Marriage and the Little Things

My husband and I are celebrating our 5-year wedding anniversary this week and, as usual, we almost forgot about this significant milestone, my husband frantically phoning the latest must-visit restaurant for a last-minute booking. Neither of us was surprised that this day almost passed us by without even a mention – this is exactly what A and I do after all. We never make a big deal out of our love; we simply do not do big displays of affection. Instead, we focus on the small things, the small acts of love which show us that despite our routines, child- and work-driven lives, we still care.

This morning, for example, A could go into the office a bit later than usual, so instead of our normal, rushed, morning routine, he got up, fetched Bean from his cot and made us a cup of coffee, letting me lie in for an extra 5 minutes. Not only did this give me a little bit of much-needed peace in our busy lives, it showed me that he cared – he sacrificed his extra lie-in time to give me a break.

And that to me is the crux of a good relationship. It’s not about the big displays of love, the extravagant outings or the expensive gifts, it’s about the daily acts of kindness, the spontaneous kisses, the gentle touch of a hand. Sure, the big things are also important – they give those special days that special feeling. But a relationship cannot survive on the big things. No, relationships survive on the little things.

It’s that extra shared cup of coffee in the morning even when he is running late, it’s cooking his favourite meal even though she doesn’t really like it, it’s unpacking the dishwasher so that she can have an extra-long shower. It’s the shared smile across the room, it’s the joint laughter at something silly and it’s telling her that she is beautiful. It’s the sheepish smile and the bad joke after a fight and it’s his gentle hug when she is crying.

These are the things that really matter. These are the everyday moments of sacrifice and gratitude, the small acts of love, which make me choose A, and our joint lives, over and over again. It’s these small, seemingly insignificant things, which make me look forward to the next few decades, because, when I look back on our marriage one day, our lives so inextricably linked, I want to remember the way we made each other feel, the moments of laughter, joy and love, not the fancy restaurant we visited.

A Newborn Marriage Challenge

We attended a wedding last weekend and as I was listening to the pastor deliver his sermon, I was transported back to my own wedding day and the feelings of joy and elation I experienced in anticipation of something great. I remembered our priest saying that we had committed to being together, to finding strength in each other through times of abundance and happiness (and lots of wine), as well as through times of drought (and only water). As I took hold of my husband’s hand while we witnessed our friends committing to a life of happily-ever-after, I realised that our own fairy tale had recently started to fade, our marriage being characterised more by drought, than by abundance.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not broken, a piece of shattered glass which cannot be repaired. We love each other, our family and our life. But, having a child has put a strain on our bond, which, if not nurtured, will shatter. Having a child has meant that there is an extra person, a little blessing who needs constant love and attention, in our life and in our marriage. It has meant that we are always tired and it has meant that we have placed Bean first, letting our marriage fall into the background. Nobody functions well when they are tired and an exhausted person can easily become unreasonable, snappy and bitter. Combine this with a lack of fun, romantic activities and added financial pressures and it is all too easy to fall into a cycle of blame and fighting.

Because of this, I have put together a challenge, a few daily actions focused on strengthening our relationship, and as I am sure that most couples (whether married or not) experience this, that A and I are not the exception to the rule, I have decided to share this challenge. So here goes:

  1. Remember that your relationship comes first

Being a mom, it is so easy to place the needs of our children first. That is what being a mom is after all – it means that our children’s needs, their growth and their emotional development are of paramount importance. I am guilty of this a hundred times over. I have however realised, that there would be no child, there would be no family, if it were not for us, for our relationship, for our marriage. I would not be able to give my child the stable family home environment I believe is so important in his upbringing, if A and I are not in a stable, happy and strong relationship.

Do something for your partner every day: whether it is making a sandwich for work, or it is taking 5 minutes out of your day to hear how her day went, do something which is only for him/her.

  1. Tell your partner you love them

This should be done every day, at least once. And not in parting, out of habit, as you say good bye. Look your partner in the eye and say it. Mean it.

  1. Choose your partner

Being in a relationship with someone is a choice, a choice we make every day. Whether it’s an easy subconscious choice (as you wake up in your partner’s arms with a smile) or a more difficult conscious choice (after a fight), it is a choice. Be sure to always choose your partner, your relationship and your family.

  1. Give your partner a compliment

It is so easy to criticise and to harp on the negative as the pressures of daily life get too much. But instead of focusing on the negative: the fact that your partner is not helping with the dishes (again) or that he or she is late from work (again) leaving you with all the house hold chores and kids to take care of, for example, focus on the good. Tell him how much you appreciate him working late to provide for your family. Tell her how beautiful she looks today.

  1. Be grateful

Take a moment every day to say thanks. There is always something to be thankful for.

  1. Take care of yourself

My mom always reminds me of the oxygen masks and their rule of use in an aeroplane: the air hostesses always say that in an emergency, first place the oxygen mask over your own face before helping others to fit theirs. The reason: you will not be able to help them if you pass out due to a lack of oxygen. Similarly, you cannot take care of your family, if you are not taken care of. Every single person has needs and desires, dreams and aspirations and they are all equally important. Do not lose sight of yours simply because you have a family to take care of. Find a balance and be sure that you are happy – a happy parent leads to a happy family.

Do something every day that makes you happy (even if it is just a hot cup of coffee).

 

 

To Have a Child – or Not

My husband and I are both the eldest children in our respective families, our little Bean being the first grandchild. This means that we often end up in discussions with our younger siblings about whether they should start a family or not and if yes, when they should do this. I am so in love my little Bean that I am of course of the opinion that we should all have at least 4 children but my husband and sister tend to disagree. I have therefore decided to set up a pros and cons list so that we can settle this argument once and for all.

