By Ann Swindell
I was concerned that becoming parents might weaken our marriage. I wasn’t afraid that it would ruin our marriage. Michael and I had made promises to God and each other to stay the course, come hell or high water. We also had—and still have—a deep friendship and camaraderie in our relationship. But I was, admittedly, nervous that having a child might throw some of that off-kilter—that, perhaps, adding another human being in the mix might strain our connection and closeness.
And you know what?
Our daughter was born on our seventh anniversary, and her birthday has become symbolic to me: Those things that were solely about me and my husband—the things that used to be just about us—those things have shifted. Even our marriage—our very anniversary—is shared, now.
And that’s a good thing.
Because although it feels like it might rub me raw some days, getting to be a parent is a gift. God’s word unabashedly declares that children are a blessing from him (Psalm 127:3-5), that each child is intentionally created by God (Psalm 139), and that children show us a picture of what it means to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:1-3). I believe in the Bible. And I also believe my experience—my daughter is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
But being a parent is also a gift because it can strengthen our marriages, if we are intentional about growing as parents and spouses. Growing as parents without growing as spouses is putting the proverbial cart before the horse, and both the marriage and the parenting will suffer. But the opportunity to grow as friends and lovers—as husband and wife—as we are parenting? This is a truly good gift.
Here’s how to be purposeful about growing as spouses even as we parent those small humans who are making lots of noise in the house:
Make Time Just for the Two of You
Yes, it’s going to be a lot harder to get one-on-one, meaningful time together now that you’re parents. But do it anyway; your marriage is worth it.
When Michael and I were dating, engaged and then married before becoming parents, we had so much time to be together. Time to explore the arboretum. Time to talk over long meals. Time to see movies and sleep in. Now, as parents (And remember, we only have one right now; God bless all parents of multiple children. Amen.), a lot of our time is spent doing parent-y things: feeding our child, playing with our child, reading to our child, bathing, cleaning and clothing our child. Her schedule shapes a great deal of what we can and can’t do.
So we have a weekly date night. Sometimes we get a sitter and go out. Sometimes we talk and eat ice cream and watch a movie at home after she goes to bed (Alleluia for the 7:30 p.m. bed time). But we are consistent about making time to meaningfully connect so that we can operate as friends and lovers … and not solely as parenting partners.
Serve Your Spouse, Not Just Your Kids
Before children, it’s just easier to care for our spouse—to stop at the store and pick up a favorite cereal when we’re running low, or to refill the gas tank in the car before it drops to E. But when the days fill up with attending to the basic needs of children, we can get worn out with serving anyone but ourselves.
The gift in this, though, is that parenting reminds us in fresh ways that it’s not all about me. Caring for one or two or 10 little humans forces us to put the needs of another before our own—often to a degree that we’ve never had to experience before. Waking up 10 times in one night? Sure. Making meals and washing clothes for kids who don’t have the fine motor skills to do it for themselves? Of course.
But if we’re so exhausted by serving our kids that we can’t—or won’t—serve our spouse, we’re headed down the wrong path. We may not be able to fill up the gas tank on a whim or pick up roses on the way home, but we can still serve our spouse in simple, thoughtful ways through the week. A note left on a dashboard, the offer to take the kids while she gets a night out, or the willingness to clean the dishes—these little acts of service help keep marriages healthy in the midst of exhausting days and years.
Get Help When You Need It
Strong marriages make for strong families, and it’s worth it to invest in our marriages so that we don’t lose intimacy with our spouse in the busy years of parenting.
Let’s be honest; we all need help (in countless ways). But having children can add a practical strain on the marriage relationship that can build up over time if those things are not intentionally worked through. The tensions that can arise in a marriage when time, affection and even money have to be split three ways (or four or five or 12 ways) rather than two ways can feel weighty.
Don’t go it alone. If you’re not already in a small group at your church, join one (if they provide childcare during that time, bonus!). Talk to other couples about how they try to balance it all. Ask for help when your kid gets sick. Make a meal for another family when they’re short on cash—and accept the same in return.
If talking with friends isn’t enough, seek out marriage counseling. Get help and don’t try to figure it out on your own. The church, the Body of Christ, is called to care for one another, and our marriages and families need all of the care they can get. No couple is meant to go the intense, beautiful and difficult road of marriage and parenting alone. So reach out.
Strong marriages make for strong families, and it’s worth it to invest in our marriages so that we don’t lose intimacy with our spouse in the busy years of parenting. The kids, as treasured and valuable as they are, will leave. The spouse is the one who is meant to stay.
About the Author: Ann Swindell is a Christian author and speaker. Her first book, a memoir, releases with Tyndale in early 2017. Ann teaches online writing courses to help other writers grow in their craft, voice and ability at writingwithgrace.com; you can connect with her online at annswindell.com or on Facebook or Instagram.
This article originally appeared on relevantmagazine.com: Kids Aren’t the Priority. Marriage Is.