I think it’s fair to say that having children changes the dynamics of any relationship. It can go both ways.
On one hand, adding sleep deprivation and tending to the needs of little ones to the already long list of daily demands of work and home life can easily cause tension. On the other hand, it’s nothing short of a privilege to bring offspring into the world to nurture and raise and this can push the relationship into a new “level” of love and respect.
In my case, we didn’t lose the spark or the love but there was definitely a loss of the focus on the other person – I think this was inevitable. We were (are!) tired and time-poor and we had new little people to focus on. We had many years to enjoy just “us” before our first baby, Genevieve, came along. I admit I did mourn the loss of “us” to a degree; I no longer had the undivided attention of my other half. But when I asked Eugene whether he felt the same way, I was surprised when he disagreed.
He said his love for me has grown since we became parents. For example, he was in awe of my strength in going through labour (one of them without pain relief!), he loves hearing Gabriel’s giggles when I play with him, and admires my ability to wrangle the three kids day in and day out (not without a tantrum on my part, mind you). I hadn’t looked at it this way before, I guess because I’ve observed more the strain than the strength.
Late last year, I read an article that really struck a chord. It was entitled “Why your kids should not be the most important people in your family”. In it, the writer, family psychologist, John Rosemond, puts forward the idea that the most important people in a family are the parents, not the children.
He “point[s] out that many if not most of the problems [parents are] having with their kids – typical stuff, these days – are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage, and their family exist because of the kids when it is, in fact, the other way around. Their kids exist because of them and their marriage and thrive because they have created a stable family.” I couldn’t agree more, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, making your child the most important person in your family “is the first step toward raising a child who feels entitled”. I don’t want my kids to grow up entitled. Case in point, we are currently working on teaching the girls not to interrupt our conversations. It irks me to no end when I’m trying to tell Eugene something important and one or both of the girls are competing to be heard. It often ends in a screaming match (me included, I’m ashamed to say). It’s a work in progress…
Secondly, and this is what I feel most strongly about given the seemingly increasing prevalence of domestic violence and abuse in the home, I want my kids to grow up knowing what a healthy and respectful relationship looks like because their parents have one that they’ve made a top priority to work on. Last week, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and, while I can say it definitely was not sugar and sunshine all the time, love and respect underlies their relationship.
Finally, I want to know my husband just as well, if not better, when the time comes and we become empty-nesters. At the end of the day, I don’t want to live with a stranger just because we were so focussed on the kids that we forgot about us.
In light of all of the above, Eugene and I have been working on more regular date nights. Some have been super low key – to give an example, we’ll record a movie we’ve been wanting to watch on Foxtel and watch it together on the couch with popcorn or ice-cream. I do love to get dressed up and go out though – we recently attended a fabulous 40th birthday party where my parents kindly offered to have the kids sleep over. We took the opportunity to go out for breakfast the following day – what a luxury! Oh, and the photo above – notice how sleep-deprived we look? Well, that was us at the circus back in 2015 a few months after Gabriel was born. We were celebrating our wedding anniversary and I remember we saw the matinee session before rushing home so I could give him a breastfeed before going out to dinner. It’s a fitting photo because this week we are going to watch the circus again, this time the evening session after the kids have been fed and put to bed.
Never underestimate the power of the date night. For us, it is a chance to “regroup”, reconnect and, most importantly, remind ourselves why we fell in love in the first place.