Marriage After Kids Was Harder Than I Thought

There was one particularly common piece of advice given to me at my bridal shower: don’t go to sleep angry with your husband.

What I wish is that someone had told me the truth: relationships are complicated, and multiply that by 1,000 when you have children.

Kevin and I lived our first years of marriage in harmony. Occasionally someone would say, “You guys are so cute. I want to be like you when I grow up.” We cherished these compliments because they felt like objective indicators of our relationship status. We did not become arrogant because of them, but in a way we felt indestructible.

This was not how I envisioned us when I walked down the aisle to marry my soul mate. But marriage exclusively is different from marriage with children.

DW McKinney

When I became pregnant an imperceptible shift occurred that, in retrospect, seeded the dividing line that began to split us apart. People only directed questions about the minute details of my unborn daughter’s future to me. Had I found a daycare for her? Was I going to choose public or private school? Was I ready for all the diapers I would have to change? Kevin fielded jokes about “dealing with the extra estrogen” in the home and inquiries about his job. 

The conversations appointed us in two distinct roles. As a mother, I was expected to concern myself with the care of the children and household. As a father, Kevin was expected to focus on work. Once our daughter was born, I was responsible for prioritizing my child and household over having a career. Social expectations for my husband, however, were forgiving.

Even though we recognized the flaws in these ideas, we still internalized these discussions. They were cultural norms that had been ingrained in us since childhood. They underscored our grandparents’ and parents’ interactions with their spouses. They appeared in our conversations with our married friends with greater frequency once we announced the pregnancy.

These discussions revealed that children and household matters were the purview of women. And if women wanted to change the norm, the onus was on them. This was best seen in a New York Times essay about a woman who trained her husband to be a father. The title alone implied that she was responsible for acculturating her husband to a lifestyle that was foreign to him.  I read the essay, then the commentary about it on Twitter. I should have known better.

Most people expressed disgust and disapproval with the author’s husband. They argued that he was purposefully ignorant, infantilized, or simply didn’t care. However, coded in some responses was the implication that the author herself was wrong for marrying him and allowing him to be this way. 

The internet is rife with general tales of motherhood struggles. We often hear the sanitized versions, either because we are told to keep that information hidden or because it can be difficult to bear publicly.

DW McKinney

I identified with the author’s desire for her husband to anticipate the baby’s (and her) needs, but I also sympathized with her struggle. I believe people misunderstood the author’s intention. There was nuance missing from the discussion about the physical and emotional toll that parenting has on relationships. Couples aren’t given parenting manuals. Sure, there are books dedicated to parenting and raising babies, but those imply a privilege that many aren’t afforded. When you are in the thick of it, you often don’t have time to read what to do. That doesn’t even account for the various ways parenting challenges your mental and physical capacities beyond what any instructional guide can tell you. Moreover, parents are expected to just know how to raise their children from the moment they are born, but sometimes it takes awhile for the nurturing aspect to click. And any relationship preparation falls flat under the strain. 

The internet is rife with general tales of motherhood struggles. We often hear the sanitized versions, either because we are told to keep that information hidden or because it can be difficult to bear publicly.

These articles got me thinking about my own marriage. Now with our second child, Kevin and I are more in sync than ever before, but it wasn’t always that way. I felt inspired to “interview” him about some of the things we went through during our first year of parenthood. 


D: What was the first year of being a parent like for you?


K: Your birth experience was an awakening for me, just in the sheer amount of energy required. It showed me how much energy I would need to contribute going forward. Your experience was a stressful and demanding time. We were completely spent afterward, just exhausted, and then that extended into the first three months [of parenting]. I had also just started a new job doing something completely different than I was before. I felt like a fraud and that I didn’t deserve to be hired. I was still getting my legs under me at work and I felt I had to give more of myself at work than before.


D: What do you think that year was like for me?


K: You were tired all the time, especially in the beginning. There came a point when we got the house, where things changed. You got a job. We got day care. All that happened at the same time. It was like a changing point in your energy.


D: You felt like we were stressed, like we were busy, for only three months?!


K: Yeah. You don’t think so?


D: No. Not at all.


Through further discussion, I peeled back the veil for my husband. We had day care, but because of our schedules, I was still responsible for preparing our daughter for day care each day, dropping her off and picking her up. Any sick days, doctor’s appointments, and possible late pick ups also fell on my shoulders, which were sagging under work responsibilities. I don’t know what my husband saw, but my exhaustion lasted well beyond the first three months of parenthood. Within the first year, I was often broken over the crucible of self-sacrifice, while my husband appeared to live his life unbothered.

I became a utilitarian object that fixed, cleaned, and maintained everything once the sun cracked the horizon. My mind cycled through household chores, bills to pay, and upcoming appointments. I performed the mental calculation of dirty laundry and days left in the week, and assessed if our daughter was eating and drinking enough. Personal relaxation began with my bedtime routine and ended when my head hit the pillow to sleep. 

I carried the mental load of everything. 


Children disrupt relationship dynamics in ways that no parent can adequately prepare for.

DW McKinney


D: When did our relationship break down?


K: I think prior to moving into our house. Back then, I dreaded the evening. I was always on edge, stressed. It was hard for me to be open to you. I’d be sitting in the office preparing to leave at 6:00 PM. I’d think, “Is there anything I can do to give me more quiet time before I go home to a screaming baby?” I wanted something to relieve me from that. It gave me a better attitude to bring home, but we had less time together because of it.


D: You never told me that.


K: I didn’t want to talk about it at the time. I felt selfish and I hated myself for it. I didn’t want to be judged for feeling like shit and for acting like shit [and] for being shit. The stress was so unbearable, and I didn’t know how to escape it. 


D: Did you ever feel like me complaining about doing all the [house]work was unjustified?


K: In a way, but it was a self-reinforcing idea. “I’m not here, I didn’t do it, it’s your mess…” but it was equally my mess. That was just how I was feeling at the time.


D: Because you were working, I thought you wouldn’t see things my way. I was afraid to bring it up. 


K: We were both resisting the temptation to fight about what we were fighting about. I guess just because you’re self-aware doesn’t mean the problem you’re aware of can’t be what you’re fighting about at the time.



Children disrupt relationship dynamics in ways that no parent can adequately prepare for. The constant changes that children bring, especially in the early years, make it difficult to find stability. Conversations become more task-focused. Intimacy and quiet time radically diminishes. Bitterness and resentment grow because of perceived differences in who is doing what.

As the tension rose between us, our attempt to fix our problems by not fighting introduced strife into the relationship.

This all culminated in the breakdown of our marriage. We no longer lived like we were in love. Our relationship had become platonic, and we lived like roommates.

This was not how I envisioned us when I walked down the aisle to marry my soul mate. But marriage exclusively is different from marriage with children.

The greatest thing we did for the health of our marriage was increase our communication. In our initial conversations, we discovered that we both were exhausted and had exceeded our capabilities. We were managing our mental health in different but extreme ways—I worked more to distract myself from depression and he prioritized his free time above everything. As we continually sat down to talk about the state of our relationship, we assessed how we were managing the household and raising our daughter. 

The way we loved each other started to evolve. Our environment was so stressful and anxiety-laden that intimacy seemed unthinkable. In turn, we sat aside time for each other. We talked more about our personal goals. We hugged, kissed, and held hands more. We chose the whole over the individual by prioritizing us.

Now, as parents, we are on a seesaw shifting our weight (responsibilities) to find the balance. We’ve realized that we are not passive participants, letting the instrument of parenthood break us apart. We must wield it for our betterment because amidst the unceasing tasks, there is one thing that deserves the most attention: our love for each other. 


photography by Unsplash