I recently had a lot of people writing me asking how my husband and I make marriage awesome amidst multiple pregnancies and all the children.
I have been pregnant and/or nursing for almost 18 years. So, I can say I have a lot of experience with babies and pregnancy and teens and tweens and toddlers and everything else plus trying to have an awesome marriage.
I used to think I could find someone to help me with this, but really, there isn’t a lot of realistic advice out there for people who have decided to spend over a decade in the trenches of pregnancy and children.
Most of the advice is given with the idea that the pregnancy and/or terrible twos or little children or teens will be over relatively soon.
Most of the advice from large family mothering blogs (or parenting blogs) seems extremely idealistic and a little too hard to achieve.
For example, most large family bloggers tend to exude the idea that they don’t have much trouble with their children who are 12-18–they are just a joy and help out around the house and love to take care of their siblings really, really frequently.
Which is great, but that’s not how we roll here. Yes, my children ages 12-18 are an absolute joy most of the time, but wow. There are times when they are a mess. And I am a mess. And there are times that they do not want to take care of littles, even thought they love them.
And most of the large family bloggers I read about are determined to really testify of their happiness to be serving their husbands in all kinds of capacities that I think are really too much for me, personally (I love my husband, and I love to serve him, but I also like to be spoiled, too. I am a weenie.).
I am not there yet. I may never be.
Maybe I’m not a great large family mother or something. I am not trying to emulate Michelle Duggar and I don’t have a sweet, kindly disposition a lot of the time.
I don’t really want my older children “helping out” a lot.
By the time they are sixteen, I want them out and about, doing their own thing, working or college or something more independent and certainly not helping me aside from some basic chores and learning independent living skills.
So this advice I am giving is from the point of view of a family that has altercations, tears, laughter, obnoxious behavior and struggles sometimes.
I am not giving advice to have an argument free, my-sweet-wife, my-darling-husband kind of marriage. Although that would be really great, I am not there yet,
I consider our marriage awesome, though.
Of course, my definition of awesome might look a little different than what you might expect. I am not expecting absolute happiness and flowers and fireworks.
I am expecting survival with a smile. And some smooching.
That’s it. That is my definition of an awesome marriage with kids.
So, here are my tips for those of you who might be considering a large family and a decade or so of pregnancy:
Recognize and accept that it is not a contest.
So, you know when you have children, everyone in the world warns you that you will never get great rest again.
It’s so funny when you’ve heard it over a million times, right? Oh, that never gets old!
But, really, it’s true. You won’t sleep. Ever. Again. And you probably kind of know that, and that’s okay with both of you. You both think it’s worth it.
Most couples tend to get into this contest of who is the most tired (most of the time it is a pregnant mom), but I decided a long time ago that we wouldn’t go there, because my husband actually believes he is more tired sometimes.
And it could be possible that sometimes he is.
I know he sometimes is.
But, we have saved ourselves a lot of grief by deciding before our first child was born that we would never do that contest thing, and we would try very hard to agree that we are both the same amount of exhausted, just in different ways.
And we both have a different level of tolerance for exhaustion.
That’s just the way it is. Don’t fight about it. You are both tired. It will be worth it.
Lots of pregnancy means lots of sacrifice.
Both of you should agree that all of these pregnancies are going to mean a lot of sacrifice.
Most women are a little discouraged when things start sagging and nothing is as it was before. It’s also discouraging to give up wearing pants with zippers for fifteen years. It’s also exhausting and draining to make human beings.
But it’s worth it.
And it’s important for both of you to sincerely see deep beauty in each other, not the kind that is only youthful skin deep kind of beauty.
Most men will find that learning to cook for your nauseated wife, the kids, and yourself is going to be more of a priority than sports or hobbies or…well, almost everything else.
Taking a portion of the household responsibilities (or making sure your other children are completing them), is going to take a lot of time and effort. Even when you are tired and exhausted.
Listening to your wife cry about random things and being comforting will be time consuming and emotionally consuming.
It’s worth it. But, realizing this ahead of time will save a lot of grief and make for a more awesome marriage.
Make dating and sex a priority. And flirt.
Dating is really, really important during these years. It’s probably the only time you will be able to have a conversation without being interrupted three hundred times.
Make it a priority. Take the time to make a reservation every once in a while. Dates don’t have to be extravagant, but they do need to be without children. Go places that are child-free.
