Mr. Dolphin and I recently celebrated our 7th anniversary (11 years total) and did so in a very tame fashion: we took the kids to the park in the morning, then turned on the TV to watch our alma mater play in the football season opener after they went down for the evening (Go Irish!). Contrast this with our first anniversary when we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Ka in Las Vegas, our second when we moved across the country to start a new adventure, our third when we went to Iceland, or our fourth when we journeyed back to where we met and watched Notre Dame’s home opener in person. Pre-kids, we liked to celebrate our anniversary in big ways. Life with two kids is definitely different, but our anniversary celebration this year still seemed perfect.
Nearly four years married in this picture, celebrating the wedding of my cousin. One of my all-time favorite pictures because of the memory that it holds: it was on this night that I changed my mind about never wanting kids!
Seven years ago, Mr. Dolphin and I celebrated with our closest friends and family, ready to join our lives together forever. Our wedding was one of the most fun days of my life and we have fond memories of the celebration. I cherish the early years of our relationship where we flew all over the world together, spontaneously hit up music festivals, and stayed up late watching movies and football.
Today, I cherish the ways in which having children forced us to grow. How having children made me realize how love grows, not only for our boys, but for my husband as well.
After Lion was born and we became first-time parents, I worried about how our relationship would change. Up until about a month or so before I became pregnant, I didn’t even think I wanted children. I loved our life together, the freedom we had, the adventures we shared and was worried that our life as we knew it, the marriage as I appreciated it, was coming to an end. I worried about how sleep deprivation would affect Mr. Dolphin, a man who loves his sleep and relished sleeping in past ten on Saturdays. I didn’t know how I would rein in my Type A personality when it came to the kids and worried about driving my husband crazy. I worried that Mr. Dolphin’s love would be diverted, that our kids would take it all and there wouldn’t be enough for me.
While those first months were a bit tough, especially as we dealt with a colicky baby, I fell in love with Mr. Dolphin all over again. Actually, more accurately, I fell in love in a totally different way, watching him become a father. Cheesy, I know, but I really did see Mr. Dolphin in a completely different way. I always knew that Mr. Dolphin would be a great father, even before I was certain he would be a good husband, but watching him with Lion was still surprising in many ways. Mr. Dolphin teared up the moment Lion was born, he held him gently the first time he picked up his son, he loved cuddling with Lion on his chest, and he put him in the stroller and went on walks at 3 in the morning when Lion was a month old and refused to sleep. My love grew, not only to accommodate this tiny human that we had been blessed with, but also for Mr. Dolphin. I realized that not only did my love for Mr. Dolphin grow, but his grew for me, as well; my fears that love was some zero sum game, that it was a finite resource, were allayed as time went on.
That love grows was evident with the birth of Panda, too; I feared throughout pregnancy that Panda wouldn’t get as much love as Lion because I couldn’t imagine feeling the way I felt about Lion twice, until I actually met Panda! Having children has been a blessing on so many levels, but learning how powerful love can be and witnessing how it grows, both as a giver and a recipient, has been one of the top areas of growth for me.
Having children has forced us to be more forgiving and talk even when we’re angry. Some of our bad habits, like stonewalling or defensiveness, aren’t behaviors that are as easy to engage in when the kids are around. And because it’s not as easy to shut down or ignore each other because we have to communicate about the children and we make a conscious effort to model good behavior, the little squabbles melt away (truly forgotten instead of building resentment) and we end up talking about the bigger ones.
Post-kids, we learned to be less selfish. A line from The Art of a Good Marriage comes to mind: “It is doing things for each other, not in the attitude of duty or sacrifice, but in the spirit of joy.” Somehow, we stopped keeping score and when we did, our marriage grew stronger and our joy increased.
Marriage is not perfect. We make conscious efforts to show our love and appreciation for each other. We ensure that we put in time and effort into making our relationship, well, a marriage instead of just a team of co-parents. There are dozens of ways we work to keep our marriage healthy with kids and I am proud to be an equal partner, not only in parenthood, but also in marriage.
While parenthood created new challenges for marriage, in many ways it strengthened us too. In the early days, we felt that all the cracks in our marriage were exposed, but applying what we learned about parenting to our marriage somehow strengthened our relationship. We grew in patience as we dealt with colic (and now a toddler), and learned to extend that patience to each other. We verbalized our appreciation for each other more as we taught Lion the importance of “thank you” and other manners. As a result, each of us felt our contributions were more valued. Because we were more thoughtful about our relationship with our children and actively talked about parenting choices, we became more intentional about our relationship with each other.
At the end of the day, our 7th anniversary celebration was a low-key affair (as were our other two anniversaries since Lion was born), but it felt comfortable, easy and, well, right.