Like most almost-married women, I was hyper-focused on my wedding in the months and weeks leading up to the Big Day. The dress, the details of our nuptial Mass, the centerpieces, the photo shoot, all of it. And of course, more importantly, I was all about the man I was head-over-heels for and with whom I absolutely could not wait to begin life. I had also read the best Catholic literature to prepare myself for the vocation, so in an intellectual way, I knew– married life is about merging two totally different individuals and learning to live as one, and then eventually giving of yourselves to the children you bring forth together. Bam. We were going to do this!
But, oh boy, were the ideas and the reality two very different things! We got pregnant right away, and so fairly quickly, we have seen all these truths play out in our marriage. The cranky babies, the (many) sleepless nights, the multiple little tasks that take up the days and weekends. It became our new reality. I would look at our beautiful wedding photos and think, “Wow, look at us! So unaware of how much life was about to change!”
Sometimes it seems like a bitter pill to swallow. What happened to the spontaneity of our dating and engaged days? The times when we could just decide in the morning to make a day trip, returning late at night? When we could just sleep in on the weekends to make up for all the late nights and busy days at work? Now, if we stay up too late, we sure pay for it the next day, and sleeping in is never an option with a baby and a toddler around. We have to plan our outings and adventures around nap and meal times, or risk the Over-tired and Hungry Toddler Monsters (and don’t even talk to me about road trips!). I look at our married friends without kids and am tempted to think they have it easier. I almost want to tell our engaged friends to have fun while they can, because marriage and kids change your lives so radically.
Those may be true statements, but they aren’t the whole picture. Despite the hard work and the bone-tiredness that comes with parenting, I would argue that more is gained than is lost. Yes, my husband and I had fun in the time before kids, but the good times didn’t just stop when the babies came around. Every day, if we decide to see it, we have proof of our love running around the house. They’re funny and adorable and utterly unique. Because they’re human, they can also be exasperating and flummoxing and try our very souls. They have stretched us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. They have made us laugh together, countless times, and caught us totally unawares with the beauty of their innocence.
I know I loved my husband before we were married, and more so after we said our vows. But after pregnancies, childbirths, and then the day-to-day craziness of raising children together, I can definitely say I love him even more. He takes the kids on weekend mornings so I can catch a few more minutes of sleep. He works long hours, picks up extra jobs, so I can stay home and we can live in comfort. He gets down on the floor to play with our girls, reads book after book, and wants to know all the details of what they did during the day when he’s at work. I could go on and on. Our marriage has changed since children, and it will continue to do so, but I’m beginning to realize what a privilege it is to make your husband a father. These many sacrifices inherent in the early years of raising babies are paving the road of our marriage together. By making me a mother, he’s helping make me a much better person, as all my multitude of selfishness is being chipped at, day by day (and night by night).
I could never have imagined on our wedding day and the days that followed what our life together would become. But I do know that saying a whole-hearted, reckless, come-what-may “yes” to having children has been integral to the growth of our love. We have learned to trust each other more, and to lean on each other, hard, when times get rough. We have learned to ask for help and to accept the help lovingly offered. We have learned, and are still learning, to find more ways to die to ourselves so that our other half might have it just a little easier. And we’ve come to realize, in a way we never could have before kids, how precious and refreshing time alone together is. So maybe instead of feeling a twinge of envy at our childless and engaged friends I can tell them with total honesty not to be afraid of having kids; if you let it, it could be the best thing that happens to your marriage.