Friday, January 9, 2009

The Marriage v. The Baby Carriage

Dooce wrote an interesting post Wednesday asking what her readers found more difficult, marriage or parenthood.

Like her, my answer was immediately parenthood, and I was shocked to read the comments and see that was the minority position. I found myself nodding pretty forcefully along with this paragraph of her post: "And while motherhood has become so much more natural to me there is still so much uncharted territory ahead, and I find that each age is so different than the one that preceded it that sometimes, although infrequently, it feels like we're starting from the beginning all over again. Sure, there are similar surprises in marriage, but right now almost eight years into our relationship I feel like what we share is the rock I use to stabilize myself when being jarred by everything else around me."

I've almost written about this topic several times- how people are always telling me how hard marriage is supposed to be and even if I think I'm happy now, I should "just wait" a few more years until it really gets tough. First off, I hate it when people throw "just wait" into a sentence. It's only used when Person A is expressing happiness and Person B wants to dampen it- why is that necessary? People were big on that when I was engaged and again when I was pregnant and I wanted to say: Look, I get that there are times when being a wife/mother will be hard, but life is hard, so that doesn't come as a shock, and I refuse to tell every random person about all the difficulties I foresee just so they don't think I'm being irresponsively optimistic- fight your urge to kill my happiness! Argh.

Anyway. My point is that I have never found marriage to be particularly difficult; in fact, it's probably the most natural, most happiness-inducing thing I've ever done. Sharing my life with JP comes easily- I've been sharing almost every minute with him since I was 18. And maybe that helps. We grew up together- the night we met we spent hours talking about our dreams- all of which seemed so possible as a freshman and junior year of college, and then we spent the next four years pursuing them with the other in mind. We made compromises easily- there wasn't anything worth doing that didn't involve each other. The little stuff came easy too. We were already living together when we got engaged, and even before we moved in I never slept alone, so I was used to sharing my personal space. We joined finances when we got engaged since I was waiting to go to grad school (and planning a wedding) and he had a job. When we got married I had less than $300 to my name and he didn't have a whole lot more than that- our money has always been "ours" and I can honestly say we've never had a single argument about money or the spending of it.

The big transitions never felt big. I thought the move to Chicago might be difficult, after all, I was 1,000 miles away from anyone I knew, I was absolutely miserable and overwhelmed in law school, and he was working insane hours at a boutique investment bank, but I remember the first year of marriage as one of the happiest I've ever had. We agreed on starting our family at the same time, and while I worried about the strains on our relationship once the baby came, I shouldn't have. When we brought Landon home from the NICU, I was still on summer break and he was working full-time, but as we got in bed he turned and asked, "which feeding do you want to take?" and I knew that we'd sail through this too. All through the sleepless nights, the DCFS hell, and everything else, I worried about everything except us. In my mind it's life that's hard, marriage makes it exponentially easier. I can face anything as long as I have him to cuddle in bed with at the end of the day.

Motherhood, on the other hand, felt like it threw me against a brick wall. Part of it may have been the newness of it all- I'd dated before meeting JP and we'd been together for six years before having Landon, so while I knew how to be a significant other, I had no idea how to be a mom. Motherhood was also physically and emotionally overwhelming in a way that sharing my life with JP just isn't. And it's not that we never fight or have days where we're out of sync, but in the end we can talk about it, share our sides, and figure out whatever is wrong (we do a lot of talking- no TV and generally no lights, just talking before we go to sleep)- I couldn't do that with a baby. JP ultimately wants me to be happy (and well rested!) and will do just about anything to make sure of that- Landon, not so much. And with Landon part of me is always questioning whether I'm doing the right thing for him, especially when he was a newborn, whereas I can trust JP to look out for himself or tell me what he wants. That need to do your best by your baby and not always knowing what that "best" is makes parenthood so hard for me- that and the fact that as soon as I have anything figured out Landon immediately changes.

I love both of them uniquely, separately, and more than myself- that came easy for each. But when I compare the challenge of assuming the new role and the maintenance of each relationship, marriage has been much, much easier than motherhood. And I know we haven't been married that long and I'm sure there will be bumpy times ahead, but we've already been through quite a lot and I can't imagine anything we couldn't face side by side. Someone told me the other day that raising a child is much more rewarding than being married, but I disagree- sharing your life with someone you love is unbelievably rewarding. For me, it's all wrapped up together in one big bundle of love and challenge and happiness and frustration. But if you're comparing the component parts, I think marriage is a breeze compared to being a parent. What do you think?


  1. I have to agree with you. Motherhood is five thousand times harder than marriage. Maybe thats because I have been married 14 years now, and we got married young - its never really been hard.

  2. After 25 years and 6 children I can say with some authority ..... parenting is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Our marriage was difficult one time and that was after the birth of our first child. I was adjusting to staying at home with no sleep and having him work 80+ hours a week. It was miserable for a while. But we got through it and never looked back.
    Parenting ..... always changing. Yes, some things get easier as they age, but you just take on something else. It's constantly trading one hard thing for the next.
    It's great, too ..... but oh, so much harder. Or maybe that was just me ..... and my marriage.

  3. I'm with you and dooce. Motherhood is *way* tougher.

  4. Motherhood - at least until they are adults - is harder.
    1) Spouse doesn't NEED you to survive, where as young kids do. So, when you aren't feeling well, you can let your husband fend for himself. But, you can't do that with a 1 yr old!
    2) Spouses don't require quite as much supervision. You can trust them a lot more!

