When you get married and say your vows, you promise to share life with your spouse through weakness and health, through riches and poverty. There should be one other condition included: parenthood.
In their book When Partners Become Parents, researchers Philip and Caroline Cowan reveal that 92 per cent of couples experience increased conflict after baby. This, the authors speculate, is due to the sudden and massive change of circumstances that the couple find themselves in once a little one appears on the scene.
Anyone who tells you that parenthood is a walk in the park which will not affect your marriage is either lying or deluded. And while making a baby is relatively easy, parenting may well will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life. But the good news is, it will make you a better person.
The spouse says that I am more patient than before. “Previously, it was shoot first, ask questions later. Now, you don’t shoot until all forensic evidence has been gathered,” he explained. And really, there’s no choice: it’s man (or woman) up, or it will be your kids that suffer.
He rose to the occasion soon after Son #1 was born. His mother had volunteered to look after the baby after my maternity leave was over. Then the week before I was due to return to the office, she changed her mind.
We could not find a reliable babysitter at short notice. So I returned to work and tendered my resignation. The spouse took no-pay leave to look after baby until the end of that month. After serving my notice, I became a stay-at-home-mum.
A year later however, I was once again behind a desk. The spouse was in-between jobs at that time, so he volunteered to be a stay-at-home-dad. It wasn’t easy for him. This was seven years ago, before it was ‘fashionable’ for dads to be seen ferrying about their little ones in a stroller while looking macho at the same time.
Not surprisingly my husband’s relatives questioned his ‘manliness’ and his ability to support a family. When we sold off the bulk our books and CDs to raise funds for baby items, his parents were appalled and embarrassed.
But I was immensely proud of my husband. To me, he had ‘manned up’ admirably. I was proud that he was strong enough not to cave in to society’s expectations. When he was offered a job that he couldn’t refuse, we switched roles once more and I became a stay-at-home-mum again.
I have a different kind of respect for my husband now that he’s a father. I see another side of him that would never have been revealed had we not had kids. I love how my sons are learning things from him that I would never have been able to teach them.
From the very beginning it was obvious that he was not going to be of any use in areas such as breastfeeding. But when it came to teaching the boys how to pee without spraying all over the bathroom, all he had to do was drop the trousers, point and shoot. Done! Thanks to him too, the four-year-old is a Beatles connoisseur. The seven-year-old is a Star Wars and model planes fanatic.
Life has changed, of course. We’re now a quartet first and a couple second. Where we go, they go. Despite my husband saying that we should go on holiday together and leave the boys with someone, he’s a mush-ball and ultimately can’t bring himself to do it. Neither can I. But we love to travel. So we’ve both had to adapt and become ruthlessly organised.
Instead of just heading out of the country at a whim, we research before we go. Instead of just throwing clothes into a luggage bag, we do the ‘auntie’ thing and vacuum pack each person’s ‘baju’ in separate bags. We still do some things that we used to pre-kids. But we look for those that our children can enjoy as well, and it’s opened up a whole new world of experiences that we never thought about attempting before.
Roaming with the kids has also helped us developed flexibility and inner resilience. I consider it an achievement to have survived three flights in 26 hours – solo with a baby and a toddler – to meet the husband and attend a rock music festival in Oslo.
Many people will say that you have to put the marriage and the spouse before the kids. Different strokes for different folks, I say.
I believe that putting the children first adds a deeper dimension to the marriage and solidifies the union. You see your partner love someone (or a few someones) whom you also love. As a couple, my husband and I are still individuals. As parents, we have become a team, a united front. And as long as the kids are with us, we’ll always be there for them as a team – their dream team.
This column first appeared in Real Love Works, a publication by Marriage Central under the National Family Council.