Thursday, January 24, 2008

Managing Happily Ever After 

Fifteen years ago, Rich and I started dating and have been together ever since. Crazy huh? Think we can handle another 15 years?

I've been thinking a lot about "happily ever after" since I've been reading "Cinderella" to Isabella over and over and over again. You get to the end where Cinderella marries the prince and they live happily ever after - just like that. Well, have you ever envisioned what that "happily ever after" looked like? Cinderella spent a lot of pre-married time doing endless household chores, cleaning, cooking, etc. What about after she got married? Hey, I feel like I've married my prince, but that didn't mean that I escaped endless household chores! And your kid may sound like Anastasia or Drizella with their attitude and demands for first class service! Does "happily ever after" in reality mean that you marry a hot prince who comes with staff who does all the housework and child care for you? Or that you're happy doing all of this for your whiny kids, just not for your mean stepfamily? Even if you're living the "happily ever after" life, that doesn't mean that every day doesn't require lots of love, work and compromise to keep it that way.

Life with kids is wonderful and never boring, but can be stressful on your marriage if you don't work at it. Everyone wants to raise good, well rounded kids. But you also don't want to lose yourselves either. You may feel like you are making the best of the situation trying to retain some aspect your lost life, and the way things used to be in your relationship. It is so easy to let things go and not try. This takes a lot of work, effort and commitment.

(I don't mean to generalize gender roles in the following paragraphs. For simplicity purposes of this post, I will; but the situation can easily be reversed.)

Unfortunately no matter how progressive the man is, women tend to bear more responsibility for the child care. This may be because of the biological tie where kids only want their mom, moms have a higher standard about certain things (like nutrition). Perhaps some of it is primal. The moms wind up working their ass off trying to do the best for their kids. Your priorities change when you have little ones and your DNA says you must care for this child. Dads care about kids, but generally don't freak out about so many things. Ultimately, for better or worse, moms feel more compelled to take on more responsibility because the dad has a lower standard of care. Moms homemake baby food, roll around the floor with them and try to do all these stimulating activities, the kids are crying so you hold them, they only want the Mom so you care for them, you clean the house so it's not overrun with toys. It's a responsibility you can never take a break from; even if you're away from them you worry about your kids! On top of that, moms have to accept everything (body, sleep, career, me-time) that they're sacrificing, which is generally much more than men. This responsibility is already quite a load, but if you have full time work on top of that, that is really enough to wipe you out. Moms need emotional and physical support after a draining day with all the demands put upon them.

It's not easy for guys either. He must feel that he has a huge responsibility on his shoulder to provide for his family. Perhaps due to some hunter-gatherer DNA, it enables men to sleep through a baby crying in his ear, while moms wake up with every little peep from that same baby.

Once they have free time after a long day, many husbands want to still cling to their hobby or alone time that they had pre-kids. Moms might love to do that too, but they feel such an intense love / responsibility for the child, that those hobbies may seem trivial. With their free moments, women may want to spend quality time with their husbands. Wives want romance from their spouse, while husbands may feel maxed out on family time and need time to themselves, even though wives don't feel like it was quality time because you were half distracted with a kid attached to your hip. So no wonder there is discord. And many women are irked that men would rather spend time on their hobbies than with them/kids. A husband may feel that between work and kids that they have little bandwidth for their spouse, because he barely has time for himself. It is just too much for them to handle it all and something has to give. Unfortunately it is the wife that is sacrificed. The husband had to have a little level of sanity, an outlet which is their hobby. And, as much as some women wish that husbands would rather spend more time with them, you have to understand that people/guys are different. They desperately need time for themselves to recharge.

But husbands cannot deny wives need more time with their husbands to feel happy, otherwise resentment builds. Given this, both people have to make an effort so you don't become more like roommates than lovers. When people get annoyed with one another, the sense of humor goes out the window. Some of that is a result of resentment of the spouse wanting to do his hobbies, and ability to sleep, so you may consciously / unconsciously treat him badly, and then it becomes a vicious cycle. The more unhappy the wife is, the less the husband wants to spend time with them, then the less he spends with the wife, the more unhappy the wife gets. So you have to decide to stop this vicious cycle. At the minimum, you have to play the part for it to be the part. At the minimum, make an effort to be loving, and then the cycle would reverse. Hire babysitters so you can have date nights together. Be more proactive in getting that quality time if he's not going to do it for you. OK, yes I know women like to be romanced but sometimes guys don't have a clue and you have to create the romance to get things going. Don't try to "figure out" how to make each other happy, spell out to your spouse what you need to make you happy, either verbally or in a written list that you exchange. If you are not sure what he needs to make you happy, visualize your 100% ideal life, and then break out each component and figure out what exact steps would need to happen to get you there. If you ask for nothing, then you can expect nothing, right?

Focus on the positive. If you constantly focus on the struggle, that is all you will see, and that is the life that you will live. So create the life that you want and make it happen.

So the conclusions...
- Let your husband have his hobby time. Make sure you carve some time for yourself too, even if you don't think you need it. You need to recharge from all that family time.
- Spend more time with fellow girlfriends / hobbies so all the husbands can have their alone time guilt free, and you are doing something for yourself.
- Change your perspective: realize that things will never be quite like pre-kid life, let it go, and embrace your new life with enthusiasm.
- Find several good babysitters, or join a babysitting coop, so you can have a regular date night.
- Always make an effort, never let it all go, always keep trying, keep the romance alive.

No matter what, you have to work at creating moments where you can remember why you got married in the first place. The most crucial thing you can work on is nourish your relationship so that your happy marriage translates into a loving family.