Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Like this one of our family. We were dressed to the nines for a special occasion, and I wanted to get the perfect family photo, but our daughter was so excited we couldn’t get her to stand still. When she paused her frenetic movement for a moment, we thought we’d gotten that perfect photo. Until we actually saw the photo later – my husband and I are smiling at the camera and then you scan down the photo to see our Kate – making a face and sticking her tongue out at the camera.
I was annoyed at first. Then I realized the picture was perfect; the photo was the perfect image for the occasion.
You see the special occasion that had us all dressed up was our “next wedding.” Two years ago my husband and I renewed our wedding vows. As we planned for the event, Kate came to call it the “next wedding.”
David and I had been married seven years when Kate arrived, and to put it bluntly, her arrival threw an unexpected monkey wrench into the gears of our marriage. Sort of like this photo of a picture perfect happy couple who now had a little girl in between them sticking her tongue out and changing the entire picture.
Our “next wedding” was something we dreamed up to acknowledge that having children often challenges a marriage, and to celebrate that we’d tackled that challenge for many years and felt like we’d made it to the other side.
Within days of Kate’s birth, we had somehow gone from basking in the glow of my pregnancy to shouting at each other in the kitchen. I was reeling from the unexpected loss of my career – and along with it my identity and my financial self-sufficiency. He couldn’t understand why the chance to spend my days with Kate wasn’t making me happy, since he was toiling long hours for demanding clients to provide for us. We fought about how much laundry he wasn’t doing. We fought about the many nights he didn’t get home until after bedtime, killing any chance I had to get out of the house alone. What had always been a true partnership devolved into two separate lives with each of us blaming the other for the fact that our life as parents was so different from how we thought it would be.
How we climbed our way out of that mess is a major topic of my book, This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today, but here are a few of the critical steps we took to remodel our marriage.
We were relentless and we took risks. We talked constantly. We stuck our necks out to speak our mind to each other – and sometimes it got heated. But we cared too much about our relationship to give up when the going got tough.
We took the balcony view. When we stepped back from our own drama, we could see that a lot of what was tripping us up had nothing to do with us. His 70 hour a week job didn’t leave much room for me to be employed or for him to be involved in family life. I was trying to live up to an outdated ideal of a “good mother” while he was challenged to add family work to his ideal of a “good father.” Up on the balcony, we realized that we were in fact in the same boat and on the same team. In a world set up to get in our way, we had to work together to get the life as parents that we really wanted.
We had to share the family work. Now, who does the laundry and who makes pediatrician appointments may seem petty on the surface, but David and I got married as equals, as best friends, as partners. When we got married we promised to be true to the pursuit of the dreams we both shared. Our dream now included sharing the family responsibilities and having time for our relationships with Kate and with each other. So to be true to our wedding vows, we had to figure out – by trial and error mostly – how to share in caring for our family.
We got explicit about the ways in which Kate’s arrival changed our marriage contract. As we prepared for the “next wedding” it was really David who made the breakthrough about how our marriage had changed and what the “next wedding” should look like. He said, “You know, the promises we made to each other when we got married were bi-directional, between you and me. But now the promises are tri-directional, they include Kate too.” So when we stood up at our “next wedding” we repeated our original wedding vows. Then we made new promises to each other to share in the responsibility of caring for Kate and providing for our family. And finally, we turned to Kate and promised that we would always be a family and would always support her and her dreams.
Our “next wedding” was our own unique way of acknowledging that our marriage before Kate was gone, and that we’d remodeled and rebuilt something different and amazing in its place. So now, this particular picture, funny face and all, is my favorite image from an unforgettable day.
- Check out my photo gallery from our “next wedding!”
- For more on how the identity disconnect happens between mothers and fathers in my post Identity Disconnect: How Stereotypes About Mothers and Fathers Can Divide Us.
- For more, read the Q & A my husband and I did for Amy and Marc Vachon of Equally Shared Parenting, and my blog post on the Vachon’s brand new book, Equally Shared Parenting, a great resource!
- Download my identity pie worksheet from my Exclusive Remodeling Tools page (just enter your email address at www.remodelingmotherhood.com). Have you and your spouse each fill one out and compare. How might the differences in your identity be creating disconnects between you? How might you start to close the gap?
- Did you know “one in every two marriages now goes into decline” when the first child arrives? That’s from Jay Belsky and John Kelly in The Transition to Parenthood. Did you know that both mothers and fathers on average experience a significant decline in marital satisfaction after the first bay arrives? Carolyn Pape Cowan and Philip A. Cowan, When Partners Become Parents. The ways parenthood challenges a marriage are normal and common, but seem like dirty secrets. Both of these books are great resources for parents.
- Listen in to this Diane Rehm NPR interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (a follow-up on her previous book, Eat, Pray, Love). I especially enjoyed her responses to caller questions at the end of the interview.