One recent Sunday, after struggling to feed a toddler who wouldn’t stop moving and reading six books before putting him to bed, I wandered into the living room and snapped on the TV. The movie, “This is 40,” was on.
I remember watching this 2012 movie years ago, when it first came out—before I was 40 and a mom and I didn’t understand much of it. Why were they always yelling at each other? I didn’t get it.
But this time around, it all made sense. That scene where married couple Pete and Debbie confess to each other their fantasies about how they would want to kill the other—yeah, that hit home.
Being married is hard enough. My husband and I recently celebrated our 5th anniversary—and we started that morning bickering about something so inconsequential I can’t even remember it. Then throw in a rambunctious toddler and three dogs who love attention—and all the stress and drama of working full-time jobs, maintaining a home, managing (or not) our finances and figuring out what’s for dinner every night—and it’s hard to believe we’ve even survived this long.
Marriage. Is. Tough.
And marriage with kids, a mortgage, demanding jobs—well, that can break you. (Good thing it isn’t tax season.)
My husband and I were just talking one morning about how much time we’d have if we didn’t have dogs or a kid. We could go surfing after work, take quick weekend jaunts to a Neighbor Island, sleep in, watch an entire movie—an adult one—in one sitting. We spend so much time preparing food (that the toddler won’t always eat, anyway), walking dogs, driving the kid to and from the sitter, going to swim lessons and soccer practices. I spent hundreds of dollars every month on diapers and board books and crayons and squeeze packs. There are doctor’s appointments, ER visits, birthday parties, preschool interviews, play dates. We’re lost in a schedule that isn’t our own, that has nothing to do with us. It’s a selfless existence.
While there are so many perks to raising a family in your 40s—you’re (more) financially settled, you’ve reached (hopefully) your professional goals, you’ve traveled and played and (maybe) got it out of your system—there are definite downsides. For one, you’re tired, like, all the time. You can’t rebound from the lack of sleep like you could when you were in your 20s. (Remember partying—or studying—all night, getting maybe two hours of sleep and still getting to work on time the next day—and functioning?) And for another, you don’t have the same patience you probably once had. You’re not going to put up with a toddler throwing a tantrum at Macy’s. You tell him, “I’m leaving you here,” and you kinda mean it.
But above all, you lived most of your adult life the way you wanted to. You had your own schedule, you did your own thing. And you did it for so long, it’s hard to change that. But that’s exactly what kids do. They’re disruptive. And it’s easy, at our age, to resist and even resent that.
So, of course, this all affects your marriage.
How can you expect to plan date night when you don’t even have time to take a shower? How can you “emotionally connect” with your partner when all you want to do is fall into a coma on the couch?
You’re tired and you’re impatient—and you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in three years. (Oh, and you’re still paying the membership fees.) So you snap at the person you’re always around—not the one who’s signing your paycheck or delivering your groceries from Safeway. (Those people are important.)
Marriage is hard enough. It really is. I have friends without kids (or dogs, or chickens) and they struggle with communication, money, social media use, remote control possession. But kids add another layer of stress, another set of challenges, and it takes a lot of conscious effort to stay above it all and make it work.
But there’s a flip side to all of this: Despite the zombie-like state we seem to be in at all times, we are probably closer than we’ve ever been. Sure, we rarely go out alone and forget taking trips without the kid. Still, we’re closer because we’re sharing this crazy experience of raising a son together. We’re figuring this out as a team—installing car seats, researching preschools, potty-training a 2-year-old who exuberantly says, “I loooooove diapers!”—and that has made our relationship a lot stronger.
I can’t do this alone. (Well, maybe I could, but I really don’t want to.) We need each other to navigate this new life. It’s us against him, the dogs, the world. That’s what our marriage has become.
Are there arguments? Of course. Do we neglect each other? All the time. Will there ever be a time when we can sleep in? We hope! But for now, this is where we are, this is life and marriage at 40. And I couldn’t ask for more.
Less, maybe, but definitely not more.