Six years and four months ago my husband and I became parents for the very first time. We had no idea what we were doing when we brought our son home to our two bedroom townhouse with nothing but a bili-bed, some blankets and formula supplements from the hospital. There was no manual and very little instructions. We were both in disbelief that someone would send two twenty-five year old kids with no experience home with a human life to care for and keep alive. We felt like goldfish being tossed into a cold water tank just praying that the quick transition from the cozy comfortable waters of not being a parent to the cold, unnavigated and unchartered waters of being a parent wouldn’t lead us to become lifeless floaters.
Or at least leave our marriage lifeless and floating at the top of the surface.
I’ve heard it said that “having children can ruin a marriage” and I know this may be true for some but having kids has actually done many positive things in our marriage. Having kids has given us, those two young goldfish kids, the perspective that even though there were times we felt like goldfish years ago we were never destined to be floaters in that small pond. Together, my husband and I have been able to lead one another to deeper waters, experience deep challenges and actually find ourselves growing and thriving, especially in our marriage.
We brought four babies home from the hospital. Between the twenty-fifth year of my life and my thirtieth we brought home four babies from the hospital. Three sons and a daughter. Each time feeling the shock of the cold water as we were thrown into managing two children, then three and then four.
There were days and seasons where we felt like our marriage was on the edge of this ruin we had heard about before. There were seasons where I sometimes could see the life in our marriage beginning to slowly die and watch it begin to float to the surface.
We were so tired.
My husband expressed jealousy over how much attention I paid to the children and I sometimes resented being at home all day.
We were barely able to manage the little lives that were graciously given to us and sometimes we found ourselves sacrificing us for them. Those were the times when I slowly started to see our marriage begin to float (lifeless) to the surface of our little pond. This has been part of the journey and it has not come without hard lessons and tough waters.
It was a hard lesson for us to learn to choose each other and bring life back into us and our marriage. There were many fights and many tears until we faced the truth that before we were graciously given these little lives to care for we were graciously given one another. We were graciously given the gift of marriage first and it was our job to learn how to put us and our marriage before them.
I can see how having kids could ruin marriage if you forget to choose one another first. I could see it in those moments when we failed to choose one another first and I began to see those lifeless seasons of our marriage. When we were so busy tending to them we forgot about caring for us.
So, two years ago we decided that we would fight to choose one another. That was always our intention going into this whole parenting thing but somehow we lost that good intention in the exhaustion, the diapers and the cheerios and we found ourselves desperately digging and turning over every crumb to get it back.
Now our kids are six, four, three and almost a year and a half and it is a relief to say we are through those challenging years of having new babies and all that exhaustion. And our marriage made it though. Four times. It is a miracle and a gift.
It is a miracle and a gift to come out on the other side of that hard stage in our marriage and see my husband with a new lens. It’s like the Michael I once knew was just a boy back then before the kids and now I find myself looking at a man.
A man who kneels beside the beside and prays with my children every night.
A man who gets lost in children’s literature with my kindergartener and keeps him up past bedtime reading just one more chapter.
A man who takes the kids to the doctor for their vaccinations when I am too afraid to do it myself because I can’t stand the sight of my sweet baby crying or being stuck by a needle.
A man who has taught my sons to love God, love fishing and who digs for bugs with them.
A man who sings to my daughter when he pulls the blinds up in her room in the morning.
A man who will come home if he has an hour between his daytime hours and nighttime meetings just so he can push kids on the swings and give me forty five minutes of quiet.
Having kids has given me a lens of tenderness, love and care to see my husband through and that lens has made my love grow more deeply for him.
Choosing to see him as the man he has grown into because of being a father has given me a stronger and deeper connection to him and a heart that is more tender for him.
Having kids has also given us the firm foundation of finding ourselves on a team. It has to be us against them. There are only two of us and four of them so we have to stick together. We find ourselves laughing on our team when our kids do crazy things like walk into the same bathroom stall as another kid and pee in the toilet with them, at the same time, all while casually sharing our plans for our family vacation to Florida. Even if this other child was a complete stranger. (That is only a glimpse into the crazy).
We find ourselves supporting one another when a parenting situation is hard. We need each other. I sometimes need to tag him in for awhile when I feel the wind in my sails fading over discipline or even homework.
Having kids has given us deeper unity together. Something that I hope and pray grows as we approach having four teenagers all at the same time.
Having kids has given us a common interest to invest our heart and souls into and it has also given us something to grow in and get better at together. We exchange helpful phrases and prayers as we fight to grow.
Having kids has given me a better friend in my husband than I ever could have dreamed of having when we were those two young goldfish in that two bedroom apartment with that newborn baby.
I never expected having kids to bring trials into our marriage and I never expected those trials to deepen my love for my husband. I know we have many more years of choosing one another and fighting to be us against them. But these early trials have brought us together and made us stronger which make me think if we can survive the little years maybe there is hope for the rest of our parenting days.
Having kids really can (and has for us) deepen the relationship between a husband and a wife. It has given us an unbreakable bond. Look at that husband, he is such a gift to me.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
(James 1:2-3 NLT)