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We’ve been having a rather artistic weekend; two concerts on Saturday – one with (still slightly poorly) Daughter playing the trombone and singing, and one at Tewkesbury Abbey with Son playing all sorts of gloriously noisy percussion instruments in his wind band; and Daughter performing in a dancing showcase extravaganza on Sunday.
This is obviously exactly how I envisioned good parenting – giving our children opportunities to participate in creative activities, endeavours that will give them memorable experiences whilst also developing their brains, social skills and sense of community…not to mention keeping them off street corners and out of teenage gangs.
I hadn’t anticipated the toll it would take on US as parents though. It sounds whiny, I know, but the constant to-ing and fro-ing between rehearsals and concert venues, and the brain-bending need to remember their requisite costumes, uniforms, packed lunches, instruments, music stands and other equipment is draining the little energy I seem to have at the moment.
On Friday, Hubby and I had to forego our usual ‘couple time’ lunch, as Daughter was off school with a sore throat and slight temperature. We tried to make up for it by watching a film (Layer Cake) and eating popcorn later that evening, but Daughter burst into the lounge at 10.30pm, crying and saying she felt sick, just as a shifty drug dealer was getting viciously beaten up by another shifty drug dealer, accompanied by a colourful plethora of exquisitely profane swear words – necessitating a panicked lunge for the remote control and a temporary inability to find the pause or stop button. Hubby paused it eventually – an artistic still, depicting a huge booted foot approaching a bloody face. *facepalm
Properly slapstick hilarious, if you were a fly on the wall. For us, the parents, not so much.
It just embodied the constant struggle we have to keep a balance between our relationships with our kids, and the relationship we have with each other.
If any prospective parent asked for my advice – and of course, most prospective parents smilingly repel advice, which just bounces off their blissfully clueless, optimistic Force Field of Confidence – I would say that nurturing your relationship with each other needs to be at the top of your priorities list. It may not feel that way, when your first baby explodes on to the scene, but in retrospect, I would say it’s vital.
We had five years of married life before we had kids, and had been together for six before our wedding, so I’d say our relationship was firmly established before our son appeared.
In that time, we travelled together, went on countless cinema dates, meals out, day trips, city breaks…and took all that time completely for granted. Although some of that time was marred by my illness and depression, we still managed to have a cosy partnership and our lives revolved around each other. Possibly too much so.
Once our son arrived, EVERYTHING changed. I was completely and utterly absorbed in being a mother. It wasn’t necessarily easy, but it was something I felt I understood how to do, instinctively. Above all, I was thunderstruck by the realisation that babies were totally defenceless, completely trusting and terrifyingly fragile. They had no conscious intent – they were blameless and unable to communicate. Like animals. And that meant whether they were screaming, crying, flailing or not sleeping, NONE OF IT WAS THEIR FAULT.
This realisation made me a very patient mother, because I was never angry with him, no matter what he had to throw at me (and sometimes it was puke or other unmentionable bodily fluids) but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t frustrated.
It just meant my frustration and irritation had to find another outlet – and the only other person in the house was Hubby. And no doubt, he felt much the same.
So we showered all our love and attention on our miraculous new boy, and all the rest of it – the tired dejection, the helpless panic and the building resentment – just hovered between us like a black cloud.
In the crappy diagram below, I have attempted to portray the ‘Incomplete Triangle Syndrome’ from which our family suffered. Love and attention poured freely between each parent and our baby. But not much was happening between us.
Looking back, I’d say I didn’t have a single morsel of energy to spend on tending our relationship. I suppose I assumed things would calm down, and everything would go back to normal. However, we now know there’s no such thing as normal – and life had irrevocably changed anyway.
Days just became units of time that you bumbled through until the next day dawned – and often, we were awake to see that dawn. Time flew by, each minute thoroughly filled to the brim with action. Our daughter arrived, and the Incomplete Triangle Syndrome became more entrenched; now there was DOUBLE the amount of love traversing each side, but even fewer positive moments strengthening the point between Hubby and me.
When that crazy era starts to let up; when you are no longer running for your life on the Baby Treadmill; when the children start school and you suddenly have a few hours of stillness… that’s when you realise that the plant you seeded and grew between you, hasn’t been watered or fed or pruned for a very long time – that it is, in fact, in desperate need of attention if it isn’t to die.
Marriages/partnerships obviously need constant maintenance, whether you have kids or not, but marriages/partnerships, post-children, need even more commitment and dedication.
Making time to go out on dates, time to talk – not about the children – to each other, time committed to keeping up to date with each other’s career developments, is so so important.
Remembering that you chose to be together because you were best friends is important.
Remembering that, one day, the children will have lives of their own, and we will need corresponding lives of OUR own is important.
Reinforcing and strengthening the top line of that triangle is what makes children and parents into family.