Monday, February 23, 2009

My Wife and Kids

As much as I understand the importance of family, I often find myself wishing I didn't actually have to work on my marriage and my parenting so much. I suppose I have been seduced into thinking that there is such a thing as a no-maintenance family: husband and wife seamlessly zig-zagging between personal pursuits, shared responsibilities, and parental tasks; and kids naturally learning the difference between good and evil, being nice to their siblings, and excelling in school. Of course, such a thing doesn't exist; and yet I dream.

The reality is that marriage and parenting are hard work. Marriages are under assault, from societal pressures and spiritual attack. Romance looks different when bodies age, pet peeves irk, and kids and mortgages are added to the mix. Career and leisure ambitions have to adapt to the time and money investment that kids represent. And the kids themselves cause a bizarre mix of emotions, from fierce love to complete exasperation, as we simultaneously wish they would hurry up and grow up and yet wonder if it would be possible to stop time so we could enjoy them at this age just a little longer.

The interplay between marriage and parenting seems to get particularly interesting when you add a second child into the mix. Vicariously, I have seen this play out countless times in my friends' lives: the arrival of number two shakes up everything. Wife is now devoting all of her energy to the new baby, glorying in the intimacy but more tired than she ever imagined. Hubby is killing himself to do as much as possible around the house, give their first child the attention they need, and stay sharp at work. Neither fully appreciates what the other is doing for the sake of the family, or even if they could, they wouldn't be able to fully express that appreciation, harried as they are. Wife may feel guilty that she's too spent to do much with her first child or with her usual chores, and yet may at the same time not extend much grace to hubby for all he's doing to make it all work. Hubby remembers the few times when they just had one kid when wife was sick and he had to do everything, and laments that those grueling few days are now the new norm; he wants to do right by his wife but resents that she doesn't give him strokes for holding down the fort on so many fronts. (A friend of me slyly shared with me that the fact that a baby starts smiling at two months is completely evolutionary; for it's at that stage that the father is pretty much fed him with her for wrecking a pretty good marriage; and but for a cute smile, a lot of babies wouldn't survive the stress.)

Having adopted, our transition from one to two kids didn't have these same dynamics, but we have our own unique challenges. Our kids' special needs tax Amy in terms of chasing down insurance and instruction resources, an ordeal that I don't think I fully express my appreciation for enough. And Amy's health issues tax me in terms of having less down time to recharge and stay sane.

So we find ourselves in the same boat as most other parents: having to fight for our marriage and for our kids. Making tough choices to be there for our spouses when they need us, instead of holing up in our cave and feeding our hunger for veg time. Doing the logistical gymnastics required to organize a "date night." Pushing through the tiredness of two introverts desperate for silence and solitude, in order to be expressive and energetic and affirming for our two kids who struggle with speech delays. Reminding ourselves that if we do the harder task of disciplining and being firm instead of giving in and letting go, our kids will be better adjusted and our lives will be easier in the long run.

And you know what? It's all worth it. I love my wife and I love my kids. Is it really a sacrifice, all the ordeal and craziness and selflessness, if you are doing it to preserve something so precious? On one level, no. But on another level, I must admit that it is a sacrifice: it does not come easy, I often find myself wishing it did come easy, and there are far too many times I don't make the sacrifice at all because I temporarily value avoiding the pain over safeguarding the pleasure.

I don't think I ever thought marriage and parenting would be easy. But neither did I fathom that it would be so hard. And so I find myself easily asking those I trust for their prayers and support; and I find myself easily accepting the asks of those who trust me for prayers and support. My friends and I may have good wives and kids, but loving them is a high and hard calling. From here on out, it may or may not get easier; in fact, it quite possibly could get much more difficult. Much of the world is not rooting for us, and the enemy of our souls certainly isn't. But while we may have our moments when we wish it was all a least a little easier, we are aware of what we have to do, glad to have loved ones so worthy to fight for, and grateful for fraternal and divine support to keep on going.
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