How We Make our Relationship Work with Three Kids Underfoot
Tim and I like to think that we have a marriage that works.
By “works,” I mean that over ten years into our romantic relationship, and nearly nine years into our marriage, we still like each other. We still want to be with one another. We still enjoy each other’s company, and we still envision ourselves growing old together. We’re still attracted to one another. And we still count each other as our best friends.
In other words, I think we’re doing something right.
Often, I see people attributing the “success” of their relationship to some sort of religious reasons (e.g. “placing God at the center of their marriage”) or to very generic, magazine-ready reasons (e.g. “we respect each other and treat each other with kindness”). And I know that these reasons are completely right for lots of people.
But these reasons aren’t relevant for everyone. Including Tim and me.
It’s not that we’re anti-God or anti-respect or anti-kindness. It’s just that we’ve had to find different strategies to stay in love (and, perhaps more importantly, “in like”) with one another over the years, especially once we added kids to the mix. Because, you know, generic kindness only goes so far when you’re elbow deep in baby-poop, eardrum-deep in whining, and heart-deep in worry over your children.
So why do I think that our marriage and relationship work so well (despite the fact that we have multiple jobs and three kids, and in addition to the fact that we are relatively privileged in regard to our economic stability)?
We view our marriage as a partnership: not as a perpetual dream date.
At the beginning of our relationship–like the beginning of most relationships–every day was like a dream date. And it didn’t seem to matter where that dream date occurred.
For example, when we first started dating, Tim had to move into one of his friends’ basements for a few weeks. And really, it was more dungeon than basement. There were exposed pipes, piles of college boys’ laundry, empty beer bottles. And Tim’s bed and (if I recall correctly) all of his clothes stashed away in duffle bags and trash bags. It was classy.
Every once in a while, I’d spend the night with Tim in his dungeon bedroom. I wouldn’t even think twice about it. And every once in a while, the condensation from the pipes overhead would drip onto us when we were sleeping.
But did I go running and screaming from the basement of doom? Did I get angry at Tim for subjecting me to such grotesque living conditions?
No. No, I didn’t. Because I was newly in love. And I was head over heels for this guy. And every day was a dream date. And we had even created a silly pet name (“The Drip”) for this disgusting occurrence. Because every day was a dream date, and everything (even The Drip) was glorious and beautiful and magnificent.
But now? Now if Tim wanted me to spend an afternoon, let alone a whole night, under the waterfall of a college-house basement’s leaky pipes, I’d tell him that I’d much rather spend that time by myself, thankyouverymuch. Because every day is not a dream date any longer.
And you know what? That’s okay. Instead of perpetual dream dates, we have this really amazing partnership where we are friends and roommates and housemates and co-parents and (cover your eyes and ears, kiddos!) fuck-buddies all in one. We’ve learned to cherish this partnership too. And when the time is right, we’ve also learned to set aside time for our own miniature dream dates.
We accept that our plans are contingent: not permanent.
With that being said, with three small children under our care, we’ve learned not to put too much stock into our “dream date” plans too.
In fact, when I was looking to write this post, I found the following draft tucked away in the recesses of my blog’s admin page:
Tim and I celebrated our eighth anniversary last night.
When I say that Tim and I “celebrated” our eighth anniversary, I don’t mean that we went out for a fancy dinner, stayed in a hotel, and had the sort of loud, awesome sex that you just can’t have with three sleeping kids in the house. Our time, money, and childcare situation simply doesn’t lend itself to that sort of anniversary celebration at this point in our lives.
But we did plan to spend a quiet night in with a little bit of take-out, a movie, and at the very least a rousing make-out session.
The night started off great when Alec, who is pretty consistently the most difficult child at bedtime, fell asleep by 7:45 p.m. And then Eric followed soon after.
But then things kind of fell apart.
First, Eric woke up after a mere fifteen minutes. Then Miles came downstairs with a string of toilet paper hanging out of his pants, proclaiming, “HEY GUYS, I JUST WENT TO THE BATHROOM! LOOK AT MY TAIL!!!” (Oh, you mean that TAIL OF POO PAPER HANGING OUT OF YOUR PANTS?!) And then once we got Miles tucked into bed again, Eric proceeded to fuss and fuss and fuss and fuss all night, alternating between nursing with me and rocking in Tim’s arms and sleeping for maybe a couple hours at a time all throughout the night.
So Tim and I snarfed down food one at a time. Eric was so loud that we couldn’t even watch a movie together. And I eventually went up to bed solo, mostly because I figured that I’d be nursing all night and needed to get some sleep in order to function the next morning.
And that’s why we’ve given up on the idea of grand, romantic gestures.
These paragraphs makes me laugh, partly because I can scarcely remember that night. (And yes, because I have the benefit of temporal distance, I can laugh hysterically at the thought of an anniversary night that involved a screaming baby and a poo-paper-tail.)
But what I wrote last year also brings a more demure, compassionate smile to my face. Tim and I have come to accept that with three children–or even with one child, or perhaps even no children at all–the plans we make are never permanent. They are contingent upon kids’ illnesses and emotions and sleep habits and schedules. They are subject to last-minute alterations and cancellations. And they–those lovely plans we make–rarely look like anything from a romance novel.
Often they look more like something from a romantic comedy. One with lots of slapstick and poop jokes and a general sense of frazzledness.
And instead of crying over the impermanence of our plans (or at least instead of crying too much), we choose laughter.
We laugh a lot.
And we do laugh a lot. We’ve even carved tiny routines into each week that all but guarantee that we laugh with one another.
For instance, we started taking showers together a few times a week, first so that we could fit in some “sexy time,” and second so that we could have a few minutes to just talk with one another.
Lately, these showers have turned into Tim and Kristen’s Comedy
Hour Ten Minutes. We’ve had Neil Young Shower Singalongs, wherein we learned that while I may have perfected the nasally whine of Young’s vocal stylings, Tim has the warble down pat. We’ve done operatic renditions of favorite nursery rhymes. We’ve recounted the previous night’s wild and hilarious dreams. We’ve laughed so hard that we had to be careful not to push the other one right out over the shower curtain.
We are stupid-silly in the shower. And this morning stupidity/silliness is marvelous. It helps us to feel connected to one another, across the distance of sleepless nights and after-school activities and ridiculous work schedules.
We’re happy with the small things, and we know when to recognize that they’re bigger and better than most big things.
And I think that this is the key for us.
We’re grateful for those ten minute showers.
We’re grateful for those nights when a “hot date” is eating Chipotle burritos on the couch while we watch old episodes of “The Larry Sanders Show.”
We’re grateful for those moments when all three kids are sleeping, and we can share a glass of wine in bed.
We’re grateful for the silly voicemails and texts and emails we send to one another.
We’re grateful for the cups of coffee we make or buy for each other.
We’re grateful for the person who cooks or buys dinner, and we’re grateful for the person who cleans the dishes.
We’re grateful for the big things–the grand date nights and the all-too-rare nights away and the Christmas or birthday presents–but we’re just as grateful, if not more so, for the small gifts that we give each other every day.
It’s the small, silly things that seem to make a relationship work (or not work) anyway, I think.