Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Creating a fulfilling family life requires big-picture thinking
Dragville? My husband and I are expecting our second child, and I fear we are creating conditions for falling in a rut — two demanding careers, two children, not much money to pay someone else to do housework. I know people do this all the time, but have we doomed our marriage? What can we do to improve our chances?
Carolyn: I think you're doomed if you're trying to have the kids and careers and the nice/clean house without setting aside any energy to make your marriage and family life a priority.
It's a common mistake. It's so easy to focus on the individual items that make up your life: We need to do X for the kids, we need Y amount of money, Z is necessary for my job and I need this salary, etc. That's because they're small, incremental decisions, often conveniently black-and-white, so making them brings a sense of progress — all while leaving the bigger, scarier, grayer issues entirely unaddressed.
Just think about which decision you'd rather make: "Do I stay late tonight to get everything done?" or "Is a job that requires me to stay late the best path for me and my family right now, and, if not, what would I do instead?"
It's not a fair fight. The immediate decision always gets the attention. And the way of our culture now is to present more immediate decisions than ever before — post photo for relatives or check bank account or leave to pick up the kids or answer this one last e-mail?
If you want to improve your chances of creating a happy and functional home, then force yourself to think bigger when you make your decisions. Are these two jobs the best choice for you, are you in the right town if you need both incomes to afford it, are the kids better for having highly enriched lives or for having slower, more free-form schedules?
I also think the have-everything model of family — two careers plus desired number of kids plus cool stuff plus activities to satisfy all — encourages the view that cutting back is a sacrifice. For example, if the parents dial back their ambition, or relocate to a less expensive area, or downsize their living space or possessions, it's so often framed as giving something up or doing without.
Instead, it's actually doing with: It's choosing to have a family-based life, and all that entails. It's choosing time.
If you make that kind of choice with your mate, with a fulfilling family life as the goal for (at least this phase of) your marriage, and if you're looking out for each other instead of falling out of balance in who's contributing what, then kids and the attendant chaos can actually be good for your marriage.
Midwest: Lots of aspects of marriage maintenance and child-rearing are repetitive, not very exciting, and sometimes downright exhausting or gross. That's when you need to focus on the bigger picture: that this part won't last forever, and it's part of your ongoing investment into a meaningful life with another person, whether partner or child.
Carolyn: Amen on the gross.
And you're right, but both partners have to buy in, lest the marriage die of resentment, drift or neglect.