Before having kids, I read the following quote by Nora Ephron: “Having a baby is like throwing a hand grenade into a marriage.” At the time I laughed and thought—in my naive, pregnant state—that it would NEVER be like that for my husband and me. Well, fast forward to seven-and-a-half years of parenthood, and my husband and I have spent a fair bit of time picking up shrapnel.
When it comes to love and parenting together, here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned, that I keep learning, and that I will likely continue to relearn for the rest of our married life:
Give without expecting anything in return. When we expect something, anything back, we put conditions and limits on our love—this creates a prime breeding ground for future disappointments, failed expectations, and misunderstandings.
When emotions run high, don’t run in. Step back and breathe. My first instinct is to run in, to solve the issue right now in this very moment, when what is usually needed is space and time to let things settle. I have to constantly remind myself that there is rarely an issue that can’t be resolved with a clear head and a calm(er) heart.
Love isn’t all about romance. It’s about small gestures. One of my favourite gifts from my husband was a hairbrush and elastics. The fact that he noticed I needed them, he knew exactly which type of elastics I used, and had spent time thinking about the little things that make my day easier, touched me more than anything.
Find the humour. In the throes of a difficult time, it’s hard to imagine laughing. But if there’s a facial gesture, a phrase, or an inside joke that you can use to break the ice, laughter can sometimes be the best release. Until, at least, you can take some time and space to resolve the real problem.
Love yourself. This is likely one of the most overused (yet often dismissed) statements. But IT IS TRUE. If we don’t learn to love ourselves, all the nasty little things we haven’t accepted end up being thrust into our relationships and can cause damage. When we are content within, and have an open heart, we also need and expect less from others.
Listen. Listen to what your partner says, and not just with your ears. Listen with your body language, your eyes, without a cell phone in hand. It’s so easy to be distracted by the minutiae of daily life, but true listening works wonders.
Make Time for each other. It’s no coincidence that the more quality time we spend together, the more connected and happy we are. And it doesn’t have to mean going out on dates or spending money—we put a priority on our at-home date nights, and look forward to wine, good food, and uninterrupted conversations after the kids are in bed.
Choose love. Another hokey one, I know. And sometimes very hard when times are rough. But it is a choice. I always come back to why we chose to be together in the first place. There can never be enough hugs, enough "I love yous," or stolen kisses, and we will never regret that one last clasp of each other’s hand before we go to sleep at night.