Forget about Sleep Regressions; Let’s Talk about Marriage Regressions

Poor Sona. She’s going to see the title of this blog post pop up in her FB feed and think to herself, “Great, Danielle is telling everyone all of our business again.” It’s a good thing she loves me. And knows that I’m an open book. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that nothing surprises her, anymore.)

Yesterday, I posted another of the amazing family photos that we recently took on Instagram. This time, it was a photo of Sona and I.  This one:

Man, I love that photo. It’s dreamy and whimsical and it paints the portrait of a perfect couple. A perfect marriage. Part of a perfect family. That’s the message all of these photos send. Isn’t that kind of the message a family portrait is supposed to portray? LOOK AT US! WE ARE PHOTOGENIC! AND HAPPY! WE FROLICK IN FIELDS  OF WILDFLOWERS DURING OUR DOWN TIME! AND OUR 2 YEAR OLD COOPERATES!

I started to feel a little guilty about the message those photos were sending, especially because I’ve been really intentional about NOT curating our Insta feed too much. Our lives aren’t curated, after all. And I make no apologies about posting a lot of the ugliness too: toddler tantrums, bouts of never-ending pink eye (which I have as I type), not-so-fun days.

Still, I know that the real purpose of social media is to share a very filtered version of yourself. To create a persona. And when it comes to mommy bloggers, that persona is often one that exclaims to the world, “I can design a magazine-worthy home, while cooking a Michelin-worthy organic meal, all while teaching my cherubic toddlers Mandarin. In fashionable booties.” I’m guilty of giving in to that archetype sometimes, too. It haunts me. It calls to me from the other side of the room, taunting.

But we all know, deep down, that it’s a lie. Those perfect mommas and the perfect families and the perfect marriages. They don’t exist.

And so, in my latest Insta post, I juxtaposed an seemingly idyllic photograph with a pretty raw confession: Sona and I have had a lot of marriage struggles. Like, A LOT. And that admission seemed to resonate with a lot of other–mostly same-sex–mommas.

The truth is, for all of the cultural admonishments about how hard it is to raise a kid, there seems to be radio silence about how raising kids can dramatically change the dynamics of a marriage.  I’m not writing this to scare you (but you should be a little scared).

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot, lately, as talks about one-day-maybe-sometime-in-the-future-possibly-in-a-hypothetical-world having another baby begin. As much as we want Finn to have a sibling, Sona and I have earnestly questioned whether or not our family–and our marriage–could sustain the time and energy another baby would require. It just seems like we have already over-spent our time/energy account, and I really don’t know where the additional time/energy would come from. We are maxed out. We’ve been maxed out for two years.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times Sona and I have looked at each other, eyes pleading, wondering, “Where are we going to find the time for that?” “That” = another toddler class, a play date, a visit with friends we haven’t seen in months, time for each other, time for exercise, time for self care (insert eye-roll here). You name it.

It’s a paradox that I’ll never be able to fully flesh out (but one that you’ll likely understand if you are a parent yourself): the past two years of Finn’s life have been the best of mine, but they have also been the most difficult for our marriage.

I also wonder how much of our struggles are unique to two-mom families. There’s been a lot written about the emotional toll of mothering. The unseen work–the mostly emotional/mental load–mothers bear the brunt of. I don’t think that work is divided when there are two moms; I think it is doubled. I think Sona and I both spend virtually all of our time worrying, stressing, planning, overthinking, evaluating, supporting, and rallying for our little family.

And the reality is, that leaves the worst of ourselves for each other. We give each other the leftovers. And as Sona will be the first to tell you, I don’t like leftovers.

It’s something we are working on–when we find the time. It’s something we probably need to work on harder. We’ve taken small steps: more deliberate quality time, less time staring at our iPhones, more date nights. But I also think we’ve both acknowledged the reality, which is that our marriage is going to have to remain on the back burner until Finn is a little older. And if we add another baby to the mix, our marriage will have to stay on the back burner that much longer.

Right now, we triage. We have spontaneous interventions when it seems like things are at their worst. We ebb and flow, moving between moments where we are hyper-connected and moments where we are walking on egg shells. We look at each other from across a toy-strewn room, and we try to remember that we will reclaim our time–it just won’t be anytime soon. We do what I think a lot of people do: we try to stop the bleeding with band-aids, and we hope that when we come out on the other end, and we finally have time to heal the wound, we’ve survived.

Our marriage experiences something a lot like toddler sleep regressions. We think everything is fine. We feel calm and rested. And then, out of nowhere, there are night wakings and tantrums and a lot of sleeplessness, and we take a few steps back. We are committed to riding it out, though. We love each other, and we love Finn. When things are at their ugliest, we can always still look at each other and say, “I choose you. I love you. This is where I want to be.”

It’s a conscious decision we make again and again, and that’s what makes a marriage. That’s the picture of a marriage I wish we saw more often.


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