Before our daughter was born, I thought parenthood would be a cinch. First of all, we outnumbered our son 2:1, so what was he really going to get away with. An additional plus, as the only grandchild, we were the happy beneficiaries of ridiculous amounts of love and support from our extended family. Then we moved and our daughter was born.
Trust me when I tell you that having a second child changes everything. We went from being reasonably rested, happy, social and easygoing, to stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed and totally unfocused on ourselves and each other. It got to the point where leaving the house 30 minutes – one hour late without forgetting anything was considered a “good” day.
If you’re in the same boat as us and learning to adapt to caring for two children (or more), here are some practical tips that have helped us get by and reclaim our sanity and a little of our “pre-kid” life marital swagger:
1. Be on the same page
This is the basis for a successful marriage and a worthy goal to strive for, period. However, before the children start coming it is essential that you and your spouse discuss the roles each of you will be taking on, where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and how you can support one another best. This is not to say that things won’t change (change is inevitable when it comes to parenting), but if you think you can just start parenting without understanding and preparation… you are mistaken! Take time to talk about each of your expectations and hold each other accountable and re-visit the conversation as often as needed.
2. Have each other’s back
There are lots of resources, parenting books, blogs, websites, podcasts etc. out there offering knowledge to help guide you along your parenting path, but nothing comes close to your instincts/trusting your gut. If you sense your spouse is at a breaking point, it doesn’t matter how tired you are, or what else you’ve been through that day, you have to get in the game and do whatever you can to help. Even after I’ve worked a full day and battled through a stressful commute home, it doesn’t matter how tired I am or how tough my day was, if I see that my husband is exhausted and needs a break, I jump in and help, and he does the same for me.
3. Make time to make love
You’re both exhausted and the second the kids go down all you want to do is go down too. It’s natural to be tired, in fact tired is the norm, but unfortunately this norm is an unhealthy one for your marriage and for your family. Try to remember that in addition to being parents, you are in a committed and loving relationship with each other first. Whenever and as often as you can, spark the flame and make time to make love. You’d be surprised at how quickly you regain your footing as a couple and despite the fact that these opportunities may be far and few between, they will actually draw you closer together and give you something to look forward to.
4. Give each other a break
Whether it’s an hour or two at the coffee shop or going out with friends, an after work happy hour, watching sporting events, or whatever, if your spouse works as hard as mine does, the best thing you can do for them is to give them a break. Sometimes just getting away from home for a little while is enough to help recharge your batteries and cautionary note: don’t you dare complain about how CRAZY things were while they were out, that totally negates the gesture and just causes trouble.
5. Laugh A LOT
I have many friends with young children who look significantly older than they actually are. They look this way because the stress of parenting has gotten the better of them, and in these cases, they have lost the sense of joy and excitement that comes with parenting. Despite the chaos, make sure you both find humor in the midst of it all. If you can’t laugh with, for and at each other and yourself, your issues are deeper than you think. The key is to stop taking yourselves seriously and realize how fortunate you are to have each other and how incredibly blessed you are to have these beautiful children in your lives.
As we learn more I’ll be happy to share. But for now these five tips have been a tremendous help in keeping our heads above water and making sure our kids and our marriage are as healthy as can be.