As I kid, I cringed at the thought of being relegated to the domestic sphere. I thought I needed to be out in the big world to be happy. Success came from external achievements, not from the quiet life of hearth and home. Maybe I will need those things again one day, but for now, I am enjoying a simpler season as a mom and wife.
I throw in the word wife because it is so easy to become wrapped up in motherhood to the point of forgetting I used to prioritize my marriage as my number one family commitment. Now, it is easy to put our relationship on the bottom of the to-do list with the assumption that more than a decade together is enough to keep things stable.
While I am confident we have the foundation to weather a little less attention, I also recognize the importance of continuing to put work into our relationship. Not a day goes by where I am unaware of the sacrifices my husband makes marching off into the world to make sure we have what we need to live. While I get more than enough time with our baby girl, he often does not.
Accordingly, I have consciously sought to lessen my husband’s domestic workload. As a result, the division of labor in our house has taken on a decidedly more gendered tone. The kitchen and indoor tasks are principally my domain. The little girl version of myself would cry sexism, but the adult version recognizes it is a natural division of labor when one parent works outside the home. I don’t do everything, but I do more.
Even so, maintaining our marriage is more than just doing. In the beginning of my time at home, I made the mistake of thinking doing was the secret. I made his breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I stopped asking him to unload the dishwasher. I went out of my way to do whatever I could to make his limited time at home inclusive of more baby interaction. What I lost sight of was the being. In the midst of doing, doing, doing, I forgot to stop and be with my husband.
Thankfully it did not take long to realize what was missing. Now, on those nights I am lucky enough to get Eloise to sleep early enough that I still have energy left, I no longer do anything. Maybe the dishes will be dirty in the morning. Maybe the living room will be scattered with toys. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that my husband and I get to hang out for a bit before going to sleep.
In the last weeks before Eloise was born, I mourned the perceived loss of our early years together as a couple. After more than a decade of uninterrupted attention, I feared we would forget the deep love we had shared alone for all those years. I didn’t worry we would end up not loving each other, I just worried there would not be enough time to appreciate one another in the same way. While I was right about there being less time, there is also something deeper between us.
I will never forget the first time Alex held me in his arms after Eloise was born. I am not talking about sex, this isn’t that kind of blog. I am talking about the most intense intimacy I have ever experienced. Giving birth beat the bejesus out of me. After weeks of the worst sleep deprivation, my body hurt beyond any of my expectations, and I felt the complete opposite of beautiful. Still, I managed to put the baby down and let Alex hold me instead.
Tears streamed down my face as I let him love me, appreciate me. I felt beautiful for the first time in weeks, wanted beyond any feeling I had ever experienced before. We had made it through the craziest adventure of our life, her birth, and now we were bonded by shared flesh, a living, breathing being with each of our genes, asleep in the other room. It was more powerful than the moment we looked at each other in the hospital and realized both our hearts had been removed and put inside that little six-pound person. It was a love my pregnant self could not mourn. I was so relieved.
Still, that moment disappeared into months of nightly screaming, more sleep deprivation, and all the other trials early parenthood brings. It once again became easy to spend those quiet moments quickly cleaning the house or attending to my other needs, like a moment to read my email or write a blog or God knows what else. However, something was missing, and I remembered not to forget my closest friend, my husband.
It is often easier to do than be, but I believe being is the secret to a sustainable, happy marriage. You have to stop, look, listen, touch, even if it means something else is not getting done. I know I will need this reminder again and again in the busy years to come.