As I was wrangling my three wild kids at the supermarket this evening, I noticed an expecting Mom and her husband peacefully meandering down the frozen foods aisle. I wonder if they noticed me. I wonder if they saw what their life might be like three or four years down the road after they'd had several kids of their own. For the most part, life for a childless, married couple is vastly different than life is for a married couple with kids. As they held hands and stared dreamily into each other's eyes (or so it seemed), I was barking orders at my kids and scolding my husband for selecting the non-organic milk.
So what is so fundamentally different between the two different sets of couples? The answer is the addition of another person into the dynamic of the relationship. A baby changes everything as they say. If a couple has a strong marriage before having children, chances are it will remain as such, if not strengthen due to the bond between the husband and wife who must now parent together. If a couple's relationship was weak, either they will grow more distant after a baby is thrown into the mix, or once again, the bond of being parents will bring them closer together. Now I'm no expert, this is purely based on observation and speculation and I'm sure there are rare cases of blissfully happy folks whose marriage was ruined by having children, but certainly no one likes to admit that's a possibility.
One of the big changes a baby initially brings to marriage is what I call the “hermit stage”. This may happen with each consecutive child but it's never as bad as with the first. This phenomenon is typified by a fear of leaving the house. I had my first kid in February so I think I was even more paranoid to take her out in the cold weather. A direct result of this is that there is a steady stream of visitors coming over, sometimes unannounced, to hold your cute baby. It is during this period that you and your husband decide which friends to keep and which to file away in your old life. Usually you end up spending more and more time with other couples who have children because you understand each other and all the trials that accompany parenting. An added bonus is that the kids call all play together.
One of the negative ways a baby affects marriage is the amount of time and energy she requires from her parents. A parent who cares for this demanding human day and night may have little left to offer his or her spouse. The lack of intimacy that can result and cause resentment on one or both sides can be crippling. I know personally, it can be difficult for me to switch from Mommy to Wife at the drop of a hat. By each evening, I have been hung on by three small kids all day and am so “touched-out” that I just want to curl up in the fetal position in a hot bath. The best way to remedy this is to decide in the morning to hang out with your husband that night and think about it often throughout the day. This way you can make the transition from Mommy to Wife more easily when you finally get to spend time with him.
Lack of intimacy notwithstanding, it's hard to find time just to go on a date when a baby is in the picture. Again, this is especially true with your first baby. Many parents are scared to leave their child with any caregiver for any reason, let alone to do something as frivolous as go out together for a movie or dinner. It's imperative to maintain romance and reconnect with each other to keep a marriage strong. A good fix for this problem is to take the baby on a date with you. In my experience, a screaming baby in the middle of a restaurant full of annoyed people is enough to encourage anyone to formulate a list of reliable babysitters. Blessedly, we have always lived near one of the Grandmas. After updating them on the latest parenting rules, since I was sure they both forgot how to care for a baby, I felt confident in leaving my girls with them.
Having a baby can also change the way you and your husband look at your body. There are two types of husbands: those who have a greater appreciation for your body and the fact that it produced a child and those who are slightly horrified by what your body went through to produce a child. Luckily, my husband is in the former category. I myself waver back and forth between pride in my Motherly accomplishments and sadness at what my body now looks like all covered in battle scars. Regardless, your kids will always love the comfort and warmth your body provides when giving them hugs or snuggling on the couch together.
Another way a baby affects marriage is how your priorities as parents change. Glamor is replaced with practicality. The small, fast sports car that seats four is replaced with a minivan that seats seven. Dining at a fancy restaurant at 9 PM is replaced by eating at a family-style burger joint at 7 PM. Thinking about which destination you will travel to next is replaced by wondering about where to invest your money for your child's educational expenses. Hanging out with the boys at the pub is replaced by washing the boy in the tub. It may sound like one sacrifice after another, but it's all so worth it. You find you don't really miss your old life and you can look at each other and delight in what you created together.
Babies change marriage a lot; both in good ways and challenging ways. Kids turn a married couple into a family and provide years of pride and joy!