? Cliché Alert! ?

“Being a parent is the most important job you’ll ever have.”

Before I had kids, when I heard people say stuff like this I would roll my eyes. It wasn’t because I didn’t believe that parenthood was going to be the most important thing I’d ever do. It’s that I already knew it.

My wife and I have been together for 15 years and married for six. We are always asked, “How do you guys make this work? What’s your secret?”

Well, we don’t have a magical answer. The thing about life is that when you’re younger, things seem easier. I remember things getting a tinge stressful while planning our wedding, but in hindsight, that process was so easy compared to, say, buying a house or raising two children under 4 years old.


Are you scared yet? Let’s talk this through.

Here are 4 things I’ve learned to do for my marriage after having kids.

1. Read each other’s stress cues + be gentle.

After years of being together, my wife and I have learned how to determine each other’s stress levels and the cues that things are off. We’ve also learned how to work with each other based on what level of stress each of us is feeling.

Learning your partner’s stress cues doesn’t mean marching home and asking them why they can’t read your stress and anxiety levels better. It means, simply, to pay attention. Try to notice things and be aware of your partner’s mood and signals, and then respond accordingly.

A photo posted by J Jenkins (@johnmjenkins) on

For example, recently our son started a new preschool. After a few days, we started to notice what we thought was a change in his personality—he was acting more physical with his younger brother and was melting down much faster than normal. He was more protective of “his” things. He was having a very hard time communicating what he needed from us.

Now we’re able to see his stress levels rise and his personality start to change, and we can immediately ask him, “Hey, I noticed that you’re trying to tell me something. What is it that you’re feeling?”

Okay, so this also doesn’t mean, “Go home and talk to your partner like they’re a 3-year-old.” You can modify this technique pretty easily. You can stop what you’re doing and say “Hey, what’s up?” Then leave it alone for awhile. I usually see if my wife comes around to explaining why she just blew up at the kids about wanting a second breakfast first before asking again. I don’t like to push the issue.

2. Communicate with one another + figure out what method works best.

Yes, this same thing comes back my way when I’m losing it as well. Sometimes I have a harder time letting go than she does. However, figuring out how to best communicate with your partner is key. Communication doesn’t need to be this dramatic intervention or a disruption from everyday life.

A photo posted by J Jenkins (@johnmjenkins) on

For me, it needs to be done consciously, but also casually. Connecting with my wife without feeling like we manufactured some sort of understanding. The casual discussion about the day, or our sons, or sometimes just quietly standing together in the same room. These things build communication between us daily.

3. Enjoy alone time—you both deserve it.

We also need to experience time apart from one another. We need time to recharge, whether that means an hour or two for working out, a night out with our individual friends or a class that we want to take. When we lived in San Francisco (pre-babies), my wife decided she wanted to take ballet. This was different for me because she’d have these experiences without me—with friends I’d never meet and a connection with her class and teachers that would have nothing to do with me.

A photo posted by J Jenkins (@johnmjenkins) on

I’d often joke, “When is the recital? I want to come see you dance. I want to be a part of this.” However, in hindsight, it was totally fine that I wasn’t a part of it. In fact, it was probably for the best that I wasn’t. It allowed my wife to hold on to a sense of independence, but also realize I was always there for her as her partner. This was really hard for me to navigate at first.

4. Get to know your partner + never stop learning.

So how do you prepare your marriage for all the amazing things that child-rearing has to offer? You get to know your partner. You don’t have to take 12 years like my wife and I did, but I do think that it’s very important to communicate efficiently and understand you are each unique human beings.

A photo posted by J Jenkins (@johnmjenkins) on

We need our space to be able to find, grow, learn and expand our horizons. There’s a Muhammad Ali quote that I’ve been referencing a lot since he passed away.

He said:

“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Allow for growth and change to happen.

You have to be willing to grow with your partner, talk through the changes and adapt together. If you can, then you’ll be well-prepared to welcome a new addition to your family.

Join Motherly

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

Keep reading Show less