How Parenting Can Take a Toll on Partnering

Parenting is supposed to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life. It’s supposed to bring spouses together. But without care and attention, just the opposite can happen. If you’re not careful, parenting can take a toll on your partnering.

LOSING YOUR PLAYMATE

When spouses come to me with problems in their marriage, I typically ask them when they feel the problems started. More often than not, they can trace it back to when they started having kids.

Prior to the kids, the couple would:

  • Spend lots of time together.
  • Go out on dates.
  • Take trips.
  • Have frequent and leisurely sex.
  • Talk a lot
  • Do fun things.
  • (Fill in the blank)

In short, before the kids came, they were playmates.

But, from the time the couple finds out they’re pregnant, the child begins to change everything. Even before the child is born, parenting starts to trump partnering and playmates turn into roommates.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Though my kids are adults with kids of their own, I remember how it was for us. When my wife was pregnant, things started to change. Suddenly…

  • I couldn’t make breakfast in the morning, because it nauseated my wife. So I had to start getting my breakfast at a drive-up window on the way to work.
  • Instead of saving for things we wanted, we were now saving for things for the nursery and the baby.
  • I had to trade in my compact pickup because there was no room for a car seat.
  • Instead of satisfying late-night cravings for sex, now I was making late-night runs to satisfy her cravings for chocolate milkshakes.
  • And instead of going and doing things like we use to, now our activity was restricted by her fatigue and discomfort.

And that was just during the pregnancy! Little did I know that pregnancy was just a preview of coming attractions.

After the child was born, life was all about the kid! This child controlled everything…

  • Our sleep schedules (or lack thereof.)
  • Our sex lives (or lack thereof.)
  • If and when we went anywhere.
  • What time we had to be home.
  • How loud we could be in the house.
  • The way we budgeted money.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

But perhaps the biggest change was the change in our relationship. Parenting changed our partnering. Here’s how:

HOW PARTNERS DRIFT APART

Before our first child came into the picture, my wife and I were playmates. But after our child was born, my playmate became a mom, and moms are focused on the child. They responsibly give all her attention to tending to the needs of their child.

But, I missed my playmate. So I would attempt to get her back from time to time. But it rarely seemed to work. She was either too focused on taking care of our child, or too tired from the demands on her, or too distracted with mom stuff. Though she never said it, it often felt like I was getting the message, “You’re a big strong adult who can take care of yourself, but this child needs us.

When husbands lose their playmate, they have three options:

  • They can keep trying to get their playmate back, (which tends to aggravate their wives.)
  • They can find another playmate, (which always ends badly.)
  • Or they can switch from being a playmate to being a dad. (And dads tend to focus on providing by working and keeping things up.)

And this is where the parenting starts to take its toll on partnering. As moms focus on children and dads focus on work, they begin to slowly drift apart. Gradually, they become more like roommates that only have one thing in common…the needs of the kids.

Depressed yet? Don’t be. This is normal. And the good news is, you can turn this around! We’ll get into how to do this in the next post. So be looking for it.

If Your Approaches to Parenting Differ…

When people come into my counseling office with marital problems, I always ask them, “When did these things start to be a problem?” The majority of people trace it back to when they started having kids.

This makes sense. When kids come along…

  • You have to share your spouse’s attention with a very needy child.
  • The demands of parenting, leave you with less energy for marriage.
  • Money is tighter, leaving less to spend on the relationship.
  • Free time becomes a thing of the past and things like dating often go by the way-side.

But there’s another reason why kids disrupt a marriage as surely as pulling the pin on a grenade. When kids come into a marriage, we become parents. And although we’re parenting the same child/children, our views on parenting often differ. These different views on parenting can create a lot of conflicts.

DIFFERING VIEWS ON PARENTING

Where do we get our views on parenting?

Gender differences.

There are distinct differences between the genders. Some of these differences are the result of genetics and some are the result of socialization. But the differences are there and they affect our views and approaches to parenting. Men and women will always view parenting differently on some level.

Family of Origin Differences.

But most of our views on parenting come from how we were parented. You and your spouse had different parenting experiences growing up, so it makes sense that you would have different views on parenting now. Let me give you an example…

One of the biggest disagreements between my wife and me centered on how our teenage girls kept their rooms.

Walking into our girls’ rooms was like going on a safari in the jungles of Africa. There were so many clothes on the floor you needed a machete to cut a path. Bras and scarves desperately hung from mirrors as if they were afraid of falling to the floor and getting lost in the undergrowth. School books were scattered around the room as if their book bag had suffered from projectile vomiting. And there were drinking glasses and dishes that had been there so long, I had forgotten we had them.

