If you’re a hopeless romantic like me, you’ve watched Cinderella a zillion times and perhaps enjoyed Bridgerton (last year’s Netflix hit) just as much. Of course, none of it is based on the realities of being married with kids, but it’s an escape for me—a fantasy I allow myself to indulge in. But I am now more interested in what love looks like when you’re married with children. I want the raw, juicy, and inspiring details of a real love that exists despite life’s ups and downs. I am especially interested in these stories as we approach yet another year living through a pandemic, which has placed couples into more frequent proximity to each other than we ever had before. We love our partners, but being under the same roof for 24 hours a day 7 days a week under quarantine may look slightly different from Prince Charming saving Cinderella with her glass slipper.
Keeping a marriage healthy and strong is challenging when we are having many competing priorities as mothers. We have heard that honest and open conversations are helpful in a marriage. We also are aware that having a healthy sex life with our partners can increase intimacy. But what does love look like in the mundaneness of dropping off kids at school daily, paying the mortgage, preparing dinners, and getting the bath water just the right temperature our kids love?
What does love look like in the mundaneness of dropping off kids at school daily, paying the mortgage, preparing dinners, and getting the bath water just the right temperature our kids love?
After being married for 10 years, I have a better understanding of what makes my husband tick, why he does the things he does, and how I can accept him as a whole human being who is different from me. I hope he too understands these things in me.
I believe there is value in appreciating the mundane and the simple things in our marriage that may translate to love. Nothing, of course, beats an “I love you” from a spouse, but perhaps if we look closer, we can see that love is actually in the little things we do for each other on a daily basis. My hope is that this will help us all appreciate the love that exists in our lives even if we are not wearing ball gowns and glass slippers while Prince Charming whisks us away to live in a castle. Below are some ideas on how to translate what love can look like in a marriage with children.
“Go do ______. I’ll take care of the kids.”
When you have children, time is precious. Time is also fleeting. In many ways, it moves slowly and also not quickly enough. Because of these reasons, when your partner gives you the gift of time, this is the golden offering equating to “I love you.” To be clear, it’s giving you free time plus your spouse taking care of the kids so you can truly have a carefree break. This may happen on your birthday or Mother’s Day, but I am referring to these “just go and I’ll take care of the kids” gifts that are given just because, with no hidden agenda.
As a writer, I always welcome moments throughout my day when I can sneak off and type away on my computer. I also look forward to 50 minutes when I can hop on my Peloton bike without interruption from the kids. Every week, my husband will graciously give me time to myself (and I also reciprocate the favor) so I can do these things on my own in the light of day when the kids are awake. He may not say I love you, but I feel that he sees what I need—the gift of mommy alone time—and he gives it to me just because. This is love.
“I’ll make the meal today.”
If we ever counted the number of meals and snacks we have made for our family in one week, I am certain we would all be shocked. Whether you co-cook with your partner or one of you is the main chef and the other does other duties, meal prep is a consuming (and delicious) part of being a parent. It’s challenging enough to constantly come up with savory and nutritious meals for our kids; it’s even harder when they’re picky eaters. Meal times can be loaded with expectations and disappointments.
Therefore, when your partner tells you they will cook today’s meal, this can relieve pressure on you and also bring so much joy to your heart. It’s their way of saying, “I want to give you an expression of love through my cooking.” Ideally, this is not something they put in the microwave or just reheat in the oven. Instead, this type of “food” expression of love is cooking a fresh meal that’s mouth-watering with every bite. Added bonus is when your partner cooks your favorite meal that your kids also love. Now that is a cause for a lovely celebration for all! This is love, too.
“I’ll get gas for your car.”
As a mother who also works full time, I am always balancing multiple responsibilities at any given moment throughout my day. It feels like someone always needs something from me. As a result, this causes me to inevitably push my needs to the side to address the immediate needs of my job and my family. Many days, self-care looks more like survival mode. Even essential tasks like picking up the groceries can sometimes be forgotten because my cup is overflowing.
Then, I’ll come home and my husband will say, “I see you’re almost out of gas. I’ll go and fill up your car.” Until that moment, I would have forgotten I was out of gas and that most definitely would have negatively impacted the start of the next day. Who wants to drive the kids to school while running late, only to see the fuel needle on empty? This gesture from my partner is equivalent to “I love you” because I never ask him to do it. He just does this because he is worried about me driving without a full gas tank, so he checks daily. It may not be the most romantic way to say “I love you,” but it is proof of love.
“If Amazon Prime makes you happy, I’m happy.”
These last few COVID years have been brutal for working parents. My anxiety and stress have been off the charts consistently. It’s been hard not to turn to unhealthy habits after we all finished the “baking banana bread” phase. In my quest to not turn to the dark side, I’ve looked for healthier coping mechanisms, like becoming Peloton-obsessed and pursuing my writing passion.
But sometimes you just have to give in to a little temptation and find the lesser of all these evils. For me, it’s the immense satisfaction that comes with pressing that “purchase” button online. It feels like Christmas every day when that Amazon Prime delivery truck drives up and drops off that magical brown box. I might have gotten a bit out of control during the holidays and have since toned it down.
Nonetheless, my husband has been very understanding about my need to fulfill a little bit of this online shopping temptation. He will tell me, “Buy yourself that sweater you wanted.” I know I can do without it, but this knitted sweater can bring me a little joy during these times. To be clear, I don’t ask him for permission to buy anything, but we check in frequently about our expenses. We financially contribute equally to our family. Him accepting the little things that bring me happiness equates to “I love you for who you are,” even if that means an occasional indulgence. This is love.
“You can have the remote. I’ll watch what you want with you.”
By the time the kids go to sleep, my husband and I are ready to crash on the couch in a Netflix-induced daze. Before we had kids, we would take hours throughout our day to watch our favorite shows and movies together. We’d have all the time in the world to take turns on what we wanted to watch. When you have the responsibility of young children to care for, those restful, carefree days are gone.
Despite our feelings of exhaustion, more often than not, my husband will forfeit his control of what we watch so that I can watch my guilty pleasures, like America’s Next Top Model. I know he would rather watch ESPN SportsNation, but he lets me indulge in my cheesy TV preferences. My husband saying, “You can watch whatever you want” while still spending time with me is love defined in a marriage with children. It’s allowing your partner to have what they need to replenish their energy. And of course, I return the favor so he has his turn, too.
“Go follow your dreams. I support you.”
Being a parent can be costly. Whether one parent works outside the home while the other stays home taking care of the kids or both are working parents, bills still need to be paid. But when your spouse sees you unhappy with your life (career) choices and they support you following your dreams, this is love personified. It’s loving someone for who they want to be and being their biggest cheerleader. It may not make economical sense at the onset, but it’s about having trust in your partner’s instincts and needs.
When I told my husband I wanted to apply for writing jobs, he encouraged me without any hesitation. He knows this is where my heart feels at home. His encouragement, support, and acceptance of my career choices are reminders of our love. It’s devoid of jealousy or apathy; it’s selfless, profound, and authentic love.
I hope these ”love” translations can help couples understand each other and accept these actions of love. Saying “I love you” is still a beautiful, powerful form of expressing love. However, there are many ways to show you love someone and accept them for who they not only are but also who they want to become. Pay attention and you may see that love tends to be in the air. This is true love.