The Survival Years

I call them the “survival years” in a marriage. Because that’s what we’re doing right now, as we try to parent two small children – surviving. Despite their smallness, children take the lion’s share of your time, energy, patience and kindness. When you’re buried in the minutiae of this phase of life – covered in baby spitup and the dust of Goldfish crackers – it’s easy, all too easy really, to start seeing your spouse as your relief pitcher rather than your lifemate.

That’s how it is at our house, anyway. When Jon walks in the door at night (5:15, if I’ve sent him an “I can’t take it anymore” text that afternoon; between 5:30 and 6 the rest of the time), I visibly relax. Help is here. Nathan drags him off to play while I finish up supper, and, after a quick hug and peck, I hand him the baby, too. The evening unfolds and we continue our tag team efforts. Dividing and conquering as the kids are fed, bathed and bedded. Then it’s time to pick up the house, wash dishes, shower. We blink, and suddenly it’s 10 p.m., and we’ve said maybe five sentences total to each other all night long that didn’t relate to one of our offspring. Our routine was different when I still worked full-time, but the net result was still the same: divide and conquer was our method, leaving us precious little time to really connect with each other.

It’s hard, these wee-baby years. It’s wonderful too, to be sure – watching your husband become a dad is nothing short of magical. But the sleeplessness and the worry and the sameness of it all can wear you down and change your priorities. You’re not looking for romance or wooing anymore – you want stability and help and someone to switch off with when you’re pacing the floor with a screaming, teething baby.

And it’s hard because, if your husband is anything like mine, he still needs the woo. He needs a glimpse every now and then of the wife version of me – not the mom. But with little ones, you feel like you’re constantly being needed, always in mom mode … it can be hard to make the switch, even ever so briefly. And that’s especially true when your role as a mom is new. You want so hard to get it right, and you’re terrified that you’re getting it wrong and your husband understands … right?

But I think that’s okay. I think it’s okay that this phase is hard and exhausting – not just personally but also as a team – because it’s just a phase. Those three little words are what I find myself muttering when, after finally slipping into bed and actually snuggling up next to Jon instead of  immediately falling asleep like usual, the baby cries. “It’s just a phase.” It’s really long days that somehow melt away into crazy short years. We’ll be on the other side soon enough, if we can just keep our heads down and push through.

So how do you survive this phase? I’m smack in the middle of it myself, so I’m afraid I don’t have many words of wisdom … or what I do have should be taken with a grain of salt. But for me, I try really, really hard to be kind. (It looks like I’m in good company, by the way. If you have the time, read this excellent article in The Atlantic about the roles kindness and generosity play in sustaining a marriage).

Kindness is not my default state, you see – especially not when I’m tired and stressed. Being snarky and critical is much more my wheelhouse. But I’m not overstating it when I say that will kill a marriage. And so I fight to be kind. I fight to take a minute and do something small for Jon, just to show him in the midst of the madness I’m thinking about him. I fight to give him my attention and to really and truly listen when he talks to me about his day. I fight to stay something more than just “mom.” I do it not just for Jon, but for myself, too.

What about you? What do you do to make it through the survival years?