My wife started a recent conversation with a phrase that I know far too well. It’s a phrase that I use very often in my own internal monologues, but something that – until now – I rarely admitted to other people. She was walking across our bedroom on a Saturday afternoon, while we were cleaning up laundry, she looked at me and said, “I love our boys, but…”
Why does it feel like the caveat, “I love our boys,” or “I love my kids,” has to come before any form of discussion about the things we lose when we become parents? Isn’t it OK to love one thing, but miss something else? It’s a hard thing for many parents to talk about: what they miss about their life before kids.
Before kids, there was greater spontaneity. There was less responsibility. There were unplanned trips to the mountains. There were skipped days of work to go surf, go golf, or, well, the other things an otherwise unencumbered couple does with uninterrupted time.
When the kids are young it’s easier to put in the effort to carry them around with you on most of those adventures. They’re little. They’re portable. And when they really can’t talk much it’s easy to dictate what they do.
We’re now at that phase of child rearing where our boys are approaching the end of elementary school. They are very aware of their surroundings. I mean, very, very aware.
That puts a real damper on spontaneity, shall we say.
Further complicating matters is that we’re both ten years farther down the roads of our careers: careers in which we both care about doing well. My wife has a job that doesn’t start at 8AM and end at 6PM. She gets calls, emails, and texts at all hours of the day and on weekends. I have to commend her on how well she’s been able to separate herself between work and home. She can take a contentious call for work and thirty seconds after hanging up be fully engaged with her kids.
The point of that illustration, however, is not to shower her with praise – though she does deserve it – but to point out that there is not a lot of spare time.
Some might argue that we have control over that. We agree. My wife and I have had many conversations about the hamster wheel that presents itself with certain career paths. We struggle with the question of whether or not life would be easier if we radically changed our careers to provide us more time with our kids, and ourselves.
Well, no one has ever missed a birthday, and no one will. Our kids are our top priority. It’s why we moved to the town we did after leaving New England. It’s why we choose the vacations we do. It’s why, when we have free time, we spend it with our kids. It’s why we sometimes find ourselves feeling disconnected from each other.
We had a great time together before we had kids. We really enjoyed each other’s company. We were friends as much as everything else, which was definite frosting on the cake, and what a cake it was. It’s just that we’ve felt the cake becoming a little stale lately, and it’s been very easy to blame the kids.
But for where they are developmentally, and for the importance we both put on putting as much energy as possible into rearing these boys – time and effort we know is fleeting, since before we know it they’ll be off to college – even if we both changed careers to free up more time to spend with each other, we both know that any extra time would get eaten up by the kids. And that’s OK. That’s what we’ve signed on for.
So the solution? For us, for now, we save our money, and ask favors of friends, send the boys out for sleepovers, and get away for a weekend here and a weekend there, where the two of us can steep in 24 hours of uninterrupted time together. Quality not quantity, right? If these are the most selfish things we’re doing as parents, I’m OK with that.