What Having Kids Really Does To Your Marriage

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.

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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.

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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.

So overwhelmed.

My husband expressed jealousy over how much attention I paid to the children and I sometimes resented being at home all day.

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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.

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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.

"My heart is full every morning to see my family wall snuggled up like this."

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.

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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. 

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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)

Scandal At The Seesaw

When Michael and I first met we were on a seesaw in a park. I can’t completely place the park now but I vaguely remember sitting across from him and hearing the creaky, rusty lever move us back and forth as we both shifted our weight. He went up and I went down in predictable rhythmic fashion, just the way I would expect a seesaw to work.

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Then in typical man fashion, without warning, I found my part of the seesaw up in the air and I saw Michael at the bottom, my fate in his hands. He then nonchalantly rolled off of his end which sent me crashing down to the ground. Michael believed this would be a cute way to flirt with me but I strongly disagreed. I don’t even think I had words in that moment. Just my disappointed teacher face. I was so shocked.

I knew he was into me at this time but I was so confused at why he would purposely send me crashing down to the ground on the seesaw. For fun.

(If you know me you are laughing because you know to me, anything unpredictable is the antithesis of fun.)

Ten years later, I still do not think either one of us can explain this moment, except for the one truth that he feels terrible about what he did.

Other than a stunned backside for a few minutes I fully recovered and we went on to date, become engaged and married all in that same year. Even after the whole scandal at the seesaw.

I had completely forgotten about the seesaw until some of Michael’s closest buddies were at our house recently. They lived with Michael at this time and were all groomsmen in our wedding.

Not a single one of them had forgotten that Michael had dropped me off the seesaw. They had some great laughs about the seesaw and stirred my memory a little to remember that place in that time.

You think a girl would remember something like that. But I didn’t. Somewhere along the way I stopped thinking about my stunned backside and getting dropped off the seesaw and years later that moment had become very difficult for me to even recall.

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I am happy to report that Michael has not rolled off the bottom of the seesaw ever again.

I am recalling and rethinking this story because I believe it is important to remember, especially almost nine years into marriage and four children in five years, somethings are worth forgetting.

At my core I am a perfectionist. Sadly so, and I seem to have an incredible ability to recall every detail of every scandal if I wish to do so.

When it came to the scandal at the seesaw, I was so overcome with love for Michael, I couldn’t help but forget the disruption to the predictable up and down of the trustworthy playground equipment, or my sore backside and confusion.

Love gave me the ability to forget the flaws.

I write about us in February because we were engaged in February. Last year I wrote about cherishing the moments of everyday love.

The year before I wrote about Redeeming Date Night.

This year, I want to be so overcome with love for my spouse that it is easy to forget the “scandals at the seesaw”.

I hope I can be so overcome with love that I choose to just simply forget the mishaps. We all have our moments when we roll off the bottom of the seesaw without thinking and unintentionally hurt someone else.

For us this year, forgetfulness is the goal. Michael is still that same man he was so long ago. His intentions were never to hurt me that day on the seesaw and still today I know his intentions are never to hurt me when the tiny everyday debacles surface for us in our normal marriage.

Lord, help me be that forgetful girl at the seesaw.

Help love be larger.

Give me the power to forget and the ability to love.

And They Lived Happily Ever After (A Sequel)

(an old post made new)

Oh Cinderella, how I love to watch you and you Prince Charming drive off in that royal carriage. And then ah! to see the words on the last page of your storybook, “and they lived happily ever after.” As a young child and even as a young woman the last pages of your story helped me write the beginning pages of my future love story.

I know there are sequels to Cinderella but I always stopped at the ending of Cinderella’s first story, which left this girl wondering, What is happily ever after?

For as long as I can remember I built the beginning of my real life love story on those happy ending words. Where Me, Mrs., and Him, Mr., mostly made googley eyes, packed our bags for romantic getaways and the two of us together had mind reading powers and effortless communication. 

In my happily ever after, I built up the image of the smiling and the kissing and the frolicking off into the sunset.

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Now I’ve been married for almost nine years, which is not that long, but it is long enough to know my perceived happily ever after was as real as the story where I initially found the phrase

My assumptions about what marriage could be like came from the pages of storybooks and off of the silver screens where the authors and screen writers seem to leave out the mundane everydayness of what happens in real marriage.

In When Sinners Say I Do, my favorite book on marriage, Dave Harvey writes about how every Jane Austen movie is the same.

The stories all end at the altar, just when reality is about to come knocking. Romance movies are about the dizzying tornado of romantic love picking you up in its whirling funnel and setting you down at the chapel doors all giddy and beautifully dressed.

(page 136)

Almost nine years of marriage and FOUR children later I have come to realize that my expectations for happily ever after were crazy and unreachable. Happily ever after was just a phrase, and I am no Cinderella and as much as I love my sweet husband, he is not a cliche character in a fairy tale.