My wife and I responded very differently to the girls’ rooms. I would look in their rooms and shake my head, much like you would when you see someone pushing on a door that says “pull.” Then I would shrug my shoulders and keep moving. But my wife would look in their rooms and respond so heatedly it would set off the smoke alarms and send the kids into a duck-and-cover mode.

Why did we react so differently? Because we were raised by different parents.

As a boy, I shared a very small and well lived-in bedroom with two other brothers. My mother sensed it was futile to expect it to stay neat all the time, so she gave us our space…asking only for an occasional cleaning.

But my wife was parented differently. Her parents believed that children showed respect by keeping everything neat and in its place. To do otherwise was considered disrespectful. So she always kept her room neat and clean.

You can see why we reacted differently to our girls’ messy rooms. We viewed room cleanliness based on how we were parented.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR APPROACHES TO PARENTING DIFFER?

I can sum up the answer to this question in one statement…

If your approaches to parenting differ…you must parent differently.

It took us a while to come to a mutual agreement on how our kids should keep their rooms. I wanted an approach in which the kids were not always complaining about living with a room nazi. My wife wanted an approach in which the kids respected her enough to keep their rooms from looking like a toxic waste dump.

To find a solution, we both had to change our approach. We both had to parent differently.

We came up with a solution that was different from what we each wanted but had enough of what we each wanted to satisfy us. Here is what we came up with…

Six days a week, the girls could keep their rooms pretty much the way they wanted, with two exceptions: they couldn’t leave food lying around, and they had to keep their door closed so their mother didn’t go into cardiac arrest each time she passed by their rooms. But one day a week, they had to clean their rooms to pass mom’s inspection…and mom’s inspection could be tough! And if their rooms didn’t pass her inspection, then they lost privileges.

You see, my wife and I had to parent differently than we wanted to accommodate each other’s parenting views.  We had to find out what was important to each other when it came to parenting, and then find approaches that honored us both.

It’s easier said than done, but there’s no other way. You each will approach parenting differently, which means you must each parent differently.

On a side note: both girls survived. They grew up to have kids of their own and now have to fight their own room battles. There is some poetic justice in life! 

The Crowded Marriage.

Let’s start by stating the obvious…it’s been a little over 8 months since I have posted to Normal Marriage. I realized this when, on a trip back home, I ran into a niece who asked me if I had kicked her off my Normal Marriage mailing list, because she hadn’t gotten a new post in “forever.”

I could give you a lot of detailed reasons for why it’s been so long, but the long and the short of it is life crept in and crowded Normal Marriage out.

Ever had that happen? Ever had the demands of life crowd out your marriage? The demands of life come in all shapes and sizes…

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How Parenting Can Improve Partnering

In my last post (How Partnering Can Improve Parenting,) we looked at how improving your marriage could improve your parenting. It stressed the importance of making sure your partnering takes precedence over your parenting. (If you’ve not read that post, I encourage you to go back and read it.)

Now, we need to answer how parenting can improve partnering, and the answer is simply this…

 “Your parenting should instruct your partnering.” 

Yes, your partnering should take priority over your parenting, but your parenting can teach you to be a better partner. Here’s what I mean by this. If you listed the things you do for your kids, your list would look something like this…

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How Partnering Can Improve Parenting

We don’t often think of how parenting can improve partnering. Usually, we think of just the opposite…how parenting makes partnering harder. We instantly think of all the demands parenting makes on our time, money, energy, and resources, and how those demands complicate marriage.

It’s true that being a parent can make being a partner more difficult. This is why I always tell spouses, “You’re partnering should  take precedent over your parenting.” I firmly believe this to be true for every marriage…

  • Young spouses as well as senior adults spouses.
  • Spouses who have biological children as well as those who have step children or adopted children.
  • Those who have just one child as well as those who have twelve.

No matter the situation, the principle is the same. You’re partnering should take precedence over your parenting, because:

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A Quiet Christmas

It’s Christmas morning 2016, and I’m up early. Not because there are children clambering to open presents, but because I received the gift of a sinus infection and my head couldn’t take being horizontal any longer.

Actually, the days of clambering and chaos on Christmas morning are gone for my wife and me. We are now moving into the quiet Christmas years.

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Kids and Marriage – What Were We Thinking?

There are some things in life that seem like a good idea at the time, but later cause you to ask, “What was I thinking?”

Maybe it was that person who seemed so good on the first couple of dates that later left you asking, “What was I thinking?” Maybe it was training for that half marathon that caused you to say, “What was I thinking?” Or maybe it was that job change that looked good on paper, but left you wondering, “What was I thinking?” (For more ideas, take a look at your high school yearbook pictures.)

Having kids can be one of those things that seems like a good idea at the time, but can leave you wondering, “What was I thinking?”

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