I Thought I Knew My Marriage. Then I Had Kids.

I thought I knew my marriage well before I had kids. We’d been together for 15 years. I’m Type A, someone who’s a bit anxious but feels comforted by organizing and making plans. My husband has always been calmer, my rock, somebody who doesn’t get rattled when life shifts gears. We stayed up late to binge TV shows, hiked our favorite spots with our rescue pup, and experimented with new recipes.

And then we became parents — and I really learned about myself, my husband, and how to make this marriage work.

It started with our sleeping habits. Like many new parents, we had a hard time adjusting to the 24/7 demands of a newborn. Before, we liked to stay up late but, after exerting so much energy each day, I was barely functional between 11 PM and 2 AM. My husband, on the other hand, needs his deep sleep between 3 AM and 5 AM. Rather than fighting about it, we tried to be considerate of these simple facts about each other, which helped us be less snippy in the morning. As our daughter grew, we slowly figured out how to get time to ourselves, and how to get one-on-one time together. We found families we could hang out with so the kids could play together, and sometimes we even got a babysitter so we could go out.

Two years later, everything changed again when our second baby was born. And we really learned to work as a team.

Aside from life getting more complicated with the addition of a newborn, our second baby, my son, was born early, sick and diagnosed with multiple disabilities. Initially, I was overwhelmed and physically and emotionally drained from his diagnosis and learning that a virus that caused his disabilities. I was in total shock, and anything the doctors said went right over my head. My husband, on the other hand, was able to process the medical news and do his own research. After hours of reading, I finally caught up, but it took me time. And I was grateful my husband was there to take over when I couldn’t think clearly.

As weeks passed, there were moments I wanted to talk about our son’s needs and think about our family’s future, but my husband couldn’t listen. If he brought up the same topics later that day, my head wasn’t in a good space and I was the one who then needed distance. It was therapy that made the difference: in joint sessions, we learned to respect each other’s boundaries and find time that worked for us to talk about emotionally charged topics.

More than a decade later, I’ve gotten better at hearing information from doctors and need less space to make decisions, a skill that improved with repetition and practice. But I still can’t attend certain appointments that trigger PTSD, like one doctor’s office near the hospital where the bathroom soap smell takes me right back to those early days in the NICU. I punt those appointments to my husband as much as possible and he doesn’t mind.

In turn, I’m the one who has pushed to find the right support. I’m chatty when we meet new professionals for my son and like getting to know them personally. My husband laughs about how I can learn someone’s life story in five minutes and defers to me when a situation requires that close connection. I also like to socialize, both in person and online, to find the resources we need for our son.

We also learned how to be tuned into our own self-care, especially as the kids have gotten older. We don’t have backup care, so we rely on one another to speak up when we’re on the brink of collapse. The balance is never perfect — there are plenty of days where one of us is stretched beyond capacity, but we at least try to be aware of our own bodies so we can exercise, eat well and rest. We’ve also learned to take solo trips as a refresher for ourselves, and we often do “day dates” together, where we take some time off work while the kids are in school and pop out for lunch or a walk together.

Over the years, my husband and I have relied on our strengths, and each other, more than I ever imagined. We’ve adjusted to the evolving needs of our family and I know we’ll continue to grow and change. What really matters is that, at the end of the day, we’ve always been on the same page. As far back as I can remember, we had the same wishes and hopes for our son, and never wavered to get him the care he needs. We do the best we can to stay together as a family, even when we face accessibility and inclusion challenges. I’m grateful that, after everything we’ve been through, when our responsibilities fall away and we have space to connect, we still love each other and have fun together. The rest, we’ll figure out as it comes.

Jaclyn Greenberg is a former tax accountant who became a freelance writer when her son was born with multiple disabilities. Jaclyn now writes about parenting, accessibility and inclusion and has written for The New York Times, CNN, Wired, Huffpost, Parents, Good Housekeeping, Fodor’s and other places. She’s working on a memoir about sticking together as a family of five. LinkedIn, Instagram, X, Website.

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