We’re always tired, our house is a mess and we bicker like petulant children about who had the hardest day. Is my marriage in trouble, or is this simply what life is like when you have small children?
It wasn’t something that concerned me until I read an article with author Andrew G Marshall in The Guardian, provocatively titled “Who comes first, your partner or your kids?”
In my mind it was clear – my husband and I work as a team, and together, we put the kids first. But after reading the article, which features Marshall’s new book I Love You But You Always Put Me Last: How To Childproof Your Marriage, I started to fret that perhaps I had it wrong. What if my husband had a different view? Have I unwittingly neglected him by prioritising the children?
I took the opportunity to raise the subject as we drove home from a family day trip.
“Do you ever regret having kids?” I asked. As soon as the words left my mouth they sounded wrong, as if just by uttering them I’d betrayed the beautiful souls who dozed in their car seats.
“No!” my husband replied, aghast. “Why on earth would you ask that?”
I explained how I’d read the article, which suggests that putting your children first can damage your relationship. I told him that it made me think about our marriage and how sometimes it feels like we’re just treading water. He listened, nodded and smiled.
The last couple of years haven’t been easy. We wanted to have our children close together and got our wish, two girls born 19 months apart. “Short term pain for long term gain,” said my husband. Yes, it’s challenging at times, but it will be worth it when they can entertain each other and let us sleep past 7am.
It was a relief to know that we’re on the same page. But since the girls were sleeping we took the opportunity to talk through some of the suggestions in Marshall’s book.
“Never let your children interrupt when you are talking to each other”
We had a really good laugh about that one. I’m sure that as they get older we’ll be able to teach them to be patient and to wait their turn. But right now, short of inventing some sort of mute button (anyone?), it’s not going to happen. Because they’re children, and that’s what they do.
“Make sex a priority”
Our sex life, which once would have put bunnies to shame, has become rather pedestrian. It’s not that we fancy each other any less, it’s just because we live in a state of chronic exhaustion. Putting a lock on our bedroom door (as Marshall suggests) would do nothing to change the fact that our children wake up before 6am. We don’t prioritise sex, we prioritise sleep.
“Greet your partner first”
When my children hear their father’s key in the door they run to greet him with a level of enthusiasm not dissimilar to that generated by Santa Claus. They throw themselves into his arms and squeal as he lifts them into the air. By following Marshall’s advice we would be robbing all three of this simple joy.
“Does this guy actually have kids?” my husband asked. It was a good question, and one that Sam Leith also asked in his article – and, rather interestingly, no, Marshall doesn’t have children.
However he does say that he isn’t giving parenting advice, just relationship advice. To be fair, some of his suggestions do make sense: making some time at the end of the day to really talk to each other, saying ‘thank you’ more often, and not taking each other for granted.
So, do I need to “childproof” my marriage? No, I don’t think so. Sharing my experience of parenthood with my husband has strengthened our bond in a way I could never have imagined – although I will admit that, at times, having kids has rocked the boat.
Will Marshall’s book give my husband and I the skills to make our family life sail more smoothly? I don’t know, but it did get us talking openly and honesty about where we are now. And that’s a good place to be.