Sunday, June 24, 2012

Marriage After Kids Grow Up: Is It A Myth?

By Katie

The intention of two people when they get married is to stay together forever. No one ever says "'Til death do us part... or I feel like moving on." No one says it, but with over half of all marriages ending in divorce, 'til death do us part seems more like a line from a fairy tale than an actual reality.


Photo via mnfamilylawblog.com
Those who choose to get married often do it with the idea that children will follow at some point. Not every married couple has the intention of reproducing, but the vast majority "settle down" in order to raise a family. Marriage is the first step in the family-rearing process.

So what happens after one of the core purposes of a marriage, raising children, ends? When the kids are grown and leave the home, what is left? As a parent of very young children, my brain has not even made it to the elementary school phase of my marriage, let alone the college one. I have every reason to believe that my husband and I will survive as a couple after our kids head out into their own lives but there are still a lot of years, experiences and challenges to face before we reach that point.

Which is why an article I read on the Huffington Post really floored me. It terrified me, I must admit. Written by blogger Vicki Larson, a mother of adult children and divorcee, the piece presents the idea that it is perfectly "ok" for a married couple to split up once the child rearing process is complete. Not only is it acceptable, it is becoming more commonplace. According to the article, the divorce rate among baby boomers has risen 50 percent in the past 20 years.

Vicki says: "We're living longer than generations did before us, and "till death do us part" could mean 60, 70 years together instead of 20 or 30 years. For those who have found the one person to live with contently through the first and second halves of marriage, great. But there's nothing wrong in acknowledging that for some of us -- perhaps even the majority of us -- a marriage that works happily through the parenting years is all we desire, and that dissolving a marriage after that isn't a failure or a result of not understanding what "hard work" and "commitment" is, accusations many of us who divorce face."

My gut instinct is to disagree. Marriage is forever, after all. For some, divorce is the best option but we should never agree on an acceptable time for people to separate across the board. Then I wondered -- do I really disagree, or do I just hope that she is wrong?

My husband was married once before he met me. He has two beautiful children from the union. For him, staying in a mutually unhappy marriage was not worth another 18 - 20 years. So he chose to keep his parenting partner, but open the door for another partner in the other aspects of his life. That's where I come in. When we met, we already had our children. While we help each other parent, our relationship was based on things outside of our kids -- like many people who marry before having kids.

Now a little over a year into the marriage, I can see the parenting part slowly engulfing all of the other aspects. For one thing, there is an infant in the house. We are currently operating in a divide and conquer mentality. I handle the hungry, colicky baby who cannot be set down and he takes care of feeding, bathing and refereeing the other three. We parent as a team, but do not parent together.

When his favorite NBA team played in the Finals, I did not have the energy to stay up and watch the games with him -- preferring instead to turn in with the baby. It took everything I had to stay awake for the final game of the series, and even then, I threw in the towel during the third quarter. It made me sad that doing something as simple as sitting on a couch and watching a basketball game with my husband had become such a chore.

But I have not completely given up on a relationship with my husband that exists outside of the parenting realm. We sneak in moments together whenever we get the chance. Even if we go to bed at different times, we sleep next to each other every night. It means a lot to me when I wake up to feed the baby and he is laying there next to me. Maybe he is sleeping, but I feel less alone in my nursing mommy pursuits.

There have been a few times when we realize that all four kids are sleeping, and we are not, and we forsake any cleaning or lingering work tasks and just spend some time together. Once we get past these early months with our youngest, we will make a regular date night again.

When we have work to do at home, we sit at the dining room table and type across from each other, taking turns when the demands of the kids draw us away. We do a lot of "sexting" and are working on getting back into our real life sex routine. We both have road races that are impossible to train for together (one has to keep the peace while the other runs), but we encourage each other through a mutual passion for fitness.

I often think that if our marriage and sanity can survive these early years with our kids, the prospect for the rest of our lives looks sunny. One look at the school calendar of our oldest, a Kindergartner, makes me wonder though. How will our lives look when there are four of those calendars to contend with? Will we have more or less time together once all the kids are in school?

And what about the teenage years, when we have 18, 17, 16 and 13 year olds all at once? What then? Is there a bottle of wine or Advil big enough to get us through those tumultuous years? Will my husband make it through three teenage daughters with his sanity in tact?

And just as quickly as they breeze through high school, they will all be gone -- one after the other in quick succession. What will be left for us then?

Will we still be the same people who fell in love and took the marriage plunge? Will we have changed together? Will we need to get to know each other as people, not just parents, again?

As I read Vicki's article, it occurred to me that my husband and I have never talked about our dreams for the future. Sure, we talk about where we want to live in the next few years, when we will need a new car, what we would like to see happen in our careers, and of course, where we see our kids fitting into it all. But what about well into the future? My mind draws a blank. I just want to make it through today. Then tomorrow. Then the day after that. The "after kid years" seem like a myth to me now -- something that I've heard exists but I doubt I will ever see.

Perhaps it is good that I read Vicki's piece at this critical point in my marriage -- before living separate lives and identifying ourselves only as "parents" has the chance to take place. It can be so easy to take the future for granted, to assume that a marriage is forever simply because it is. Statistics prove otherwise. Being a parent is one of the most fulfilling roles of my life but so is being a wife. And not just a wife, but a wife to my one and only. I know that I won't be the same person in 18 years, when our youngest reaches adulthood. Neither will he.

But I have to hope that with hard work, communication and investment in each other, our marriage will be stronger than ever.

Otherwise, what is the point of 'til death do us part?


You can contact Katie by emailing her at katie@mumblingmommy.com.


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2 comments:

  1. Thoughtful post. My husband and I often talk about how the kids are NOT the most important people in our family. They are important, but one day when they're grown and out of the house, we'll be back to just my husband and myself. We are parents, but we don't want to lose our identities in our children. It's so important to nurture our marriage. That's why we had the kids in the first place!

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  2. We had the opposite experience of you, Katie; we were married for several years before kids, so it's not hard to imagine what life would be like with just the two of us. Even then, it's easy to get caught up in the kids, so we have to watch for that. My husband is better than I am at pointing out when we need to work on us and not them.

    We do talk a lot about what we'll do when we're empty nesting: where we'd like to live, trips we'd like to take, etc. I heard once that people who visualize their life after retirement do a better job at saving for retirement. I wonder if the same thing is true for marriage, too: you need to think about your life after kids to have a life together after kids!

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