Children are hard work

Now, this is very true. Taking care of yourself and your family can be tiring and at the end of the day you fall down into the couch with a glass of red wine in your hand, and you think, ‘what a day’. It is hard work doing everything for a little person who cannot do anything himself. But it is so rewarding seeing him try (and succeed) to do these things independently, knowing that all your hard work is helping a person grow. It is so rewarding when your little Bean takes his first steps or when he stops playing to walk over to you, thumb in mouth, for a cuddle – just because he needs to refuel some ‘mom’.

Someone’s career will have to take a back seat

This is something I never really thought about too much before I had Bean. Of course I realised that I would have to be home in time for bath time and bed time but I was under the impression that I would simply carry on working, building on my career, as normal. I was, of course, wrong. Being home in time for bath time and bed time meant that I could not work the extra hours I used to. Having a sick baby at home meant that I would have to stay home with him and take a day’s leave. Dropping a baby off at crèche meant that I would sometimes go into the office late and having a husband who is a workaholic meant that there was a chance that there would be no one to take care of Bean if I had to travel for work. A baby takes up time and someone’s (whether it’s mom’s or dad’s) career simply has to take a step back. In our case, I decided to give up a traditional corporate career and become a work from home mom, freelancing, instead. This does not mean that I gave up my career – I simply adjusted it to start something new. Something which suits my lifestyle better.

Your marriage will suffer

Children add a lot of pressure to a relationship. The lack of sleep, the added financial pressures and the changed social life can be difficult to navigate and being tired and stressed generally brings out the worst in people. Being tired and stressed after a long day with a screaming, difficult child, can in fact easily tear a relationship apart. There are however days filled with moments when your child masters a new skill or does something cute and you and your spouse look at each other with such love and pride and you realise how deeply connected you are as a family.

The truth is that your relationship will change. It will strengthen and deepen and mould into something far greater than it was before. A child makes you a family, it creates a bond between husband and wife which, if cared for, is very difficult to break.

Having children will change your life and this means that you will need to adapt, you will need to adjust to this new role of mother and father and family of three or more. It does not however mean that you have to give up your life, it does not mean that you have to lose your sense of self, or your spark as a couple. I am still me, a more responsible mom version of me, yes, but I am still here. My husband and I are still here and although we have our ups and downs like everyone else, we are happy.

I cannot imagine how different our lives would be if we had decided not to have a child, how empty the world would seem without this new life. Bean is not just my son, he is my little companion.

Have a child, or two or three, it is the most beautiful and inexplicably wondrous thing.

Trapped

‘I feel trapped’, my husband said as we were washing up little Bean’s bottles. As any mom and wife will know, these are not words one wants to hear.  He, luckily, did not mean that he felt trapped in our marriage, but rather that he felt trapped in our routine-driven lives. Instead of spontaneously going for a night on the town or a movie, we had to carefully plan every activity we wanted to participate in. Could we take Bean with? If not, who would watch him? If yes, what did we need to pack to be able to go? Our lives had become one continuous routine of washing and sterilising bottles, nap time, play time and cooking food for our little guy, with the odd well-planned and well-packed excursion in between.

This made me think: why did I not feel this way? I experience feelings of anxiousness and stress – yes, often; but never trapped. I fully understood where he was coming from of course: our previously busy, adventure-laden and spontaneous lives had become boring and we had become that settled, married couple we had been so scared of becoming. Yet, I was quite happy with our new ‘dreary’ life.

Upon closer inspection our lives are filled with little bits of wonder, excitement and adventure every day. Bean is growing at such a fast pace and developing so quickly, that every day brings with it something new. On the night in question for example, I was busy feeding Bean his bed time bottle when he had a dirty nappy. Being my compulsive self, petrified of a nappy rash, I immediately placed Bean on his change mat and removed the dirty nappy. Excited by the freedom I had now bestowed upon my son, he decided to unleash the fury and so, in the midst of it all, he pooped in my hand. Hearing my panicked cries from the bedroom, my husband ran up the stairs, saw what was going on and promptly burst out laughing. This was a definite first and a funny, ‘adventurous’, one at that.

On the same day, Bean started throwing his arms around my neck, squeezing tightly, smiling his widest smile, all the while cooing excitedly, every time I picked him up. This filled me with so much gratitude and so much wonder, that it felt as if my heart was going to explode: it could not possibly contain the amount of love I felt at that moment.

A week later Bean started rolling – something I had been trying to teach him for (which felt like) forever. This was another exciting moment which caused me to jump up and down in our lounge, doing my little happy dance, feeling incredibly proud. And all this while Bean smiled at me impassively as if to say, ‘what is the big deal, lady?’

Now, coming back to the question of why I did not feel trapped by our routine– how could I with a living miracle in my heart, in my life, in my home?

It is easy to feel trapped while looking at an empty freezer knowing that you will have to spend the next 48 hours cooking for your child, or when you look at the dirty bottles piling up and you have just received a message from one of your ‘non-parent’ friends asking if you feel like going for a quick drink. I have felt this feeling creep up, threatening to spread a little bit of darkness over my heart – but in these moments all I need to do is look at my beautiful son, his eyes filled with wonder and excitement every time he sees or hears something new (even if it’s just water running out of the tap) and I know, with a knowledge deeply instilled in my soul, that he is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I would choose my dreary, routine driven and settled family life over and over and over again (and I know that my husband would do the same).

Picture Credit: http://www.canva.com