how motherhood changed my relationship
By Eirinie Carson
A few weeks ago, I agreed to write a piece for Ingrid+Isabel. I decided it would be a piece about the toll parenthood takes on your relationships, about how my marriage has changed and evolved as we have added to our family. I drafted an essay that could be summarised as: marriage is tough with kids but we have made it, we have made space for ourselves and it’s all good. It was almost complete, but every time I went to revise it, I had a nagging feeling that it was untrue.
Because it is untrue. I am still very much in the place of tag teaming, of night shifts and day shifts. My husband and I love each other, I think, but we work separate shifts right now. How do I write about that in an honest way? I don’t want to be yet another source of parental guilt—I don’t want to make you feel like I have figured it out, like I know the secret to having two young children that you pour every ounce of yourself into, so there is nothing left for yourself or the person you made them with. I haven’t figured it out! I am still figuring.
And I am tired.
It is a marrow deep exhaustion. We recently went on vacation as a family, a trip to Carmel that should have been relaxing but in fact, as you know if you have ever traveled with small children, was anything but. My husband Adam and I have scarcely looked at each other in weeks, there is never a moment one of us is not distracted by a small child’s needs, the demands that are put upon us are near constant. I called him the dog’s name a week ago. I am tired. I want to reconnect with my partner, I want to feel like I know him again, but I am still figuring out how.
I once knew this man. I knew everything about him; how he liked his coffee, what he wanted for dinner before he told me, his worst song in the world, even how he would respond if I folded a towel bilaterally instead of tri. And, more to the point, he knew me. We knew each other inside and out, we even knew, at almost the exact same time give or take a few months, when we wanted to have children.
And have children we did. Two beautiful girls, one now 5, the other freshly a year old. They have re-centred our orbit; we were all about each other before them, and we needed to change in order to be the parents we wanted to be. And now the 5-year-old has swim class and ballet and playdates, the baby is the kind of baby who wants to move all the time and also to test the limits of our planet's gravitational system. We have home projects on our old Victorian, I have a book to edit and one to write, he has a tour to prepare for. So many needs and desires, so many individual ways we wish to serve our children, ourselves, our poor dog who needs much longer walks that we can currently give him. Amongst all of this is the thing that started everything, the Big Bang if you will (heh heh heh). Our relationship was the catalyst for the life we are now living, the foundation we stand on as a family, and yet it had begun to take a backseat. Taking a walk together whilst holding hands and talking about our future no longer seemed essential when we looked at a week packed with obligations and conflicts and meal prep, and so we packed it away, thinking we could come back to it later.
But when is later?
When do we expect to pick this thing back up? Because in this separation of time and energy we are still growing. Adam is growing, I am growing, the kids are undeniably growing and I know this by the shoes I am constantly buying. But whereas once we were growing together, now all of that is happening separately. I am missing so much of the person Adam is becoming, and vice versa. I think this is how, all too often, couples with children find those kids grown and leaving home, empty nesters, finally look up at each other and realise they no longer fit. Years have passed, time has been lost, different people have emerged. This thought made me realise that my husband and I need to do the work now, reconnect now, in order to keep our foundation strong.
I don’t have all the answers on how to do it yet, but so far this is what I know to be true: the time will not take itself. A break in the rota will not simply appear, you will be inundated with tasks and recitals and laundry and groceries and work and laundry and shit I forgot to call my mum and lunch prep and meal prep and Christ did we eat anything green this week. There is no break in this schedule for you to shake yourself loose, to recognise a deficit. You will have to do that all by yourself. You will have to grab your husband by the hand in the middle of a child’s endless monologue about trees and shrubs and say, we have to get out of here.
It seems selfish to say such a thing, especially in this country, in this world in which tomorrow is not promised. But, as we all know and ignore, you cannot pour from an empty cup. I cannot teach my children about love, about respect, about recognising when you have done all you can for others and needing to take time for oneself unless I show them by example. I have witnessed couples who think that purely being together is enough, even if they argue, even if they despise each other, that they have to stay together for the kids. The kids know. And if they don’t know now, they will one day, and will ponder as full-grown adults why their parents bothered to stay together when it was so clear they were unhappy.
What do I want for my children? My two precious children who deserve every happiness in life? Because we are the first relationship they will see in intimate detail, up close. They will see our arguments, they will see our discussions, they will see how we handle each other and we will become a blueprint for their own future loves. I want for them to know love, a true, deep love that holds gently, that makes space for their wants and needs, that they in turn desire to protect. I want their first experience of romantic love, the one that I show them, to be reciprocal. I don’t want fear, I don’t want anger, I don’t want disregard.
Funnily enough these are the same things I want for myself. I want to be known and seen and heard. I want my growth to be acknowledged, and cherished. And the nice thing about all this is the rediscovery. The ability to get to know each other deeper, to find out more things about my husband. He is not a finite being, he contains multitudes, and we must actively choose to keep discovering, to dig deeper, to get to know each other as these new people all over again.
We’ll figure it out together.
Eirinie Carson is a writer, model, former Londoner, and mom of two currently based in California. A regular contributor for MOTHER, she recently landed her first book deal and is already working on her second book covering all things postpartum. Follow @eirinieeee or check out more of her writing over on her blog.