I Put My Marriage on the Backburner for My Kid (& I Don’t Regret it)

When I was pregnant, I had all kinds of fears about parenting, not least of which was the worry that bringing another person into our family would negatively affect my relationship with my husband. Despite my big family and his ever-present group of friends, it had always been us against the world and I treasured our closeness fiercely. As excited as I was to have a child, I couldn’t help but feels pangs of concern that our new addition would tear away at the bond we’d already established.

My fears were justified…and not. Within hours of our daughter’s birth (or really, when I was in labor even), I began to feel it. Even as meeting this small beautiful person made us feel more alive and more in love than ever, I was already territorial about the baby and even the pain. We ended up needing an emergency C-section and I remember feeling miffed about the fact that he got to hold her first. Learning to breastfeed was equal parts stressful and amazing, but doing so night and day in the early weeks made me feel both lucky to be the more “needed” parent, and bitter about the sleep ratio, which was ever in his favor.

Related: I Refuse to Apologize for Being ‘Attached’ to My Daughter

And then there were the sheer needs of the child. As we had found ourselves living in a new city for my husband’s work when I got pregnant, we made the mutual decision that rather than look for a not-forever job in my field that didn’t pay much more than childcare, I’d stay home with our daughter. The act of becoming a stay-at-home mom meant that I spent more time with her than he did, so I established the bulk of her routine.

Don’t get me wrong: Seeing my husband spend time with her, give her the occasional bottle of breastmilk, or take her on a walk around the neighborhood to give me some space was lovely. But even when we were getting along great, we were still like two ships passing in the night. One parent’s “on” time was the other’s “off.” Weekend brunches when she was young enough to sleep in the stroller next to us were few and far between. Often, they ended with me nursing her in the car while he went off to run an errand.

At home, my bond with my daughter felt like the only thing in the world that really mattered. I would sometimes find myself on the phone with my own mother, crying because I wondered if I was doing enough to make my little girl feel secure and loved. In retrospect, I realize some of these dramatics were the results of sheer exhaustion and postpartum hormones, but at the time all that felt important to me was making the baby realize how deeply she was loved.

I know my husband loved her from the start, too, but their bond was different from ours. It was built on fun and the celebration of milestones like first foods and crawling, rather than an intense daily grind softened by lots of cuddles and a constant aching need. As I had feared I would when pregnant, I pushed my husband away a little to make room for our girl in my heart. I knew he still needed me, and I did my best to carve out time for him when she was sleeping, but when the baby was up, she held my sole focus. Only I wasn’t as sad about it as I’d expected I would be.

As our daughter got a little older and we moved to our home city near family and trusted friends, we added the occasional date night to our routine. But even these were spent talking mostly about our daughter, despite the cloud hovering over my head that seemed heavy with the notion that I was not focusing enough on my marriage. We both tried — I know we did — by asking questions or sharing stories about things unrelated to her. But as much as I nodded when he prattled on about work or he, in turn, raised an eyebrow or offered a laugh at the sharing of gossip from my inner circle, I could always feel it. She was just more important, now, to both of us.

A funny thing happened right around the year marker of our daughter’s life. Just as she cut way down on nursing and started to walk, she became less of a mystery to my husband and ever so slightly distanced herself from me. Our bond, already cemented, didn’t waver. But the two of them strengthened theirs immeasurably. And now that they can explore the world together and she’s down for more of the type of fun we always enjoyed pre-baby, life has gotten richer for all of us.

Now, we can take a ferry ride into the city together and walk around as a family, even enjoy dinner out, tantrum-free if she’s had a nap. But whereas in the early days, I felt a desperate need to be tied to our daughter at all times for fear that our bond would weaken, I’ve started to realize that we’re good. We’re solid. And the space has grown to accommodate the attention and care my husband deserves and once had.

A few weeks ago, my hubby and I did an overnight without our daughter in celebration of his birthday. We walked around the city after a couple of cocktails laughing like old times, cuddled up in the hotel room, and watched the kind of geeky documentary we always used to have heaps of time for before we had a kid. Of course we talked about our little girl, even admitted to missing her, but I know we both felt content with the moment. And even more so, with what it meant for our marriage.

It’s taken just as long for me to understand that this subtle distancing is all okay, as it did for us to get into it and then out. Becoming parents changed absolutely everything about my life with my husband — from our routine and finances to yes, our bond. We had to let things cool off romantically for the first year of her life as we learned how to take care of a baby and ourselves on very little sleep and seemingly never enough caffeine. But, for us, the reward far outweighed the sacrifice.

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