Time for Part Two of Marriage and Motherhood. These are the top questions women ask me, and as I said in part one, I am no expert, but friend to friend, and mom to mom, I am sharing what I’ve learned, because parenting and partnership is wonderful, and challenging. Because both are so personal, we can feel vulnerable, as if we are isolated in our experiences. My hope is that you’ll be reminded that you’re not alone, and also, that marriage and motherhood are pretty incredible. You, and your family, are worth the fight. Before we begin, please accept, in my humble opinion, the best thing that’s ever happened to Moms.
The mom jean comeback. High waist jeans hiding all the things. Praise.
I heard this preacher, with three kids, say once, “You have no idea how much time and money you have.” I was all like, eye roll, you don’t know me bro – I am SO busy. And now I am like, hmm mmm, that’s a word. Say it louder for the folks in the back who ain’t out here in these streets buying diapers. This brings me to the first question.
We’re strapped for money and time – what do we do?
I think the best advice I have ever been given about budgets and money is this: Just budget for it. Doesn’t matter what “it” is, as long as it’s in the budget and you’re living within your means. Budgets are really about values – wherever we spend our money says what we value. In the Aber house, we value food, our home, and giving. I am sure we could save for a year and take a family vacation, but then we would have to cook a heck of a lot more, and we’re too doggone tired in this season to do that. We love making our apartment a home, so we buy flowers, candles, feed and host people, and this is our happiness. Speaking of home, in part one of this blog, we talked about 80% of people living in urban cities, where rent tends to be a huge chunk of the budget, so make your peace with it, or move. We gave up our gym memberships, self-care routines, etc. to be in Manhattan, and live within our means. But, we love it, and it’s worth it to us. We don’t have any debt, or credit cards, but when I did, I used the Dave Ramsey snowball method to pay it off, one bill at a time. Accept, or ask for help: If the grandparents want to buy your kids new clothes, let them. If someone you trust offers to watch your kids and it fits with your schedule, let them. (I stink at this, and need to get better.) If you have another couple who will swap babysitting with you, so you can have a date night, do it. Make the most of holidays and birthdays for your kids, by asking caregivers/grandparents to purchase something besides toys – maybe karate, dance or swim classes, an educational toy that will help prepare your toddler for preschool, that baby swing you didn’t get on your registry, whatever. Think outside the box, and without getting entitled or greedy, ask for what you need.
Our life in Los Angeles had a sustainable rhythm, that we worked very hard to get and keep. Moving to NYC, we lost our margin for time, with not even ten minutes alone each day. We get up to people, get on the train, go to work where we share offices with at least three other people, get back on the train, and come home to people. Even my extroverted husband is like, CAN I JUST GET A MINUTE FOR THE LOVE OF JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH. I share this, because, the complaints we hear are usually: I don’t have time to myself. I don’t have time for dream/God/church/friendships. Nobody has time for me.
So, how do you find time under those conditions? First, accept that you can’t do it all. Second, stop blaming others. Third, determine what is important to you. If the dream/church/God/friendships is important to you, make it work. That’s right, stop making excuses for not prioritizing what you say is important to you. We’re all tired and busy. Adjust your expectations so you can live in reality. Some ideas to help: FaceTime or start a voice message text exchange, instead of hanging out in person. Call the grocery store your new “10 minutes to yourself” routine. You could watch church online, but try getting yourself one extra time this month, and brunch with a friend afterwards. Try a working lunch, even if it means you stay an extra 30 minutes after work, to make up the time. Schedule a “work on my dream night” twice a month, and keep that appointment like you would with anybody else. Get a partner for a writing night/dream session/workout time/play date. At the end of the day, you and I are in charge of our schedules. Blaming others, or our circumstances, isn’t helping us change.
On the flip side, grace, sister, grace. Life with kids is just different, and there really is not enough margin. Grieve all the time and money you had in your past life, and do the best you can. Celebrate every little step of progress you make! Had a date night after six weeks? GOOD FOR YOU! Went to brunch with your girlfriends for the first time in four months? GOOD FOR YOU! Sat in the local library working on your side hustle for the first time in a year? GOOD FOR YOU! Taking responsibility does not have to mean guilt and condemnation and feeling like a failure. Do your best – that’s all any of us can do.
Baby(ies) have changed the nature of our marriage – how do we deal with that? What can I do?
Okay, good question, first, a question back to you: What do you want/think/need/feel? If you can get to these things, you can have healthy expectations of yourself and your hubby, and be able to articulate things in a way that makes them actionable. Ex. I feel overwhelmed, and think we need a change in our weekend schedule. Is there a time this Friday, where we can look over our weekends, and make sure we have not overcommitted ourselves? Listen Mr., I need some sleep. Are you okay with me hiring a sitter Thursday afternoon from 1-5? I know you are working late that day, and if I am able to get some rest, I feel like I will be able to handle bedtime without going crazy. My love, I want to spend more time with you. I was looking at our calendar and we have the next two Wednesdays open. Can we pencil in a date night? I know money is tight, so I was thinking we can put the kids down together, order some dinner, and watch that new documentary on Netflix we’ve been talking about.