My husband is a man, and I am a woman. We are both made in the image of God but at the same time our hearts are fallen, our desires are naturally bent to serve ourselves before we serve one another.

The true story about love that I should have been looking to all along was the story of Jesus and the rescued people who trust in Him for redemption.

Yes, fairytales and other media leave out the everydayness of marriage. But real marriage, two people choosing to come together in the not-so-theatrical moments is more romantic than those first giddy butterfly feelings. To choose love when you are a sleep deprived testy new parent is an everyday heroic gift you can give to your spouse. To choose dating which sometimes means dragging yourself away from crying toddlers is the mundane everydayness where you can find happily ever after.

It just doesn’t look as polished as I though it would. Marriage can have rough patches. And marriage just won’t work without looking to Jesus.

The Bible is a love story of God continually rescuing people and wooing them to Himself. In the Bible you find people who do not deserve love being loved and people being rescued even when they didn’t deserve the rescuing.

For a long time I let the world shape what I though marriage should be and I tried to cram myself and Michael into that hole. In the past and still sometimes today I drink from the “happily married” cistern. 

I’ve written about cisterns before, they are a huge part of the story of how God is redeeming me personally. A cistern in the time of the Bible is a large jug that people used to hold water and give life and an end to thirst. Today some people call cisterns, idols. Normally cisterns or idols are good things. But they become all consuming when we worship the good gift more than the Giver of the gift.

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“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

(Jeremiah 2:13)

I drank from the “happily ever after marriage” cistern. Sometimes I still find myself doing it and then I am still left feeling empty and unsatisfied.

Marriage can be a good thing. Marriage is a gift. But no one should ever find themselves worshipping the gift more than the Giver. That is when the thirst comes. 

There are times when I value the gift of marriage more than the Giver of marriage. In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes,

If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility. (page 52)

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At times, I have depended on my marriage to fill up my tank. I believed that if Michael and I could just be more happily ever after, if we could just try harder, we would be better. 

All that working and spinning of the try harder wheels left me exhausted.

When we were first married and even still now, I lacked the eyes of the gospel. The eyes that see the Giver and the gift in the proper order. And the eyes of the gospel that see me, a woman and my husband, a man, two normal people needing, craving, seeking the grace of Jesus. Every moment of every day.

I see now that I was depending on a “happily ever after” marriage to fill up my tank and make me happy. And I know now that in my fallen sinful heart I still have the tendency to do this. With the eyes of the gospel I have found that happily ever after marriage is not meant to be perfect. Nothing on this side of heaven will ever be perfect except Jesus and how he is weaving our marriage story, unraveling the bad expectations and threading the new. In this life of a normal woman and a normal man living life together I have found that “happily ever after” marriage is perfecting when I stop looking to the gift alone to fill me up and see the Giver and his grace He has given to me in Jesus.

Only God is perfect, and as we pursue Him together He is perfecting us, even when neither of us deserved His love in the first place.

As Mr. and Mrs., Michael and I are both on a journey together of simply learning how to love one another better and most importantly reflect glory and dependance upon God to our watching children and the world.

We mess this up a lot. But we are thankful for the forgiveness and grace that is found in a marriage where two people depend on Jesus. Extending and receiving grace.

So I can now breathe. I can stop trying to cram myself and my husband into this thought up expectation of “happily ever after”.

I can stop trying and start depending.

I am thankful that I am married to a man that believes in extending grace. Oh Lord, the grace my husband extends me is like that extra long swifter duster extender that finds all the tough to reach places. I have so many tough to reach places.

Happily ever after is not frolicking in meadows, it is frolicking in grace.

As you think about love this month, think about how things from stories and movies may bring unrealistic expectations into marriage and consider getting rid of the unachievable expectations and finding deep breaths in Jesus.

Please pass this on too.

Always dancing in this gospel dance with you.

The Greatest Blessing Of Marriage

A few weeks ago I was given the courage to write about the hard places of marriage, and the surprises of those first few days and weeks and months of being newly wedded as husband and wife.

The surprises were just a few things I wasn’t prepared for and kind of blind to in the early days of being a wife. And now I also know I was blind to the greatest blessing of marriage. It has taken almost a decade for me to recognize this great blessing as we grow and gray together, raising children up and living this life that God has given us to glorify Him.

Creating a new family heritage is the greatest blessing of marriage. 

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Yes. My husband is my best friend. Yes. He is my true love. Yes. We have four beautiful and unique children together. These are all wonderful blessings. But for me, the greatest blessing is creating a new heritage with my best friend as we walk in parenting and life together; side by side as we strive towards honoring the Lord. 

A heritage is what a family gives and passes on from generation to generation. When two become one flesh in marriage, God says, ” a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.”

