Child-proofing Relationships

Several of my friends are looking forward to bringing babies into the world.  More babies.  These folks have at least one child and they’re looking forward to the one coming.  I don’t think there are twins coming… But getting news of someone’s pregnancy always leaves me with a scratching question: How will that kid change things for you?  In the case of marriage, how will that kid change things for your marriage?

Children definitely impact your other relationships too.  I can list a dozen people I haven’t seen or spoken to outside the occasional text and email.  Those people either avoid me because they think I’m busy (and I AM), or we can’t find the time to do more than periodic phone-tagging.  It took me two days to call Winfield back the other week.  And I was trying to find the right slice of time for us to talk unrushed, and when the third part of our conversation came around (the call got dropped twice), we still didn’t finish.  We haven’t been able to finish.  And we were talking about being fathers!

I read this article the other day.  It talks about how important it is to know what to expect when children are on the way.  Kelly Alfieri offers some helpful prompts that make good sense.  Then, I saw this article in Psychology Today, and I think Vivian Diller heard me in my study screaming my agreements.  The Psychology Today post was about marriage in midlife.  She offered marriage myths in it.  When she got to the myth about kids solidifying marriage, she said, “Even if creating families may have been the motive behind why some couples marry, the truth is that placing your focus on children over your marital relationship invites major problems over the long term.”

A lot people talk about divorce-proofing marriages.  There are books written about it.  Some of them are good.  Along with all those words and along with the words in the posts I’ve linked above, I think marriages need to be child-proofed.  My friends have lived through baby-bringing days, and more of them are bringing infants into the picture.  They’ll push little plastic plugs into wall outlets.  They’ll open gates across doorways.  They will stick foam things over the corners of tables and attach weird locks on their cabinets that will take a seminar to figure out how to work.  They’ll hide poison from themselves and see how all the little things in their lives have become safety hazards.  And I hope they won’t miss their marriages.

So, here’s my attempt to start a “Child-proofing your relationship list”.  It’s unfinished so that you can comment, add to it, and, together, we’ll finish it.

1)  Build a life and bring your kid into that life.  This comes from one of my mentors.  He says, that children are meant to be integrated into the life you already have.  They aren’t meant to have lives built around them.  Of course this is difficult in practice because children (and I have a toddler) expect to eat when they’re hungry, be cleaned when they’re dirty—although Bryce can be dirty for a long time before it occurs to him that he should complain—and generally believe the world revolves around them.

2)  Establish a routine for your important relationships.  This may look like a weekly conversation with a spouse about your marriage.  It could be an appointment with your buddies after work twice a week, a date night, a girls’ night, a visit to the gym with a workout partner, whatever.  It will be a routine, something you do regularly.  Establish it.

3)  Keep that routine religiously before a baby comes.  The routine will be stretched.  The relationships will change and necessarily so.  You’ll never run completely away from the relationship you’re developing with that non-rent-paying-person called baby.  But you can consciously run in the opposite direction.  You can seek to strengthen your friendships in the face of parenting as opposed to letting them lapse because you have a kid.  This will keep you from using your kid and from ending important relationships.

4)  Learn to listen to the needs of your significant other.  Again, this can apply to marriage or some other relationship.  Sometimes the error in a relationship, especially when children show up, isn’t talking but listening.  The careful and hard work of paying attention is more important than speaking actually.  Listening is inherently generous.  Listening is humbling because you keep all that important stuff in your mouth.  It’s an unselfish behavior, which is why it’s so hard and why it means so much when you’ve actually been “heard” by someone.

5)  Look for a trusted baby-sitter and map out intentional times to be away.  Preferably you’ll begin the search when you find out that an infant is coming.  It will take time.  But here’s the thing: you need to leave that kid.  I know, I know.  I don’t mean all the time or everyday or, even, on some regular schedule.  But you already know that you don’t like to be around anybody all the time.  Is that just me?  No, you need a break from that child.  Choose who you’ll be with when you leave, whether it’ll be your own time alone.  But leave.  Go away.  It’ll replenish you for the next contact.

Okay.  Your turn.  What’s next on this list?

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