By: Amber Leventry
Despite my snarky and exacerbated comments, complaints, and posts about my children, I do love all three of them. But as much as I love my children and as much as you love yours, there needs to be space to vent about our kids. And there needs to be an allowance to admit this: having kids takes a toll on relationships, specifically marriages.
My partner, Amy, and I are fortunate to have moved to Vermont right as Civil Unions were being allowed. We had a ceremony in 2001 at the forefront of the gay marriage movement and then got married in 2010 when Amy was pregnant with our daughter and when Vermont laws gave us the right to do so. I recognize that not all gay couples can or even want to get married. But any couple—gay or straight—in it for the long haul who decide to have kids can expect to be tested in ways that will either tear you apart or force you to work harder to keep what started as a first kiss.
I realize I have only been a parent for four years, but having three kids in four years—two of them twins—has taught me a lot. It is easy to focus on the grueling parts of being a parent, the parts that make me wonder why I wanted kids in the first place—the tantrums, the whining, the sleepless nights, the mischief, the cleaning poop out of a bathtub or off of the front porch.
But the kids themselves are not what tear a couple apart. It’s the accumulation of new emotions, thoughts, and sacrifices that can force a couple to the edge of the vow for better or for worse. It’s the financial stress of supporting a family, the working all day and then staying up until midnight to work some more to make ends meet. It’s the struggle to hang onto pieces of your identity while you parent young children. It’s the sleep exhaustion. It’s the decrease in sex and the questions of desirability. It’s the resentment of all of the things you have sacrificed to be standing in the middle of exactly what you always wanted.
Kids should not be the reason to stay in a marriage or the reason to leave. Our kids will always be here, whether our marriage is or not. What my partner and I continue to focus on is the seed that started it all. Just like the work done in parenting, the work put into sustaining a marriage can be really tough. But worth it.
Amy and I have said on multiple occasions that we are in the middle of our hardest stretch of time as parents and as a couple. With three young children, ages four and 20 months, there is little to no time to be individuals, to be alone, or to explore our own personal goals and needs. There is even less time to spend together as a couple, just the two of us. And when all five of us are together, Amy and I feel more like teammates than two people in love.
But we are aware of all of these things. We know it will get better. And when we do sneak away on a rare date night or stay up too late to snuggle in bed and watch TV or talk, we try to let the stress and frustration go. It can be easy to blame each other, resent one another, or keep score. I am not so arrogant to think our relationship is not changed by the constantly evolving challenges of having kids. Drifting away is a very real possibility. But not one we are willing to let happen.
Amy and I talk. A lot. We forgive each other and ourselves for the mistakes we make. We apologize for the moods we wish were better. We check in. We remind ourselves that this beautiful family with all of the good, bad, better, and worse is what we had always hoped for. On each side of this hard time was and will be the two of us. We started this family with open hearts, excitement, and naivety. The parenting books taught us how to take care of our children, but they didn’t teach us how to take care of ourselves and our relationship. For us, that will always be a process we will learn as we go.
On both sides of the difficult parts of marriage and parenting—during them too—is my best friend. Amy and I are still who we look forward to seeing the most. We are still the ones who understand and accept each other more than anyone ever will. We make each other laugh. We turn each other on. And we want the same thing: a lifetime of these things, even if we have to work and fight for them.
We’ve seen friends struggle, who feel that their relationship and marriage are broken. But during these times we’ve seen them smile, laugh, and love. It gives me hope that they can stitch their broken hearts back together. It makes me cheer for them and respect their desire to try. Anything worth having for is worth working for. And a marriage, which grew from something so innocent and small, yet bigger than we could have imagined, is worth fighting for.
Holding Amy’s hand now is still as important to me as the first time I held her hand. And holding her hand while holding one of our children or onto the knowledge we will be okay is just as intoxicating as the first time we knew for sure we were beginning something special.
And our children, who are sometimes the obstacles to our relationship, make it worth the work too. I am in love with my children in a way I didn’t know existed. Amy is the only one who also knows this love. This feeling, the joys of parenting, the heart-melting hugs and smiles, and the proud moments of watching our children learn and grow are best when shared with Amy.
I know the divorce rates. I know some marriages should have never started before they ended. But I know most relationships and families start out of love, unselfish and unbridled love. Amy and I allow ourselves to admit that keeping it all balanced and together is hard. But we also know we want the same thing. We want to keep our love story going. So we work at it. Working at our marriage doesn’t mean we don’t love each other or that there isn’t love in our marriage. It’s just the opposite. There is too much love between us to let this hard time in our parenting journey weaken our marriage and the open hearts that guided us to where we are today and where we will end up tomorrow.