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Every night after we put the kids to bed, we come downstairs and survey the damage. Most of the dinner mess is still out. There are splatters of olive oil on the stove, dirty dishes piled up around the sink. There’s enough food debris under Jacob and Lucy’s seats to assemble another dinner plate, given you had a very low bar of cleanliness. If you drift your eyes into the living room you’ll see colorful stacking cups strewn across the floor, pillows and blankets pulled off the couch, and a half empty snack cup of Cheerios on the ottoman. The play room? Oh heavens. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
Two tired gazes meet each other’s after two full days, and we get to work. We wipe down counters and sweep up crumbs. We crawl around on our hands and knees, throwing toys into their designated bins. We yell bits and pieces of disjointed conversation back and forth as we scramble around. When it’s all done, we retire to the sectional, and look at each other for what feels like the first time all day. It’s our couple hours of rest together. Later on we’ll bust out some chips and salsa, find something we both want to watch on Netflix, and stare at our phones on and off, but for a moment we just sit.
Here. In the middle of this mess we are married. We created our mess and we love our mess…but it’s a mess. Navigating the intersection of chaos and intimacy is difficult. Giving your best to someone when you have the least to give is hard. Connecting while juggling can feel impossible. It feels like each person longs to be seen, while we can’t keep our eyes from darting in a dozen different directions. This is the stage of being married while parenting young children, establishing a career, maintaining a home, fostering friendships and family relationships, and all the other odds and ends life throws at us.
I’m beginning to understand that unless Zac and I are extremely intentional in this season, our marriage can become a contribution to the mess. I’m learning we need to have both hands on the wheel right now. If we coast, we coast into a rut. There’s no room for marital apathy in the trenches of parenting young children. Fried nerves and total exhaustion can easily result in irritation and short fuses. Times of fun and connection can be usurped by the allure of numbing out. It’s not because we don’t love each other and enjoy being together, but because we are just. so. tired.
There are a few things we have learned to do in order to hold each other’s gaze in the storm. We are regularly messing up and needing forgiveness. We are far from perfect, but we are doing our best to stay connected in the midst of the crazy.
1. Date Nights In
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe date nights out are important, and we prioritize them as frequently as we can. Realistically, however, weekly date nights aren’t always possible. Sometimes things like newborn babies, financial limitations, and lack of childcare can thwart your plans of a regular date night. When you can’t get out as much as you’d like, there are some ways to make a night in feel special. Sitting outside when the weather is nice with a glass of wine and a chartcuterie (sliced meats, crackers, fruit, cheese, etc.) tray, playing a board game or card game and ordering a pizza, or of course, renting a movie and making a snack together are all fun ways to make staying at home feel like a date.
2. Play Together
Being an adult can be soul-crushingly serious. Being silly and belly-laughing with your spouse can breathe life back into you. There is so much demanding our thoughtfulness and decorum that letting loose with your person is such a bonding experience. It’s kinda like, oh hey, I like being around you. Thank you for reminding me I’m not just a robot for productivity, work, and child-rearing. I’m not sure if it’s because we got together when we were teenagers, and I’ve never fully matured around him or what, but Zac sees a goofy side of me that no one else will ever see. Or at least I hope not.
3. Daily Connection Time
This means screens down, T.V. off, focused energy and attention on your spouse for as long as it takes to really “check in” with how one another is doing that day. I am preaching to myself here, believe me. I try so hard to stay off my phone around my kids all day that at night once everyone is asleep, I can easily turn into an iPhone zombie. In an effort not to be “that mom” whose always on my phone,I can end up being “that wife” instead. When we make ourselves take this time daily, I feel much more connected to Zac and seen by him as well.
So we choose. We choose to pursue one another. We choose not to be part of the wreckage of our household at the end of the day. We choose each other, because the constant of our family is us. It was the two of us before anyone else showed up, and at the end of this wild ride, it will be the two of us again. We let our oneness coexist with the space of sippy cups and responsibility. We try to find each other among the mess of it all. We’re still here. We’re still us. A bride and groom who decided to start something so beautiful and so messy together.