Twenty years ago, one of the deepest sorrows pierced my heart as I stared at yet another negative pregnancy test. For a couple of years my husband and I experienced the deep pain and anxiety of infertility. Only by the grace of prayer and the beautiful science of natural family planning, were we able to finally conceive.
Fast forward to the present and that beautiful child, whom we never thought would come, will soon graduate and leave for college. The days of infertility dragged on forever, but the years since have hurried by. A picture, floating around the internet, depicts just how fast time flies when you have children. It reads: “You have a newborn for a month, infant for a year, toddler for two years, preschooler for two years, child for five years, preteen for three years and teenager for five years; and then they are off. Take care in what you do with those years. They are few, though they may seem like many” (author unknown). A baby changes everything in a marriage … for the better.
How do babies change marriage? Look past the lack of sleep, dirty diapers and cost of raising a child. Instead, reflect on the beauty of these fleeting years with your children. For instance, babies create a bond between parents. The parents’ relationship shifts in a new direction; but it can be a shift for the better. A couple learns how to communicate better as the primary focus is now on the child’s needs and how best to meet those needs.
There is a shift in what defines romance. When dating, romance is candlelight dinners and flowers. With a child, romance becomes small selfless acts; one spouse tending to a crying baby in the middle of the night so the other can sleep. Or it can be impromptu romantic moments when the child finally goes down for a nap. Appreciation for a spouse grows and relationships mature as a couple begins to see each other in their new roles.
Children have a beautiful way of changing a couple’s perspective. “Where does the tooth fairy live?” “Why is the sky blue?” These are the profound bedtime questions our children ask us to answer. It is humbling when parents realize they are the ones shaping this soul for the future. Laughter also increases in a marriage. Make no mistake, some of the tense moments during childrearing will be instantly diffused when your child gives you a funny look, wiggles a certain way or says something funny in response. It will be hard to keep a straight face.
Finally, while a toddler may test your patience, a teenager will test your values. Marriages can be strengthened in these years as couples learn to come together as a “united front.” Like two soldiers facing battle, a husband and wife stand together supporting each other on a host of topics — from curfews to dating, college dreams to career choices. It is within these years, too, that many couples get a glimpse of the fruit of their prayers and hard work.
Your children’s accomplishments will become your own and their sorrows will lead to a deeper relationship with them. Their independence will afford couples more freedom to rekindle the romance originally found in candlelight dinners and surprise outings.
All of this may sound ideal as many couples find it hard to look past the hard realities of each day. However, when we take a moment to reflect, it is very easy to see how much a child is a joy and can strengthen marriages in very positive and profound ways.
Pope Francis reminds us in one of his recent Wednesday audiences: “Children are the joy of the family and of society. Children are gifts, not problems, and they are certainly not parents’ ‘possessions.’ Each child is unrepeatable, and to be a son and a daughter means to bear in oneself the memory and the hope of a love that has realized itself precisely by kindling the life of another original and new human being. In a child, a mother and father can see a reflection of their own love. Each child is for the parents “unique, different and diverse.”
In the next few weeks, as I watch the child we prayed so intently for walk across the stage and receive that diploma, I know the predominant thought in my mind will be – it all went by so fast and I am so thankful for these years!
Tremblay is coordinator of the diocesan Office of Marriage, Family Life and Pro-Life.