Parenting small kids can put stress on a marriage. But perhaps it does get easier, or maybe it gets more manageable, and we get better at it.
“Don’t get divorced. It gets easier.”
A stranger in an elevator said this to me once, as I loaded in my big red double stroller. She peered over to see my newborn son and 16-month-old daughter, and I briefly smiled as we made eye contact.
She said it sweetly, “My children are older than yours, but I’ve been where you are. Don’t get divorced. It gets easier. Good luck.” Then, the doors opened, she left, and I let her message absorb into my skin, into my brain, and into my heart. The advice was abrupt and not accurate. Divorcing my husband had never crossed my mind, but somehow, it was just what I needed to hear, and maybe it’ll help you, too.
Having a second child threw our family balance farther out of whack than we anticipated. We had a false sense of confidence, believing we knew what we were doing because we’d done it once before. But bringing a newborn home when there was already a young toddler in the house created an entirely different dynamic than adding a baby where there previously had been none.
On the first night we were home with both kids, we stood in the hallway, looking at each other with wide eyes, each holding a screaming child. I asked, “What have we done,” and my husband didn’t have an answer. We were in survival mode, adjusting to new routines, responding to our children’s needs and adapting to life as a family of four.
When I entered that elevator with my children a few weeks later, we were getting into the swing of the new schedule, but we were still just surviving. My husband’s and my time as a couple wasn’t just on the back burner, it was chilling in the fridge, something we hoped to heat up eventually, but definitely not today. We were way too consumed with these babies and too tired to think of anything else.
So, when this well-meaning stranger acknowledged the stress we were under, it made it okay to feel it, and it encouraged me that our new normal would eventually arrive. If I’m being really honest, life didn’t feel “easier” for an entire year, but we got there eventually.
I don’t mean to imply that my children’s age gap created a harder adjustment than your children’s age gap did for you, or that having children of different ages is harder than having a single child or multiples. Nor am I arguing that there aren’t valid reasons for seeking a divorce. I’m simply sharing my experience with you and this bold assertion that a stranger once told me in case it resonates, like it did for me.
Interestingly, this stranger’s advice might be right on the money, according to 30 years of marriage research that finds relationship satisfaction tanks during the transition to parenthood, but that divorce rates actually decline, too, once kids enter the picture.
The research suggests that all marriages face stressors and children are just one of them. Kids may exacerbate other issues with finances, careers, extended family, or prior traumas, but rarely do they single-handedly implode a marriage. And, surprisingly, parents of children with special needs are, if anything, just slightly more likely to divorce than other couples with children, which is counter to what I’d heard in the past.
So maybe being married with children does get easier, or maybe it gets more manageable, and we get better at it. We find a different kind of satisfaction than we had in pre-kid couplehood and develop a different type of bond through parenthood.
I’m not naive enough to think that this statistical drop in divorce rates after children implies all couples find that new kind of happiness. You and I both know at least one couple who is staying together for the sake of the children. I’m optimistic, though, that there is a group of us couples (whether you have an official marriage license or not) who do get stronger in parenthood and have more motivation to work through the tough times because of it.