  5. I hardly comment, but here's my two cents - just to be contraire :-)

    I think both marriage and motherhood are a breeze, but marriage has gotten an inkling harder after having the kiddos. But it's mostly a healthy cycle. Happy marriage = happy parenting, and vice versa.

    But seriously, having kids was the easiest thing I've ever done. Hands down. Thank my lucky stars too.

  6. Bengali Chick1/9/09, 5:20 PM

    Well, you already know about my struggles to even get close to motherhood. So marriage is way easier, no doubt.

    I'm kind of like you, I don't worry about MPS -- I always know we can conquer anything. Now motherhood is some crazy scary sh*t!!!!

  7. I agree with you. I've only been a mom for 11 weeks, but those weeks have tested me and pushed me to the edge far more than my 2.5 years of marriage ever have.

    Having a baby is so difficult, and there are LOTS of days when I regret doing it. I've never really thought that about having a husband.

  8. wow, lag liv, (sorry I'm don't blog and am anonymous reader) but as a lawyer as someone who is not a mom but as someone who is in a long term stable relationship and am thinking about soon becoming a mom this is one of the most interesting posts.

    We've been engaged for a couple of years (moved into our hours and our waiting until I get called until the wedding / baby)

    I have to say, I never quite thought about how marriage v. motherhood have so many different factors involved. you certainly gave me quite a bit to think about.

  9. I agree with you... partly. Parenting has come natural to me, but it is unrelenting. Like you said, you are constantly questioning yourself in a way that does not happen in your marriage. It is hard to feel like a competent Mom. Moreso, certainly, than a competent wife. However, now that we have kids and we have been parents for 4 years, marriage has gotten tougher because we don't really have time to be us anymore. We are always busy being Mommy and Daddy, lawyer and professional, hopefully getting some me time in, and then couple time comes last. We've been working on couple time, but add two kids, two demanding careers, a house, and a dog into the mix, it is pretty darn hard to fit in couple time. Marriage before kids? That was a breeze!

  10. Great post, Lag Liv. I'm not sure that I 100% agree with you, but great post. And I really, truly hope that you feel that way for the rest of your marriage (and hence, the rest of your life) because I think that's the way it should be. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's the way my Mom felt about her life too.

    Marriage can be rough at times but you're right, no one should try to tramp on your happiness. And parenting, wow, that one can be really tough. As you well know, they don't come with an instruction manual. Add in special needs and it's a lot tougher.

    But - and here's the important thing, I suppose - both parenting and marriage can (and should) be such hugely rewarding parts of your life. The parts that make the rest (good and bad) more meaningful and better. Sorry, this comment is so long... must be the lawyer in me! ;-)

  11. it's great that marriage has come so easily to you! i didn't think that was common- i think motherhood is harder right now but i can;t predict whether that will always be the case. so many people get divorced...but you can never really renounce your children (well you could i guess)... i wonder how i would answer this during one of mt "fights" with my husband, but right now all i can think about is how sleep deprived i am as a mother.

  12. So, I think I kind of have to say "motherhood" by default, since I've been married for 8 years and don't find it hard (we were together for 8 years before that), and I find motherhood so daunting that I don't intend to do it!

    I'm a little shocked that so many people would say marriage is harder, but then, if parenthood seemed so much more difficult, I guess the species wouldn't survive very easily!

  13. For me, marriage is harder than motherhood. However, my kids' needs are pretty simple right now. I sorta dread all the grade school and high school stuff to come.

  14. Wow - I'm in the VAST minority! I think it's because I got married at 37 that I find marriage SO much harder than parenthood. Marriage challenges me, constantly. We each have our own ways of doing things, we know what we like and how we like it. We are often tired (well, it's true!) and have little patience for one another. Parenthood, on the other hand, has been MUCH easier for me. My first child was the easy, easy dream child - and I truly felt as if I was finally doing the thing I'd been born to do. My second was (and is!) so, so, so hard... and yet still, I find parenting her to be easier than marriage, on the whole. I feel as if I'm in tune with my kids in ways I may never be in tune with my husband (again, maybe because we were both so fully developed, when we met and married?). I'm not sure how to explain this. Just that parenting is easier.

  15. I completely agree. Everyone told me how hard marriage would be and it was so much easier than parenting. But I will say that marriage was made harder by parenting. Had I realized, I would have discussed our views on how to raise a child before marriage.

  16. Sometimes marriage and parenthood are the same thing. :D

    Parenthood is definitely more exhausting. I was up at 4:30 this morning being SCREAMED at, I feel your pain. Whew!

  17. Wow, I'm almost questioning my marriage. Parenthood has been so much easier than marriage. And, when I think about it, the only difficult things about parenting is when my husband's personality comes out in my daughter. Hmmm... But then, I have ALWAYS been a baby person, and have a degree in Early Childhood Education and Child Psychology. I was single for 6 years prior to meeting my husband. So, to me, parenting becomes much more natural. It's much easier for me to love my child unconditionally than it is my husband.

  18. I agree with you 100%.
    I wonder if the people who say parenting is easier either have some sort of natural knack and love for the actual act of parenting, and not just love for their kids, and/or if they are less likely to view marriage as a partnership of two individuals and more as needing to fill a certain role well.

  19. totally unrelated but I just moved sites and updated my links and linked to you.