When my wife, Ruth, texted to tell me I needed to meet her at the emergency room, I assumed we were having a baby. After all, she was nine months pregnant!
I had been sitting in an elders meeting at the church — completely calm — enjoying a discussion about ministry plans. That's when I got Ruth's text, and my serenity was officially over!
I left the church immediately and called Ruth.
"Noah did what?" I asked.
Much to my surprise, we were not having a baby. Noah, our energetic and injury-prone thirdborn, had done it again. Standing on a football in our living room, he slipped and fell, hitting his head on the corner of our coffee table. The table was fine, but Noah's head was not.
Moments later, our neighbor was frantically driving Noah to the hospital as Ruth held towels over his bleeding head. After a few tears, several stitches and a cool new sticker, we were all headed home again. Before leaving, though, I couldn't help but ask Ruth if she wanted to have the baby while we were already at the hospital.
And that's a quick snapshot of married life with kids.
Children are a lot of fun and a major blessing. But children are also a bit unpredictable and have a way of throwing a wrench into a marriage. It was amazing how fast Ruth and I went from being an energetic, young married couple to riding in a minivan loaded with kids and littered with Cheerios. Parenthood meant we were inundated with new sounds, different smells, unpredictable schedules and unusual demands. The transition from married to "married with kids" was not easy!
Like most parents, Ruth and I were ill-prepared for the impact kids would have on our marriage. When our kids first arrived, we were running on excitement, great expectations and unrealistic goals. Then sleepless nights, continuous questions, growing expenses and constant injuries all had a way of bringing us back to reality.
Typical wedding vows are poignant and beautiful. But there is often something missing. Along with all the vows you remember exchanging, there is one very important vow you probably did not make to each other on your wedding day. It is the vow to love your spouse with kids in the house.
Raising and releasing kids to love God and love the world requires a lot of time, energy and prayer. Unfortunately, our desire to accomplish those goals and be great parents often overshadows our desire to have a great marriage. A couple can easily become overly engrossed in their parenting (a child-centered marriage). Living out the missing vow enables a couple to maintain a God-centered marriage and family
Here are a few ideas to consider as you work to keep your marriage a priority during the busy and unpredictable parenting years:
Remember God's vision for marriage
God created marriage with a plan to join a man and woman together to share lifelong love, companionship and friendship. In Genesis 2, God looks at Adam and essentially says, "You're good, but you're not quite done yet." God saw that something was missing in Adam. He was alone and needed a life companion. So God did Adam a tremendous favor when He blessed him with Eve to be his intimate partner in life. She would know him, love him and share life with him. He would be her lover, protector, provider and leader. Together, they would be God's people living for God's purposes.
But when we move from married life to married-with-children life, it's easy to forget the beautiful gift marriage was really intended to be. God's vision for lifelong love must be guarded, even from unlikely invaders of intimacy. When we read Jesus' words in Mark 10:9, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate," we tend to think of those outside our marriage — not our own flesh and blood. But even our own children can "separate" us from each other. This season of family is busy and messy, but it is good. Kids may join us on the journey, but they don't have to come between us.
The transition to married with kids often means schedules get busier. Finding time to be alone as a couple becomes more challenging, yet it's so important. One of the ways a couple can keep their missing vow is to be intentional about carving out time together. Tactics may include walking the dog together, going to the grocery store, grabbing lunch, making a phone call during the day, scheduling regular date nights or planning a weekend getaway. A couple must be intentional about guarding and cultivating their time to connect with each other.
Lighten each other's load
Parenting is a gas-guzzler. The time and energy kids require can quickly leave a couple running on empty. We usually sleep less, put hobbies on pause, eat quickly, drive more and exercise less. All of this can lead to self-neglect. And that's why it's so important to watch each other's back.
The encouragement in Galatians 6:2 (NIV) to "carry each other's burdens" is especially important in married life with kids. To carry means to help lighten each other's load. When we carry our spouse's burdens, we are coming alongside to lighten the load. And sometimes it's the small stuff that helps the most. Making coffee, giving your spouse a night out with friends, giving the kids a bath or mowing the grass can all be simple ways to help each other amid the hectic pace we call family.
Give grace in those not-so-perfect moments
The change from married to married with kids brings added responsibility and pressure to every part of life. Kids can create unexpected stress, tension and conflict for parents. When we're exhausted, we tend to feel as if life is out of control. We feel vulnerable and on edge. These not-so-perfect moments are when we most need to show grace to each other.
Grace brings encouragement rather than punishment. Grace doesn't make assumptions. Grace extends understanding and offers forgiveness. Grace does not demand perfection in someone else but makes space for progress.
Yes, our children are in the process of growing up, but so are we. We need God's grace to do our parenting job well. And we need to show undeserved love toward each other when our best parenting efforts fall short.
Keep fanning the flame
After we had kids, I couldn't help but wonder, How could the very thing that brought these kids into the world be lost once they arrived? I respected the fact that there would be a need for recovery time after childbirth, but the stories of tired moms, diminished sex drives and limited privacy had me worried. And sure enough, there were adjustments for both Ruth and me.
I had to learn to be patient, gracious and understanding in this season full of changes for Ruth. And she had to learn that although this season was different, our romance should not be neglected.
Together we learned to fan the flames by keeping our physical intimacy a priority. It's a struggle every couple faces, so don't be afraid to schedule sex on your calendar. Keep pursuing each other with your words and physical touch. Keep boredom out of the bedroom by trying something new.
Yes, it takes intentional effort, laughter and lots of humility to fan the flames with kids in the house, but it's well worth the investment.
Communicate in the chaos
Sometimes it's tough to finish a thought, let alone a conversation, with kids in the house. The loss of communication in marriage can create distance, frustration, resentment and, in worst-case scenarios, the loss of relationship altogether. So cultivating communication amid the chaos is essential if we are to fulfill the missing vow.
Intimacy grows as a couple talks about their dreams, fears, successes and failures. By discussing the stuff of life, we share our heart for our spouse to know and treasure. Life with kids may be noisy and hectic, but don't let the chaos keep you from communicating in all the right ways. This may mean getting up early for coffee together, staying up late after the kids are in bed or scheduling lunch dates during the week.
Keep your eyes on Jesus
Rest is sometimes found in getting away to a quiet place, but it's ultimately found by trusting in Christ's goodness and refusing to be anxious about anything. That's why Jesus said to come to Him to find rest (Matthew 11:28).
Our spouse can never satisfy or sustain us like our Savior can, so one of the most important things we can do is stay close to Jesus amid the craziness of life.
Loving our spouse with kids in the house really is possible. Life with kids might be loud, unpredictable and even scary at times, but it is good because God is at work in all of us.
Patrick and Ruth Schwenk are the creators of For the Family and The Better Mom and are the co-authors ofFor Better or For Kids.
Did you know couples are 30 percent less likely to get a divorce if they get some sort of premarital training? If you or someone you know is planning to marry, check out Focus on the Family's Ready to Wed curriculum, and then prepare for a marriage you'll love!