We like to take walks when I am not too miserable from the pregnancy, or just talk on a swing at the park. When I am too sick, we go for a short drive and park somewhere and talk. Or we lock the door to our room and have takeout while the kids stay downstairs without interrupting us for two hours.
We also try to flirt every once in a while. It’s sometimes funny because we are so pathetically tired, but sometimes it can really create sparks.
Sex should also be a priority. It doesn’t have to be epic, but both of you really do need it.
When I am pregnant, it is hard for me to remember this because, well, I am pregnant.
But, it’s important and really, most of the time, I just need time to wind down and let my husband get me in the mood. This is sometimes problematic because really, if we are not careful we can both end up asleep before anything else happens.
Husbands should be aware that sex and pregnancy are sometimes difficult. Wives don’t feel particularly gorgeous and often during pregnancy, sex is really not on the radar. But, if you are patient and go out of the way to think of how to help your wife relax (hint: it may take more than 2 1/2 minutes), it pays off.
And it could even end up being epic.
Remember you are just a conduit.
I remember once when my husband was so worried about providing for our family with money, I reminded him that everything we have comes from God. He is just the conduit for those provisions that really come from God.
Likewise, I am just the conduit for God’s nurturing love to reach my children.
But, in the end, it is God’s mercy and grace that keep us going day to day. Remembering that took almost all the stress out of the “how are we going to pay for…” struggles.
Get a sense of humor.
It’s inevitable that things are going to sometimes be really stressful and chaotic and the opposite of what you dreamed it would be. This is where a great sense of humor comes in.
When, for example, our children are working at dividing us and I see that it is effective, I like to remind my husband that it should never be me against him, but rather, us against them. It’s an old joke, but it helps us to remember that we need to stay unified.
One of the nicest things my husband did was to laugh when I wrecked the side door of our van. It made me feel so loved and it made me remember that most things are not a big deal…it’s just life.
Pregnancy and raising children gives us multiple opportunities to laugh or cry. Choose laughter as often as you can.
Remember that the ideal is a dream.
When I read about people who never argue, wives who can their own fruit from trees they have grown themselves from organic seedlings and sweep every day and work out and make their own furniture and never gain weight and have painless childbirth, husbands who have never been angry with their spouse, bring home flowers every week, prepare gourmet meals and know how to dress the children for church in matching outfits and braid their hair, parents whose children listen and behave, and all of that, I try to remind myself that this is the ideal–a dream–but not my reality at this time.
Instead, I’ve tried to focus on what we do have going for us, and how we can take our problems and turn them into strengths.
Also, the ideal where couples are forever gorgeous and going on vacations to Fiji or whatever aren’t really going to happen when you decide to be pregnant for a decade.
Also, men who have lived with pregnant women for a decade are running a little ragged, so it’s hard to expect them to really be like all sweeping you off your feet and talking with a gorgeous accent and making vegan food that tastes fantastic.
Instead of pining away wishing my husband were more romantic or soft spoken or whatever it may be, I try to think of how I can love him the way he needs to be loved and how cute he is when he does laundry.
I know it probably sounds silly, but love really is the answer to almost every problem. Even though we have had some really hard times, I have always been very confident that my husband will never leave.
Even when I have felt like bagging it and just going to an island and living in a cave, I have always known deep down that I will never leave him.
Love really can conquer all. And love suffers long. Sometimes a really, really long time. Love sticks with us through depressing and discouraging circumstances, when we don’t look or act nice, through thick and thin and through sickness and health. It doesn’t waver.
And, sometimes we just need to remember that love is the greatest power of all when we are on no sleep, the kids are bickering, the 16 year old wrecked the car, the job isn’t going well and the pregnancy is difficult.
We just need to remember that these moments are what make love real and tangible.
When I am irritated with my husband, I often look at him and remind myself that this was the person who helped me go to the bathroom when I was sick, the person who got up with barfing kids so I could sleep, the person who held my hand when I was scared and told me it would be alright, even though he was just as terrified as I was.
The most important thing is that we keep going. No matter what. We just keep going and hoping that eventually we’ll reach the top of the mountain together and have enough energy to get down–or that maybe Heaven can send a chopper and airlift us off. And that’s how we keep our marriage awesome.