I always dreamed of having a family. It was one of my hopes for the future when Dennis and I were engaged and newly married. And of course, my dreams were only about good, peaceful, happy times with children who loved and obeyed their parents. I was unprepared for the perpetual demands parenting would require of me. From 2 a.m. feedings, potty training, ear infections, nightmares, and coloring on the walls to braces, birthday parties, and driving lessons for teens, mothering is a full-time, 24/7 job with few vacations and a delayed payment plan.
The problem mothers face is that, after a long day at this 24/7 job, we often feel stressed, exhausted, and simply not in the mood for romance. With so many modern conveniences that are supposed to save us time and make life more comfortable, how can we be so busy, so stressed, so fractured?
“I am so tired”
For most women, the pace of life presents the biggest deterrent to marital romance. Couples simply don’t have energy for intimacy. Sandra, a listener to FamilyLife Today®, understands that a hurried life has drained the romance from her marriage. She writes:
My husband and I continue to have problems in one main area of our marriage. You guessed it: sex. We have three preschoolers, and I am mentally and physically exhausted at bedtime. My husband thinks we are having problems in our marriage because we only have intercourse once a week or so. I try to explain about stress, exhaustion, etc., but all he sees is that I don’t desire him.
Fatigue and stress are natural results of parenting children. Moms experience normal, everyday fatigue from just executing the duties of the household. Kids naturally fight and compete, complain and whine, spill milk and “forget” to do chores. They present challenges day after day for years and years. It’s a draining job. Exhausted mothers don’t make great lovers. Felicia, who took a FamilyLife online survey, confessed, “Getting sleep is almost always more important than sex to me.”
Dennis often said he’d be a wealthy man if he had a dollar for every time he heard me say, “I am so tired.” And he’s right. I said it a lot because I felt depleted and bone weary during most of our parenting years.
At the end of the day, all I wanted to do was fall into bed. Being intimate with my husband was not my greatest “felt” need. Frankly I craved sleep, not robust romance. The temptation was to believe that my needs were more important than Dennis’s—that my husband’s needs and the needs of our marriage could wait.
I also wanted to believe that tomorrow would be different or somehow better. I remember thinking, I won’t be this tired tomorrow night. It’s just because of all that happened today. I’m so tired that I’ll sleep great tonight and will feel refreshed tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll feel more like focusing on Dennis and our marriage. I didn’t want to neglect our romance. But my feelings overwhelmed me and threatened to rule my choices.
Because I had already decided in the early years of our marriage to keep Dennis as top priority (after God), I refused to let the tenacious thief of fatigue win in our relationship. Many nights, Dennis graciously gave me a kiss and a hug, prayed with me, and said good night.
On other nights, recognizing that my husband was carrying a lot of stress from work, or just knowing that we needed to reconnect in our marriage, I chose to deny the fatigue, set aside the stress, and give myself to him so that we might enjoy each other.
Charles E. Hummel wrote a wonderful little booklet called Tyranny of the Urgent. His simple message was this: Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent tasks of life rob you of what is really important. The most important relationship in a family, the marriage relationship, is the easiest to ignore in the urgent demands of sick kids, diapers, ballgames, job deadlines, and a host of other daily life demands.
The tyranny of the urgent occurs when you plan a date with your husband, but your boss informs you there’s a project that must be done that evening, so you cancel your date. It occurs when a friend, a neighbor, or your sister calls at the last minute needing you to drop everything to watch a sick child so she can attend an important event because the sitter fell through. In turn, you give up the important time you were going to spend studying your Bible.
The reasons for the urgent winning over the important always sound pressing. And on some occasions you have no choice. But there are just as many times when you could have said, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t,” to rescuing your friend or to letting your boss control your life.
Tips to rein in busyness
Here are some practical tips for reining in a busy lifestyle:
First, “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Start by stopping. Begin by listening. Take time to stop and pray and listen to God. And then spend time thinking and evaluating. Plan a date or two with your husband just to reevaluate your schedules, your romance, and your marriage.
Second, decide what you value. God has made it abundantly clear in His Word what He values. Make a priority list by yourself and with your husband. What will you fight for, and what will both of you fight for? My friend Linda Dillow developed a list of “resolves” and reads them at least once a year. These would be good for every wife to adopt as her own:
- I resolve to keep my husband my second priority after God.
- I resolve to not settle for mediocrity in my marriage.
- I resolve to look at life through [her husband’s] eyes.
- I resolve to grow as a sensuous lover.
- I resolve to give rather than receive.
- I resolve to be faithful to my marriage vows, not only in word, but also in intent.
Third, set important guidelines for yourselves and your family. One of the hard choices Dennis and I made was to limit our children’s involvement in sports to one per child. Not one sport each season, but one all year. That sounds terribly confining and restrictive by today’s standards of eclectic choices and the accompanying pressure to achieve scholarship-level ability. But with six children we chose to value family time, family dinners, and evenings at home over a life of fast food on the run and evenings spent in the car. As poet Dorothy Parker said, “The best way to keep children home is to make the home a pleasant atmosphere—and let the air out of the tires.”
I must add that we relaxed these standards when our kids reached 16 and could drive themselves to some practices and games. But before they were in high school, we made sure we were the primary influencers in their lives. It was a value-driven decision.
Fourth, honestly evaluate your “need” for all the extra things in life. I know from my experience and my love for beautiful things how easy it is to be busy with fixing my house, getting things for my kids, finding the best bargain. It’s not wrong unless it leaves me stressed, exhausted, and unable to engage with my husband. It’s a question of the important versus the urgent.
Stress and exhaustion in parenting are normal. While you can’t eliminate them, they can be managed by evaluating your level of busyness and your lifestyle choices. Simplifying life is the best way to reduce these robbers of romance.