Everything Changes

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This is what I always thought I would be doing when I grew up (not really)

People say everything changes after you have kids. “Oh you’ll find out.” they’ll say. They’ll tell you that you won’t get to go out with friends anymore. They’ll tell you that you have to give up your hobbies. They’ll tell you that you just can’t have fun anymore. They’ll tell you your life is over.

This is mostly bullshit.

As long as you can let go of the idea that nothing in your life will ever change, you should be just fine.

I’m not going to lie to you here, you won’t have as much free time after you have kids. Crystal and I had worked full time most of our lives, but we always had plenty of free time. We had time to read, watch movies, and in my case, work on nerdy side projects. After we had kids, this time started to disappear. Kids are a lot of work, and they take up a lot of your time, but that just means you need to change your priorities.

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Over time my kids became one of my highest priorities, but I didn’t realize that while it was happening. Suddenly I didn’t have time to think about learning to play the guitar, writing the next great American novel, or developing the next killer mobile app. It was frustrating. I had all of these big ideas but no time (or energy) to do anything about it.

Crystal’s ThoughtsMark has always been full of big ideas.  I don’t want to say kids have stifled those, but they have changed over time.  Instead of writing that novel (true story, he was working on it.) His ideas are more centered around backyard forts and home remodels)

Then I realized that all of these “important” ideas and goals weren’t really important to me, if they were I would have made the time to work on them. Since then I have worked to try to get rid of any side projects or hobbies that suck up a lot of time but don’t really bring me any joy. I have “decluttered” my free time. I can’t tell you how to do this for yourself. But next time you go to do something “fun”, ask yourself if it’s really something you want to spend your time on.

Time with friends, or just time outside of the house, can be tricky after you have kids. I think this is a time when you find out who your friends are. You will probably find a core group of friends that still want to spend time with you, and then rest will fade away. That’s not to say your time out with friends is gone. It’s just something else you need to make time for.

Crystal’s Thoughts You will find that as you grow and change you will find friends that either grow with you or you drift apart.  Some friends will not be willing to come hang out and have a night in while your kids sleep and want to go out to a swanky bar instead.  I’m a firm believer that there are relationships you just outgrow over time.

Don’t feel guilty getting a babysitter so you can have an adult night out. Also don’t feel like you have to get a babysitter to have a meal out of the house. If you start taking your kids out when they are young, they will know how to behave in public. Sure you might want to start at Red Robin or some other family friendly (read: screaming and crying friendly) restaurant, but after they know how to behave there are few places you can’t take them.

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Having less time can also affect your relationship with your partner. Maintaining a relationship is hard work, having kids is hard work, and maintaining a relationship after you have kids is even harder work. With that said, our marriage is stronger now than it has ever been. I know it doesn’t work out that way for everyone. I know some couples don’t last after they have kids. But we did, and it comes down to communication.

When we first got married we were terrible at communicating. We rarely told each other how we felt about anything. We loved each other, without a doubt, but I don’t know how much we really knew each other. That kind of stuff takes time, and like I mentioned, hard work. Having kids has a way of speeding things up though, it’s a trial by fire.

After we had kids we had to operate as a team or nobody was going to be happy, and the only way we could get there is if we started talking more. For us it happened naturally, it wasn’t like we had a moment where we sat down and talked about our feelings and then everything was amazing. It’s an ongoing process, it’s not something that’s ever “done”, and something we still work on (read more about how we stay connected here).

Crystal’s ThoughtsI feel like we say this over and over again. COMMUNICATION. It’s imperative. Neither of us are mind readers, it is not productive for either of us to get upset when we can’t anticipate the others wants/needs.  You need to communicate with your team to be able to run smoothly. 

We’ve talked about keeping your relationship with your partner strong, but what about keeping you strong? As a new parent, it’s easy to take the role of “parent” and make that your entire identity. Your life revolves around your children. You volunteer for all the school events, go to all the birthday parties, and spend every waking hour trying to make sure your kids are safe and happy. Somewhere in the middle of this, you start to lose yourself.

It’s different for everyone I’m sure, but I stopped doing much of anything. I took up running, which I really enjoyed, but I still didn’t have much of an identity. For me, I really found myself the first time I went to the local SQL Server user group in Detroit. I found “my people” there. That was the big difference when compared to running. Running was something I did alone, this was something I could do with other people.

I think it was my second meeting when I heard about a free full-day training event coming up, and they needed speakers. I had never spoken in front a group of people before, but I thought I would submit a talk and see what happened. To my surprise, I was chosen to speak and it changed my life. If it weren’t for this opportunity I wouldn’t have found how much I like to teach. I also wouldn’t have gotten my current job. My employer was impressed with the fact that I spent my spare time teaching and writing about database administration.

Crystal’s ThoughtsOne of the big phrases in the mom circles right now is “self-care” and as much as I usually hate to jump on the band wagon, it is really important.   As parents, we often lose ourselves and become drained.  You can’t pour from an empty cup.  You need to find that thing that fills your cup, for Mark it’s teaching in the SQL community.  For me, it’s doing things like getting a massage, getting a manicure, reconnecting with other mom friends who are just as drained as I am. I am a better mom and wife when I get that time.  It’s not selfish, it is addressing my needs as a human.

When you have kids it’s important to remember that you are still a person with needs. It’s also important that you don’t think of taking time for yourself as “selfish”. If you aren’t happy there is no way you’ll be able to keep up a relationship or provide any sort of role model for your children.  Of course, things are going to change, life would be pretty boring and stagnant if it didn’t.  The important thing is to embrace that change and go with it.