Back in the times of the Bible it was common for women to leave their families. It was radical for a man to leave his family and go be with his wife. Really. Radical.  The whole inspired truth from Genesis when we first see the picture of marriage is radical: that man AND wife would leave their family and their traditions and their heritages and cleave to one another.

Cleave. To cleave to your spouse means to become strongly and emotionally attached to them. To leave your old familial heritage and cleave to, or become strongly established, in making a new heritage with your wife.

The greatest blessing of marriage is found in the first few pages of scripture. 

Leaving all the old heritages and creating new ones. 

You get to do that in marriage. God says it.

This means new traditions for you, your husband and your children based on your uniqueness in Christ and the words from scripture.

This means you and your husband can decide how you want to honor the Lord when you are building your own heritage at Christmas.

This means when it is time to decide what to do about Santa, or advent, or stockings, or presents. God says, you shall leave your past and cling to a new present with your husband.

You get to decide together. You get to choose what you pass on to your children. 

This means, as long as you are honoring your parents, you get to decide where you children will wake up on Christmas morning.

This means, as a married couple you get to choose your heritage. You get to decide the traditions your children will look forward to each Christmas, birthday, Easter and Thanksgiving.

The heritage is yours to pass on.

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My prayer is that as husbands and as wives we would with courage, be able to leave the old traditions and build new ones; honoring our past heritages and the Lord. I pray our children would grow up to be a great nation, seeing Jesus in their new heritage and as they marry, I pray they would pass on a greater heritage for our grandchildren, honoring the Lord.

Traditions are important. You and your husband get to build and refine your heritage. You get to choose.

This is the greatest blessing in marriage. Build a strong heritage for your children.

A new heritage. Just you together. Pass on the truth of Jesus, make His name great.

 

Also read:

http://onewiththepastor.com/2014/02/12/dont-give-me-diamonds/

How The Power Of Choice Saved Me

I haven’t been married or parenting for very long according to most of your terms.

But the power of choice has saved me as a wife and as a mother. 

In my life I have lived with mostly men. I have been married for almost a decade and I have three sons. Before my married life, I lived with my brother and because my mom passed away when I was fourteen, I had to try to learn to communicate with the opposite gender, my father, from a very young age.

For the last almost twenty years I have been communicating with mostly men and I have learned a special secret that seems to keep everyone happy.

The power of choice. 

It is simple.

The power of choice has always worked for me in the past and now I find it working in my marriage to diffuse small conflicts with my sons, as young as eighteen months, when it comes down to meltdowns vs. happy places.

The power of choice. 

What I have learned about myself:

I have learned as a woman that contrary to popular belief, I actually know exactly what I want. I know how I want it done, when I want it done and what kind of wrapping paper it should be in. I know that sometimes when things don’t go exactly the way I want them to go I tend to lose my cool. So, I have developed my system to make things eb-and-flow in our household a little more eb-and-flowish.

The power of choice.

What I have learned about men:

From the wise-aged-grandfather types to tiny-toddler-master-minds. If they are male, they want to feel like they made the final choice. They want to bang the gavel. The power helps them feel more male or something. This is not chauvinistic, or demeaning. Men just want to feel respected. Making the final choice helps them feel respected.

Men also really dislike being told what to do. Just giving orders like, do the dishes or take out the trash seem bring more agony to the task than the simplicity of the power of choice.

So in the most loving way, I have learned to turn over my power. For their respect and for my good.

I let the boys and my husband choose almost everything. It’s really simple and it can work for you too with the boys in your home.

How this plays out in our home:

With my husband I give him the power to choose.

Hey honey, I need the dinner cleaned up and all four children need a bath. Which would you like to do?”

“Hey sweetheart, this diaper needs to be changed and the laundry needs to be folded, which do you choose?”

“Tonight we are going on a date, where would you like to go?”

Or the best, mother of all master plans, I give my husband a list of ten chores and I tell him to choose which four he would like to do. A scurvy twist on the honey do list. But after everything is finished everyone is happy.

With my sons this looks like:

“Which shirt would you like to wear?” ( I have chosen two acceptable choices and then they are allowed to bang the final gavel.)

“I am going to clean up this mess, would you like to be responsible for the legos or the action figures?”

“You have an assignment to do. Would you like to do it now, or would you like to wait until after you play?” 

“You have to eat you dinner. Would you like to have three bites or five bites before you are allowed to have dessert?”

Truly, every battle you have with the males in your home can be made into some kind of choice.

And males love the power of choice.

The power of choice has saved me as a woman outnumbered in this home. If you are outnumbered or even if you have any males that you love in your home you need to know about the power of choice. It has saved me so many scuffles and actually, in it’s humble approach, has given me power.

You can do it too.

Give those boys the power to choose.

Make your life easier.

Tell others about the power of choice.

Sister, it will save you too.