If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that waiting to have kids after marriage is a good idea, I wouldn’t have to worry about being a stay-at-home mom. I suppose it is stock wisdom of my parent’s age especially that the healthiest thing you can do for your marriage is give yourself a couple years to travel, get to know your partner, find your career, etc., before you have kids. Kids are seen as a big stresser, so you don’t want that. And you want to have enough money to take care of the kids (meaning buy a house, have two cars, life insurance, save for college, etc.) before you have them.
Except that if I’d taken this route, I’m not sure I would have had children. And I certainly wouldn’t have had more than two!
Now I was young when I got married which is unusual for girls these days. I graduated college a year early to get married, which is practically unheard of. Something Grandma might have done (if she’d gone to university at all). So I can see why my own parents encouraged me to wait to have children. After all, they waited eight years. And I suppose they had some really good times in those eight years and wanted me to have them too. My husband’s parents also waited about eight years, and they were really worried when we wanted to have kids so early. I think they were more concerned about the money aspects. (But both my parents and my in-laws got married early, so it was really the pot calling the kettle black there 😉
So while I don’t see myself on some crusade to advocate marrying and having kids early, I like to encourage young couples who find themselves in a similar position as I did. I like to encourage them that having children can actually help your marriage. Contrary to the stresser image that “everyone” creates, I can say with 100% confidence that having children early forced my husband and I to grow closer. Everyone has their own reason why choosing to have kids when they did (20s, 30s, 40s) was good for them, and that should be taken into account. There is no reason why younger couples need to feel any worse than older couples who want to have babies. Don’t let fear or intimidation dictate how you chart your course.
Here are some ways having children helped my marriage:
- Intimacy. While there were intermittent periods of hating my body and not wanting anyone to touch it, or being sick and tired, overall my childbearing time was a very free time for romance and intimacy. Hormones can help you and there are no periods, PMS, or contraception to worry about. Most husbands actually are proud of their own virility and pregnant wives so they think they’re fun and cute until they get super-huge =)
- Finances. While children cost, if you know you are going to have them at all, there are real planning benefits to having them younger. You can plan for college and retirement earlier, longer, and with more wisdom than if you start in the middle of your career. Also, infants don’t cost a whole lot so you can get by in an apartment or whatever less than ideal situation you are in when you start out. It bonds you to your husband to not have financial woes or changes to deal with and quarrel about.
- Identity. I didn’t feel a huge setback having children when I was first married because I wasn’t choosing to leave a career I loved, a lifestyle I was used to, or a salary I made. I didn’t have to plan for a non-single but no-children period which many of my friends are currently in and find confusing for their life direction. This includes decisions to go back to school, switch careers, or other things you may be postponing because you find it silly to put forth the effort and then leave it for Motherworld. I found my married identity with my husband more easily because my children bonded me to him.
- Children’s Identity. If your children grow up with you while you’re still forming your own identity, they have a good chance of being inculcated into your life in a special way. You are still discovering where you want to live, what you want to do, and they get to be part of that instead of coming along later when you already have your identity set but you take a special time out of it to have children and then go back to it later. You are formed by your children more in the formative years of marriage, but your children are also formed by your marriage and life discovery. The potential for bonding and influence may be greater.
- Energy& Physique. While it has been hard to lose pregnancy weight sometimes, I know it is not as hard as it would be if I were ten years older. And while pregnancy has been hard on my body, I did not suffer as much as I would if I had been ten years older. It was easier to recover too. This all translated into benefiting my marriage because when Mommy feels good, Daddy feels good too. We enjoyed my pregnancies and traveling together, etc. When I had my first child we were still young enough to remember the old college days when we stayed up until 3am on purpose, so the nighttime waking of a small infant was new but not foreign. Sometimes we actually stayed up late together to feed the baby at 1am and then jump into bed for the next five (hopefully!) hours together.
- Joy. When you’re newly married, you still have a joy for your partner that longer years in marriage more easily drain. (You can still have it but it’s harder!). The joy and romance you feel toward your husband often transfers to more peace about your family life, which benefits a new baby coming. Plus, the projects and changes that having a baby provoke can be challenging to deal with, with your spouse. But if you haven’t spent eight years together bickering already, it can be a really fun adventure!
- Bonding with your child. If you and dad are in your twenties, you can zip more around the playground together, follow your toddlers around, and be sillier with your preschoolers without feeling like you’re betraying the dignity of adult status. (Grandparents rediscover this youthfulness, but you have to wait until you’re fifty or sixty!)
- Troubleshooting. Having babies early in your marriage essentially makes you and your spouse troubleshooter partners-in-crime. While this sometimes means stepping on each other’s toes, it also means comeraderie, friendship, lots of talks, ironing out philosophy, and creativity… together! I usually see that older mothers end up doing most of the parenting themselves (possibly because Dad is more entrenched in his career). But being young parents helped my husband and I be more of a team because we were still fresh and vulnerable to each other. He parents a lot more than some of my friend’s husbands even though his personality is similar to theirs’ because having children and squabbles was part of his worldview at an earlier, more formative stage.
- Long-term plan. Having babies early in your marriage not only bonds you to your husband more (because you need each other from the outset and do not develop independently for more years) but liberates you earlier on the other end of life. When some of your friends are just starting their families at 35 and 40, you will be winding up your families around that time and ready to pursue life together again. You will older and wiser, and freer. Simply put, you do the hard work together up front but then you get the simpler part later. This doesn’t entail you’ll have perfect peace and prosperity by then because things will come up in your 40s and 50s too. But instead of dealing with those things at 60 and 70, you’ll be younger. And it can be a very bonding experience to consider what you’ll do with your middle-age years together.
Now I fully realize that children can add stress to a marriage and that having them early in marriage is not a good idea for everyone. The first year of marriage, in particular, can be difficult enough without adding the changes a baby brings. But I have heard of several mothers getting pregnant on their honeymoon and adjusting just fine after the first nine months. It must be a pretty incredible experience, actually. So I just write this to dispel notions of doom and gloom should you find yourself in that position too. Or should you be strange enough to actually WANT children soon after you get married. There are lots of benefits! The key is, are you going to take advantage of those or are you going to resent the challenges that it may bring? I believe that having children at any age necessitates the right decision there, and that as long as you don’t write children off as the great Marriage Breaker that you have to prepare for ten years in advance, you’ll be happy. And I’ll have made my case =)