Recently my husband and I went to Washington, D.C., for a work event through his company. It was extra special because we’d spent the first five (child-free) years of our marriage together in that city.
As the plane descended and the Washington Monument came into view, I started to tear up. I will admit, I am a sentimental person, but the “tearing up” quickly turned into tears running down my face. I wasn’t just caught off guard by this; I was embarrassed. I mean, pull yourself together!
This feeling continued to wash over me throughout our trip. When I was finally able to reflect on what was going on, I realized I was experiencing the collision of many powerful and conflicting emotions. The city represented all that we had lost and all we had gained.
Strolling hand in hand through Georgetown, going to hear live music, eating dinner at the Italian restaurant where we used to spend our Valentine’s Days…these were all memories of just us, something we will never be again. We’d been light, spontaneous, selfish, and unconstrained by the responsibilities of caring for anyone but each other.
I was tearing up because I missed those days, but also because I was moved by the depth and weight of our life now. With kids, it became much more difficult to find moments of quiet to connect with each other or just to hang with nothing really to do except be together—yet our marriage gained a gravity that couldn’t exist until our kids were born.
The magnitude of being bound to each other forever, not just because of our vows, but because we brought life into this world together—what an insanely powerful feeling.
We also gained new identities. I wasn’t just a wife anymore; now I was also a mom. He wasn’t just my husband, but also a dad. These identities are permanent and changed the dynamic of our marriage, creating new responsibilities and sacrifices for the privilege of caring for our children.
Throughout this weekend, I thought a lot about what advice my former self would have offered me now. Me, the mom…the wife. I think that despite the naiveté of my perspective before kids, I would have taught myself some very important lessons.
1. Don’t lose yourself.
Yes, you are a mom—but you are still you, the singular being that existed before you had children. When you’re in the throes of life and motherhood, it is easy just to put your head down and deal with whatever comes at you, to wear a thousand hats and live in a constant state of “busy,” “overwhelmed,” or “overscheduled.”
If you carry on like this, you might just wake up one day and realize that you’ve allowed your mom identity to consume you and that you’ve lost parts of yourself that were important to you or your marriage.
So I want you to hear me on this one. As important as it is to manage your relationships with others, you must also manage your relationship with yourself. When you do not, everything suffers.
Take a minute to do a mental and physical scan of yourself. How are you doing? Are you balancing your roles as a wife, mom, and individual? Are you heavily invested in one over another? What small changes can you make to bring these roles back into alignment?
Finally, is there a part of you—a part you loved—that you believe has been lost or taken a back seat since having kids? How can you work to integrate this part back into your life?
2. Find the ways to keep your marriage a priority.
I would have wholeheartedly agreed with this statement before kids. Don’t get me wrong—I still do. But it’s easier said than done. There are so many obstacles to making your marriage a priority after kids, but it is more important than ever.
A strong marriage is the foundation of a strong family. When you and your partner are in a good place and are taking care of your marriage, your kids get the best of you. They feel a sense of security in your strength while witnessing what a loving relationship looks like.
So, no more excuses. Do whatever it takes to care for your marriage. Go on dates, do a weekend away, stay up a little later to catch up. Just do it.
3. Find each other in the hustle.
Part of what makes the days before kids so different is that it is easy to see each other—really see each other. It is easy to see the parts of your partner that you fell in love with and to appreciate and enjoy those qualities.
After kids, the hustle picks up, the roles change, and different sides to your partner come to light that you didn’t know before. The daily grind can leave you depleted, and conversation can start to center around kids and logistical aspects of life. Be careful of falling into this rut and just staying there.
Make a habit of looking at your partner as more than a father to your children. He is the person you fell in love with. Look at him and remind yourself of how much you appreciate all the ways he loves and takes care of you. Try to spend time together in situations that will remind you of the qualities you fell in love with.
The reality is that our marriage will never be the same as it was before kids. Likely, yours never will be either. But with effort, you can profoundly and powerfully deepen your love to extend beyond “just us”—to something richer, deeper, harder, and more meaningful.