It's a common predicament: You get married, have kids, and suddenly they come first. All. Of. The. Time.
It's natural, really. You love these little people more than you knew would be humanly possible and so does your partner, so it's easy to assume putting your relationship on the back burner won't do any harm.
You start skipping dates because you don't want to disrupt the routine with your children or because you miss them from being at work or because it's hard to line up care and you hate asking for a little more help. You spend all of your energy getting the kids to bed so you don't spend adult time together in the evenings. You're tired and from what you can see, so is he.
While you might assume your partner completely understands the current state of things, you might be wrong. After all, things like sex have been categorized time and time again as makers or breakers in relationships, and if the kids are always getting all of your energy, there’s not much left for physical intimacy, especially when they're little and the bedtime routine isn’t a well-oiled machine.
Flash to my real life and, well, our evening routine is exactly the thing that made me realize I had to reassess my priorities. Not just for sex, but also for the basic opportunity to spend time alone on the couch with my husband doing more innocent things like watching television.
You see, thanks to a combination of not wanting to let my babies cry and sheer exhaustion, I’d spent the better part of almost four years falling asleep with my kids. Now, obviously, as I type this, I see a connection between the two things. If you’re constantly night parenting, as Dr. Sears affectionately calls it, you’re going to be tired. And, if you’re tired, you’re going to want to go to sleep early enough to get adequate rest to function in life.
Now, this wasn’t always the case. There was a beautiful span of almost a year in the middle of it all, where my older daughter had learned to sleep through the night and I was able to either stay up with my husband or get up at the crack of dawn and write. In my memory of it all, I like to think I chose a balance of the two options, but more likely than not, my husband continued to get the short end of the stick.
Then I got pregnant again, was exhausted after working all day, and got back into the routine of rarely staying up. Add a new baby, and, well, I was right back where I started. I'd go to sleep when the baby went down for the night because there’s no such thing as naps for a mom of two with a preschooler who doesn’t partake in afternoon slumber.
While it was a worthwhile excuse to neglect my husband for the first few months, by month six or so, I could tell he was getting antsy. And, I mean this in the kindest way— never for a moment have I felt he would stray or that he didn’t support my need for rest. But I know he missed me. He told me he missed me all the time. And, to be fair, I missed him!
As luck would have it, I was given a second baby who didn’t love co-sleeping once she became more mobile. Suddenly she was climbing on my head in the middle of the night (something her sister never did) and I was faced with the reality that something had to change. Not just for my own sanity or our joint lack of sleep, but to reclaim my relationship with my husband.
Thankfully, I’d seen the magic of some crying with her older sister. Mix in a study claiming crying doesn't actually harm the baby and plenty of friends who had sworn it worked and I was ready to let my second baby cry. As it turned out, she wasn’t exactly a sleep-training champ, but putting her down for her first stretch at night was quickly a victory.
For the last few months I’ve been able to enjoy regular time awake with my husband. At the risk of horrifying proponents of attachment parenting, I prioritized my relationship over my original parenting philosophies and I’m happy I did. And, really, that’s the thing about families.
There’s a balance to giving everyone prioritized time. Through some lenses it might seem selfish to let a baby cry so parents can spend time together, but my perspective has shifted to see how it benefits everyone. My daughter wasn’t sleeping well with me soothing her for extended periods of time. She’d fight and keep reawakening. Now she knows how to fall asleep and sleeps more restfully as a result.
Most importantly for my marriage, my husband and I actually spend time together alone again. Each day, I look forward to our hour or two on the couch, where we laugh and talk and reconnect. This was missing from our relationship for years and I didn’t realize it was creating distance between us (I gleefully told friends without children it was just a season). I just assumed it was something that had to wait until our kids got older. I'm glad I was wrong.
As the kid of divorced parents, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with parents who share a loving relationship with each other, but I believe it sets a healthy foundation for everything to come. I'm coming to realize my kids deserve to see my husband and I make time for each other, whether this means dating my spouse, or simply asserting my right to stay awake after their bedtimes.