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How to maintain a marriage through toddlerhood

March 21st, 2005 · 6 Comments

Enoch Choi on Saturday night enjoyed dinner with some of his partners from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

During the meal another physician at the table encouraged and strengthened my friend with his experience and advice. Enoch wrote:

He shared candidly the rules of maintaining a marriage thru toddlerhood (a time even more stressful to marriage than internship/residency):
– a spouse must share regular sexual intimacy with their spouse. even if you just lay there, that’s the most important need for the man
– the spouse that works more out of the home, must
– 1) come home and give the more-at-home spouse 2 hours off when they get home
– 2) limit time off to 2 hours to do their hobbies, and do parental duties in the rest of the time after work: wash all dishes, clothes, buy all groceries and do all needed shopping
– 3) continue this thru the time that the youngest is 4.5 years old because that’s when the more-at-home spouse will emerge out of the stupor of fatigue from caring for the kids, to have the energy to express their love again
– 4) examples of how to make this happen: bring kids to costco, keep them strapped in their car seat; bring to park, make sure you look up every 30 seconds; it was really clear that he’d done these things himself. pretty amazing.
– 5) the penalty for not following this advice is DIVORCE. pretty scary.

I was impressed that toddlerhood is considered more of a challenge to a marriage than internship and residency! I also appreciated the idea that it takes four years or more for the at-home-spouse to have more energy. Right now my children are 2.5, 4.5 and 6.75. I don’t think I’m being unfair to say that our youngest requires more work than her older two sisters, simply because she is a two year old. She needs help with her hygiene, clothes and food while her siblings are self-sufficient. At one point, I had 3 children under 5 years. That was a stressful time for us, with many changes in our lives, some of them unrelated to our children. Looking back I wish I knew then what I know now. On rough days I reassure myself that in a couple more years taking care of the kids will be easier, at least physically. Funny thing is, I’m not sure I realized how much effort it was, until the kids became independent; now taking care of one toddler seems like more work than it was to take care of three wee ones!

I like the idea of giving the at-home spouse 2 hours of hobby time a day! What a luxury! This wouldn’t work for our family schedule since we are a bit more nocturnal and Ted stops working at dinner time. If I took my two hours of hobby time then, we wouldn’t enjoy our time together as a family. As it is right now I have hobby time after the girls go to bed and on weekend afternoons.

The idea of doing parental duties and household chores in the time after work may be a good one for some families but probably wouldn’t work for ours either. Here on the island, many stores close by 5 to 7 at night so it would be difficult to run errands later in the day. I have to take the children with me to do some chores. Otherwise they wouldn’t get done. Plus it may be more efficient to run errands during the morning, when fewer people are shopping. I choose to do laundry, cleaning and dishes as much as possible during my time with the children while Ted works. The kids help me with the chores and I also free up time for later at night to spend with Ted.

Notice that the experienced physician did not suggest using money to solve problems. He didn’t say to hire a nanny or a babysitter or a house cleaner or concierge. I appreciate that he suggested how the parents could change the situation themselves. After all, money can make work easier but money can’t make a marriage work.

One further comment: without discussing explicit details, I’m not sure I agree with the advice on intimacy.  Is it satisfying a husband’s emotional need if his wife doesn’t seem interested in him? I believe men want to be wanted, just as women do. My advice would be that intimacy of all kinds flows best when partners feel strong emotionally, physically and spiritually. Giving each other time away from the kids and duties, finding time alone and time together for refreshment, may help. Desire, like love, can be a choice, and may be made in the mind (at least for some women).

A paragraph later in Enoch’s post may provide more context for the advice given:

This is not what i expected tonight. It was like getting pleasantly walloped – but from a coworker I could trust, who actually did all of this, but suffered from not getting the physical intimacy from the more-at-home spouse that he needed.

I hope Enoch doesn’t feel too walloped but from his respective blog post it seems that he would both agree it was an excellent evening of blessing. 

Tags: marriage

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 enoch choi // Mar 21, 2005 at 12:08 pm

    you’re sweet, Julie. after we wrote those posts, we chatted about both you and Katherine, how your posts are sweetened with a touch of grace that lightens this kind of tough stuff.

    can you believe we talked about this stuff with a senior MD of my group?!?! at a formal dinner? kinda crazy. That’s how God is, he surprises you in the most unusual places 😉

  • 2 Betsy Devine // Mar 21, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    Toddlerhood is hard, I remember it well. Our best trick was to hire a neighborhood teen to babysit every Thursday night. That meant we had to find something to do together outside the house every Thursday night, and many times we just went to Taco Bell followed by our neighborhood bookstore.

    Your friend’s sex advice to young couples is very right about what young husbands need, but let me add the missing piece about what young wives need: the feeling that they’re loved, respected, and valued. The needs of both can be met during intimate private time that includes lots of touching and loving to go with the sex. I read somewhere that 20 minutes of physical contact a day–hugging counts, even hugging while you’re sleeping counts–is good for people and great for marriages.

  • 3 enoch choi // Mar 21, 2005 at 2:40 pm

    Betsy, i’m hoping that young wives feel loved and valued with the work that the young husbands are encouraged to provide… but i’m sure many women have a love language that is more verbal, or as you suggest more towards non-sexual physical affection.

  • 4 Betsy Devine // Mar 21, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    Enoch is right that sharing the work is a love language too. In fact, just sharing the struggle to make marriage work is a good love language.

  • 5 Gene // Mar 21, 2005 at 11:57 pm

    A very interesting post. Having gone through the experience of bringing up children when I look back the time spent with my kids was and continues to be the best time of my life. And it just goes by too fast.

  • 6 Victoria // Mar 25, 2005 at 8:28 am

    Thank you for sharing the great marriage tips. As a former physician and mother of a 16-month old and a 4-year old, I agree that marriage can quickly go bad when parents are physically worn out for caring for the needs of little ones.

    But I figure that God made little ones so needy and He also knows that marriage is important so there must be solutions on how to manage it all.

    The answer is, as your post hints, that one can really only have two jobs during this time- being mommy and being wife- without risking some serious damage to the family unit.

    I speak from experience because I have tried a number of work-family arrangements. Now I work from home as a freelance writer and parenting coach but I have to admit that my first priority must be my family.

    In the weeks that my priorities shift more towards the work side of things, chaos ensues. This is despite the fact that my husband also works from home and is absolutely wonderful with caring for the kids and the house.

    Family life needs a lot of attention. I did not learn this until I had children.

    Are we going to do better teaching our children the truth?

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