Leave room for him to express what he wants/thinks/needs/feels as well, even if his responses are different than yours. You’ll both need to work at compromising as you navigate a new season of life. And for sure, kindness and grace is required for this precious time in parenting and marriage. If either of you have unrealistic, or unkind standards for each other emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually, real damage can be done in your relationship. (And again, get help from friends, your faith community, or a medical professional. It’s worth it!) And don’t underestimate the power of prayer, as you process your life, feelings, needs, thoughts and desires.
I think it’s also important to say here, that not every couple has two healthy people in the marriage. If you are, or your partner is, abusive, absent, addicted, manipulative, or if you struggle with co-dependency, or even communication (fighting all the time, playing the blame game, giving each other the silent treatment), there is hope. Share with trusted friends who can pray with you and check on you. Consider seeking professional help. Even if your partner refuses, we can all learn so much about ourselves that can be useful when we are in relationship with others. When we are triggered or tempted to react in a way we don’t want to, we’ll have tools in our arsenal to help us respond better. Same thing with our kiddos. Sister, it’s so hard to raise these babes, but if we are screaming at them, forcing them to do things, wanting everything our way, or in awful moments hurting them physically or verbally, we need to get help, and fast.
Date Nights: Per the financial conversation above, do the best you can with date nights. We do about once every six weeks, and that is our best. We love each other, have a rich connection, and we know this is the season we’re in. We don’t hold each other to impossible standards, go into debit, or sulk silently because we can’t do what we used to do; I thank God that we make sacrifices to be with our children, to create the home we have, and to be generous together with what we do have. Our connection hasn’t waned, but it does look different, so we live in reality and do our best with that, instead of longing endlessly for what we don’t have. If you have the resources to hire a sitter and go out every week DO IT. We did this religiously for our first five years of marriage and I have no regrets. But if not, NETFLIX AND CHILL BABY.
Speaking of chill, let’s talk about sex, which changes after babies, for most couples. I am sure there are some gold star athletes out there, who get right back to it, but for normal humans, that’s not the case. It is hard to feel excited about sex, when you’re covered in spit up, have had children attached to you (or your breasts) all day, or have milk squirting all over the place when you take your nursing bra off. And don’t get me started on the body changes as well. (Hey sis, your hubby might be insecure about his dad bod, too.) Again, do your best. Light a candle, and turn off the lights. Settle for a quickie. Get it in where it fits in (nap time, morning time, whatever time). Laugh together. Complement each other. Be affectionate throughout the day.
We struggle to communicate – we don’t feel heard, or understood, and we end up fighting – what do we do?
Every couple is different, so there is no one way to answer this, but our number one rule? Kindness is King. Kindness is a little thing that makes all the difference. It’s a mutual respect and honor we give because we are human beings, and deserve that. We’re not perfect, and we definitely disagree, but there’s no name calling, shouting, or mocking one another. We do our best to listen and respond, to greet and connect, with kindness.
A few other helpful communication tools: Ask questions. “So, what I hear you saying is… Did I get that right? Is there anything else you want to share with me about that? Thank you for sharing. Is there more? May I share with you something I have been feeling?” Questions help us communicate without fighting. A phrase to help as well: Right time, right place. Although we can’t always follow this, it’s good to think about the right time to have a conversation (so no one falls asleep when you try to have it at midnight), and the right place as well, so we can reduce the triggers we face as we tackle difficult conversations.
Stick to the issue at hand. If you’re talking about the budget, and how differently you approach it, keep it about the budget. Do your best not to branch out into how your spouse is also sort of a slob, can’t stick to the healthy diet they try, and also wastes too much time watching tv, instead of pursuing their dreams. Come on, seriously? Now, we’ve hit shame territory, where our spouse feels horrible about who they are as a human. We don’t change when we are shamed; we change when we are loved.
Use I-statements, and avoid blame. Instead of “YOU ALWAYS ______”, try “When you did this isolated incident, it made me feel small/like I can’t trust you/low on your list of priorities/hurt/angry/triggered because of how I was treated in my childhood home/etc.” If it’s possible, offer a solution, so your spouse can have an easy win. As an example, “I am so grateful for how hard you work for our family. I enjoy watching you live out your calling, and I love doing that as well. It would make me feel like more of a priority, if we had dinner together as a family once a week, where we had no electronics, and spent time laughing, and talking about our week. Do you think that is possible for you? If not, can we work at a mutual solution together?” Sharing honestly, when it’s safe and appropriate to do so, is hard work. We’d all rather project and not take responsibility for our own feelings, thoughts, needs and desires, but when we are honest, we grow, and understand each other better, and are more likely to honor one another’s ideas and needs.
Express gratitude. What are you each thankful for? What do you love about each other? What surprises and delights you about your spouse? Encourage each other, so that you have deposits in the bank, when you need to make withdrawals.
Last thought, leave room for change. You are no longer married to the person you married. Guess what? Neither is your spouse. We are all evolving, and there must be room for transformation. This can look like new boundaries that require more of you, or it can look like a change in preferences, or a major career shift, or move. Either way, leave room for change. Life comes in seasons, and we have to get great at navigating them together.
You’re amazing Mama, in case no one’s told you lately, and I am thankful to be out here kicking butt, and taking names, alongside you. We got this.
What are your tips and tools for marriage and motherhood?