I want to start this post by saying that families take many forms and parenting isn’t limited to husband/wife teams. There’s no one perfect example of a family, and today I’m simply speaking from my personal experience of being a wife and mother.
My first year of motherhood has been filled with many ups and downs. The joys have far outweighed the challenges, but that doesn’t mean that it has been easy. We got pregnant just 1 month after our wedding, so in just one year time I went from being a newlywed wife to a mother of a precious baby girl. I think it’s fairly normal for marriages to be put under pressure when a new baby arrives, but it wasn’t something that I was prepared for.
Months 3 – 6 of Eleanor’s first year of life were the most difficult for our family. Jeff and I had fallen into a new routine of mom and dad. We felt confident in our parenting abilities, Eleanor was sleeping well, and I finally felt like I had breastfeeding under control. So what was wrong? We were two individuals living our lives NEXT to each other instead of WITH each other. We were short with each other and our interactions were forced and focused solely on Eleanor. It was lonely and certainly not the relationship we had built over the past four years.
We eventually confronted the issue head on and we were both reminded of a conversation we had with our priest Father Alexander during our marriage prep. He told us:
I thought it was silly at the time. Children (babies especially) need constant care and protection. Who wouldn’t want to make their child their TOP priority? But after some thought, I realized he was right. Jeff and I weren’t functioning as a team, and our relationship and parenting were suffering as a result.
I had totally, absolutely, 100% taken on my role as mother. I lived and breathed for Eleanor. Jeff, doing the same with fatherhood, was now also the sole breadwinner for our growing family. So yes, the first year of parenthood was stressful, and we knew we had to do something NOW before our relationship further deteriorated.
We decided to take Father Alexander’s advice to heart. We focused on small yet meaningful ways to show kindness and compassion to each other. I thanked Jeff when he got home from work for the amazing job he was doing for our family. I surprised him with notes and snack plates during long days in his home office. Jeff asked me for ways he could help with Eleanor. Even something as simple as changing a diaper or giving her a bath meant the world to me. We focused on making each other HAPPY!
These intentional acts felt a little forced at first, but before long they became our new normal. We looked for ways to show our appreciation and support for each other. We had fun together, we laughed with Eleanor, and most importantly, we enjoyed time together WITHOUT Eleanor. We love our baby girl to the ends of the earth, but we both realized that there is much more to life than our roles as mom and dad.
Well, hear me out. We are better parents because of it. Being stressed, unhappy, and disconnected from each other was doing no favors to Eleanor. Yes, she had all her basic needs provided. And yes, she has ALWAYS had parents who loved her, but we wanted more. We want Eleanor to grow up seeing our marriage strong and happy. We want her to see us as a team and know the security of a committed relationship. I think this advice stretches beyond a marriage and truly impacts the whole family.
Jeff and I aren’t perfect. We still struggle with the ups and downs of parenting and have realized that marriage takes constant work. However, I am forever thankful for the advice from our priest nearly 3 years ago and what a difference it has made for us as husband and wife.
What’s the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?
What do you think of our advice from Father Alexander?