Will having kids wreck your marriage? That depends

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Last week, my husband went grocery shopping and came home with about five pounds of mangoes—partly because they were on sale, partly because he took our daughter Gillian to the grocery store and she loves mangoes. While putting the mangoes in the fruit bowl, I realized they were the same size and shape my breasts used to be before I birthed and breastfed my babies. I held them up to my chest and both my husband and I burst out laughing.

“Remember what they used to be like?” I asked, barely able to talk because I was laughing so hard.

We have a lot of those kinds of moments in our marriage—we compare what our lives are like now with the chaos and mess of two young children as opposed to what it was like before they were born.

“Remember when we could go out for dinner to fancy restaurants?”

“Remember when we had money and our house was clean?”

“Remember when we talked about things other than the kids? What did we talk about?”

We say these things not because we’re unhappy with our lives, but because those pre-children days seem distant and foggy. And because we unexpectedly became the parents who threw ourselves 100 percent into parenting (especially me), and we were generally unprepared for how bringing a baby into the world sweeps you off your feet and swallows you whole. We didn’t plan to be a family of co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, stay-at-home parenting parents, but we did.

(For the record, I don’t think any of those things make me a better parent. It just makes me one that most decidedly does not have mango-sized breasts).

It’s funny how parenting can quickly become all-encompassing, and in many ways, I agree with Danielle Teller and Astro Teller, the authors of a controversial post that appeared last week on Quartz.

In “How American Parenting Is Killing The American Marriage,” they write:

“Sometime between when we were children and when we had children of our own, parenthood became a religion in America. As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring. Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.”

I agree that parenting has become something of a religion, with nearly every single parenting decision—from your birth plan to how you choose to feed your baby—being grounds for fierce debate.

But will kids wreck your marriage? Well, that depends on your marriage (and I say that as the child of divorced parents, and wife to a man whose parents are also divorced). While my parents divorced when I was quite young and my husband’s parents divorced when he was an adult, we each saw the writing on the wall long before our parents announced their separations. Never once have we blamed ourselves for their failed marriages.

“I think it’s misleading to suggest that kids destroy marriages when what they really do is reveal the fault lines. I would like to have happy, wonderful, passionate, engaged, mature couples with a proven ability to work through problems please tell me about how having a kid torpedoed their love like a paid marriage assassin,” writes Jezebel‘s Tracy Moore.

And it’s true—absolutely nothing can prepare a couple for how having a baby will utterly reshape their lives. And as Moore points out, if your relationship isn’t on solid ground, a baby might be all it takes to tip things over the edge. Afterall, babies aren’t bandages for broken marriages.

I won’t pretend that my husband and I have parenting and marriage figured out, and most days, we make stuff up as we go along. But I will say we are very aware of the way we behave in front of our children, showing them how we feel parents should communicate with each other. So sometimes we fight and disagree in front of them, sometimes we talk, but nearly all of the time we laugh—not about how much we’ve lost of our old selves in becoming parents, but because of how much we’ve gained. Maybe it’s because we realized in those early bleary-eyed earthquake-like days of parenthood that nothing would ever be the same between us. And we realized that it is OK.

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