Pink Expectations

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Something that having kids has taught me is that I need to let go a little (lot).  When it was just Mark and I, we could plan things and they would mostly turn out how they were supposed to.  With kids?  They don't care that you have a plan. They are small people, but they still have their own agenda.  I needed to adjust my expectations and celebrate the successes.  Maybe some of that comes with getting older, but I feel like its one of the big things that our kids have taught me.  There are a lot of things in life that you just can't plan for.

When I was pregnant with Zoe, we found out the sex at the 20 week ultrasound and we were thrilled to find out we were having a girl.  We bought all the pink things and girly stuff, made all the plans. She was born and she was for sure a Daddy's Girl. They were buddies, and if Mark was around I was clearly the second choice. I'm not going to lie, it hurt a little (lot), I grew her inside of my body for nine months, and there were times that she wouldn't give me the time of day.

Her and Mark were just bonded in a way that she and I weren't.  I faulted myself for that. Maybe he was just a better mom than me?  Reality is that she's every bit opinionated and stubborn as I am and those two things don't mix well.  She also takes after Mark, shes a big dork, loves Science and learning. So they bond over those things, while her and I butt heads about our similarities.

Being that Zoe was our first baby we didn't really have any expectations or wants in regards to her sex. By the time we were expecting our second child, I really wanted to have another girl.  That seems weird right? I already had one that didn't particularly seem to like me. But, I wanted Zoe to have the sister that I never had. (Sorry, Aaron.) I wanted her to have that sister to sister relationship, someone to play dolls with, have tea parties with.  We were only planning on having two kids (HA!) so this was her only chance in my mind to get that.

Mark's Thoughts: Being a man that never really played sports, I was hoping for a girl when Zoe was born, I had no idea what to do with a boy.  I've never felt like a "manly-man". My definition of what a "man" is has changed a lot since then, but at the time I thought a man was the typical "play sports" "watch football" image of the great American Dad. I didn't tell Crystal this, which kind of illustrates how poorly we communicated in the beginning of our marriage (like most people).

I'm going to talk about something that no one talks about, because it needs to be talked about. When we found out we were having a boy I was disappointed, upset, and scared.  I feel absolutely terrible about that to this day.  How can you be upset when you have a healthy baby? I was, and it was totally selfish and terrible.  But in the end, those feelings are valid and I shouldn't have felt I needed to hide the fact that I felt that way.  As parents, no one talks about these experiences. If only for the fact that we can validate for other parents that its OK.

Why was I so disappointed? I was disappointed that Zoe wouldn't get that "sister" experience.  Scared, because I had a girl and knew what to expect.  What was I going to do with a boy?  They smell, and like gross things.  Sports? Yeah… no, totally not my thing. I was upset that my expectations weren't being met, because I had already built up the picture of how it was going to be in my head. I was also upset at myself for having these feelings.

Oliver was born and he was a typical Mama's Boy.  I got to see first hand the special "thing" that Mark and Zoe had.  He was (is) so sweet and loving.  He didn't have nearly the amount of "sass" that Zoe had.  Of course the Mom Guilt kicks in and I feel even worse that I was disappointed that he was him. Come to find out having a boy wasn't so bad. Sure, they do smell bad, but they also love their Mama's so fiercely and their sisters almost as much. They're always up for a snuggle. Come to find out, I really like watching them play sports.

Mark's Thoughts: I was worried when Oliver was born because, again, I didn't think I would be able to do "manly" Dad stuff with him. Afterward I realized it didn't matter even a little bit. For reasons I don't understand, Dad's are cool in their kids eyes for at least the first few years, regardless of their athletic prowess. Oliver also grew to love sports, and in the process I did too to a point. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be cheering and shouting at the top of my lungs at a little league baseball game, but it happens now.

When we were pregnant with Elijah, we decided not to find out the sex until birth.  We already had one of each.  We were planning to do his whole pregnancy/birth much differently than the other two, so why not wait unlike the previous two kids.  Plus we had had a miscarriage a few months before, so it made me really thankful that we were even getting a chance to have a third child.  Some, people don't get a chance at all.

What I didn't tell (most) people is that I didn't want to be disappointed again.  No expectations = no chance for disappointment.  I still wanted that sister experience for Zoe, but also thought it would be pretty cool to have two boys to dote on me and that brother experience for Oliver.  Not knowing until birth meant that I didn't have time to have a let down.

Mark's Thoughts: Not to go off on a tangent, but this is really how you get through parenting. You just enjoy whats happening, and try to drop any expectations you might have. Oliver started playing baseball 3 years ago, which is amazing, but next season he might want to try ballet, or basketball, or golf; I have no idea. Whatever it is though, I'll be there cheering. Same with the rest of the kids. I have no idea what they will want to do, but I'll be there discovering it with them.

Turns out, you can't be upset about something silly like a penis or vagina when you've just worked your ass off to birth a baby.  Once you look into that little persons face, it doesn't matter for one second whats between their legs.  Plus, mother nature makes sure you have all that Oxytocin rushing through your body.  That moment, after holding him in my arms for a while, finally looking to see who he was, was just amazing.

So amazing, that the fourth time we also didn't find out the sex, and I wish that I could go back and not find out with the first two.  By the time we were pregnant for the fourth time, I had pretty much resigned myself that Zoe was never going to get a sister.  Come to find out matchbox cars, dirt, and robots weren't so bad. We talked about if we would prefer one or the other and we didn't really care.  It would have been neat to have three boys in a row.  After all, Zoe was going to be nine years older than the youngest baby.  What could they possibly have in common at that point?

I had never had a feeling that our kids were one sex or the other before, but I was pretty sure that we were having a girl the fourth time around.  I didn't verbalize it though, because I didn't want to be disappointed by the image that I built up in my head. Remember, no expectation, no disappointment.  Turned out I was right and we got that second girl.  Obviously we were just thrilled to have that healthy baby, but the girl bookends was a nice way to complete our family.