When I first got married in 2007, I got a lot of advice. From parents. From mentors. From pastors. From friends. From co-workers. From sweet aunts and well-meaning uncles. And it was good advice. I just couldn’t fully understand it – not because I was deft or uninterested, but because I hadn’t lived in marriage yet.
I’m thankful for their advice now, but there is one piece of advice I don’t remember hearing: How to prioritize your marriage as a working mom. I’m 99 percent sure no one offered it because literally no woman has ever fully figured it out!
To be clear, I haven’t either. I’m a proud member of the “I Don’t Have It Figured Out Yet” club, but moms need the benefit of those who have gone before them and deserve the insight that comes with time (and prayers, and wine…). So, instead of waiting for the perfect solution to an age-old problem, I’m openly sharing how we try to prioritize our marriage. I know our marriage methods are imperfect, and our life rhythms are ours to own, but maybe – just maybe – these words will resonate with another mom in the trenches…and that’s worth its weight in gold.
So, here are a few humble insights from a mom trying desperately to keep it all together…
1. Walk North. No, not literally. Figuratively speaking, my husband and I know what our true North is – our guiding star, our end game. For us, it’s our faith, but I know that’s different for others. Whatever it is for you and your spouse, find it, name it and walk toward it together. Marriage is much harder when you’re walking in different directions. Chris and I try to prioritize faith first, marriage second, kids third, job fourth, then everything else. It’s important to note that we fail often (like, really often), but it’s what we work toward.
2. Talk. What are your expectations of your spouse? What are your expectations for your career? What do you expect of yourself as a mother? Does your spouse know that stuff? If you’ve never communicated what you expect of your spouse, you’re setting them up to fail. Let them know what you want and need, but go a step further and ask what they expect of you in marriage, too. I was completely surprised at our own misalignment when we first talked about this. What I thought my husband expected was vastly different than what he actually expected. Knowing about that gap was freeing because I had incorporated a litany of things I was “supposed” to do, but they were completely unnecessary.
3. Lower the bar. While we’re talking about expectations, let’s address them in a realistic way. People often enter marriage with unrealistic expectations (us included!), and when those expectations are unmet, it can feel disappointing. Let’s remember that we can’t live up to unrealistic expectations, and neither can our spouse. As awkward as it might feel, it’s OK to ask your spouse to lower the bar for you, too. Give grace. Get grace. Move forward.
4. Say no. Things – literally everything – will try to steal your time. Work, kids, extended family, sports, home maintenance – it’s all there beckoning for your undivided attention. But, declining one thing allows you to say yes to another. So, say no to the things that fill your time, but not your heart. For us, it means our kids don’t do 15 extracurricular activities. They get one, maybe two if I’m feeling nice, and that’s it. I refuse to run all over the Triangle for a reward that does not outweigh the cost.
5. Say yes. To rest. To getaways. To sex. To dates. To conversations. To fun.
6. Create boundaries. Early on, we decided two important things. 1. We will wake up at our home on Christmas morning. 2. We will fold the towels my way. There is no debating. There is no negotiating. We do not deviate. (If only we would have discussed how to load the dishwasher…)
7. Release offenses. Moms can hold a grudge better than anyone. But it helps nothing. Carrying around the anger, disappointment and heartache of minor marriage offenses creates something ugly and unattractive. Harboring a multitude of hurts only hurts one person…you! Sing loud like Elsa, and let it go, mama! Talking to a trusted friend or a counselor can help free you up to enjoy your marriage.
8. Trust others. I believe our kids need us more than anything or anyone else, but it’s also good for them to have other dependable, caring adults in their lives, too. Sharing that parenting load helps free up my time and my mental load to make space for my husband. We engage grandparents, babysitters and other neighborhood moms to help us when we want it – not just when we need it. And we hope for others to ask the same of us.
9. Keep dating. You can’t enjoy someone you don’t know. People change over time, and I don’t want to get caught married to a stranger when my kids leave the nest. Occasionally we go out for an extravagant date night, but many times it’s as simple as making a Charcuterie board a home after the kids are in bed. Either way, it’s intentional, device-free time set aside just for us.
10. Believe the best. You’re not intentionally plotting ways to sabotage or undermine your significant other – and neither are they. Our spouse’s best effort doesn’t always measure up to what we want it to be – but it may still be their best. Believe that. It might be all they have to give that day.
Marriage is challenging for everyone, and all the advice in the world won’t change that. But, if it’s hard, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It only means you’re completely normal, and there are tools, resources and communities to help you! Seek them out. Be intentional. Stay the course. Marriage prioritization doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, we right the ship over time.
I have a lot more to say about marriage as a working mom, and it just won’t fit in this one post. So, I’ve decided to write more on the topic over on the Restored blog and hope you’ll choose to read some of it for more thoughts, resources and relatable stories.
Stephanie Llorente is a mother of two children and a regular Go Ask Mom contributor. She is the owner of Prep Communications and Restored, a faith-based business that delivers relevant resources and intentional community to working moms.