Lately, it’s been difficult getting some dedicated one-on-one time with my husband. The kids constantly need something: a snack, a drink, a cuddle, someone to watch them while they dance and sing and roll on the floor. As much as I love my children, sometimes they need to learn to do things on their own, or at least give me and my husband a few minutes to catch up with each other. I always expected that children would change the dynamic of my marriage, but I couldn't anticipate exactly how much would change.
I’m the first to admit that I tend to put my kids before my husband. And that’s not always OK. Before we had kids, my husband and I actually talked about things other than to-do lists and must-dos for the coming week. We rarely complained about the little time we spent together, because we were always together. Now, with two kids constantly vying for our attention, it’s difficult to hear his voice over theirs, mostly because their voices are louder, whinier, and more incessant.
I know that marriage is much harder after kids, and that it's a constant struggle for couples to learning how to balance each other's needs with those of their kids. But I also know that always placing my kids before my husband is not the solution. We're big fans of equitable parenting, and we tend to split the parenting duties pretty evenly, but given how much time we spend giving into the demands of our kids, I wondered if it would help to put his needs first for a week, without backsliding into 1950s housewife territory. So for one week, I set out to see if I could put my husband before my kids.
When I told my husband about this experiment, he was super psyched. I think he initially thought we'd be rolling back to the 1950s, where I'd be an ideal housewife catering to his every whim. Once I made it clear that that wasn't my intention, though, he was still pretty psyched. Instead, I promised to be more attentive to his needs, specifically when it came to listening to him, because it's common for our girls to try to interrupt our conversations. It's easy for me to steer my attention toward them when they break into our conversations and cut him off mid-sentence, so this week I decided to listen to him, instead of letting their demands take precedence over his.
In addition to listening to my husband more attentively during our conversations, I also sought to try and find times to give him a break or help him out with errands during the week. We both work full-time, and he doesn't usually ask for breaks, but we all need them.
Here’s what a week of putting my husband’s needs before my kids looked like.
Dinnertime is a hectic time in our household, because it's difficult to get us all to sit down as a family at the same time. But it also means that the kids are stuck in their highchairs and focusing on their food, which gives me the freedom to handle little chores around the house without two little ones underfoot. Sometimes I’ll read through the mail or pick out outfits for the week, or use that time to paint my nails.
Today, I ignored all the things I had to get done, like address the box of Christmas cards that needed to be mailed out. Instead, I actually sat down at the dinner table at the same time my husband did, which is relatively rare. It was nice to enjoy a warm meal as compared to my usual lukewarm meals, and it also made him happy to sit down with me. Not only did we get to fill each other in on our days, but we spent an entire 20 minutes together with only a few interruptions from our children during our family dinner.
My husband asked me to take my daughter to her swim class so he could hit the gym. He usually takes her to swim class so I can spend 40 minutes knocking out a few child-related errands, like running to Target or heading to Party City for princess-themed party supplies for my girls' upcoming party. Then I remembered that he was asking me to take her for a reason: he needed to unwind and decompress after a day’s work.
Ultimately, I’m glad I switched errands with my husband and dropped my daughter off at swim class. Not only did I get the chance to witness how much my daughter’s swimming skills have improved, but my husband also came home more relaxed than usual, because he was able to work off some of his stress. Both of us try to split up responsibilities so we don't get too overwhelmed, especially during the weekdays.
I planned to spend my evening baking a loaf of pumpkin bread to take to work on Friday, then I wanted to spend some time looking for birthday party ideas off Pinterest to prepare for my daughters’ birthday party. I told the girls they could help me bake the bread and they asked for the kind of bread they liked: pumpkin bread with chocolate chips. Then I remembered my husband likes pumpkin bread without any of the fancy stuff mixed in. So I told my kids they would have to wait for their bread and help me bake bread for their dad first. That way, he could actually enjoy a slice before going to bed.
My husband rarely asks for anything, and I certainly didn't feel obligated to bake him a loaf of pumpkin bread. I just did it because I knew it would make him happy, which was rewarding in itself. Plus, my girls love to bake, so they were completely happy to be my little helpers (even though they didn't understand why he didn't want chocolate chips in his bread).
My daughter is the queen of polite interruptions. She always says "excuse me" before she cuts us off, but she doesn’t stop saying "excuse me" until we stop and listen to her. She likes to cut in on our conversations all the damn time, and I frequently cut off my husband to take her questions. By the time I answer her question, or remind her why it’s rude to interrupt an important conversation, I’ve likely forgotten what the heck my husband and I were talking about.
This time, when my daughter tried to ask me a question, I told her to wait until I had finished talking to Daddy. And you know what? She was absolutely fine with it. My husband also had the opportunity to actually finish a complete thought.
Our Saturday started off strange. We woke up late and our youngest daughter, who is entering her terrible twos, was in the worst mood ever. My husband usually takes the girls to dance class to give me an hour or more to work on homework or blog posts. But this morning, my daughter was crying because he was not putting the "right" boots on her and our 3-year-old was rolling on the carpet to try and get his attention. I knew that this morning was not the time to give in to my girls, but rather an opportunity to put my husband first.
I asked my husband what he needed me to do. He asked for some help, so I told him to go get himself dressed while I took care of the girls. I sent the oldest to her room to take a breath and told her to come out when she was ready to start listening to her dad. The younger one was harder, as reasoning with a toddler is nearly impossible. I gave her two choices: either take a breath and calm down, or continue to throw a fit and stay in her room. Either way, she was not going to be allowed to wear the boots that are two sizes too big.
Sensing that my husband's patience was wearing thin, I got dressed and put aside homework for the morning to take the girls to dance class. I learned that although we were used to our Saturday routine, it was important to step in for each other from time to time to provide a much-needed break. By the time we met back at the house around lunchtime, he had run a few errands and had thrown in a load of laundry. I'm pretty sure he appreciated the morning off.
Over seven days of this experiment, my husband only explicitly asked for help twice. He steps in when I need help with the kids and takes them on errands when I need to work on homework; all the while, he rarely complains. Although I'd been a little nervous that he'd use this experiment as an excuse for me to take care of his household tasks, that isn't what happened; mostly, I just stopped allowing my daughters to cut in on our conversations and actually paid attention to him when he was trying to tell me something. I hate being ignored, or having to repeat myself because someone isn’t listening. I realized that I do that too often to my husband, since I’m constantly giving in to my daughters whenever they call on me for something.
My husband is not perfect and neither am I, but somehow we make it all work. This past week taught me how important it is that I show my husband how thankful I am to be in this partnership with him in even the smallest of ways, such as sitting down with him for dinner instead of trying to squeeze one last chore in, or giving him all of my attention when he’s trying to tell me something. After this experiment, I feel that we've struck a pretty decent parenting balance, but I also learned that I could do a better job at checking in with him more – now, I just need to put that lesson into practice.