greatest joy. The important thing is knowing upfront that it will be tough: having children will exacerbate every issue you already have in your relationship, and it will make romance so much harder. BUT there are things you can do to help, whether you’ve had kids already or are about to have kids.
All great relationships take work, and unfortunately, you are just going to have to work harder once you have kids.