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Marital Bliss a la The Berenstain Bears

I’m a mom of multiples. And as such, my ears perked up recently when a well-known reality television star attributed her marital woes, at least in part, to the higher incidence of divorce among parents of multiples. Holy Moly! If that were truly the case, then my husband and I were a ticking bomb. Our triplets, Sam, Tom and Will, ¬†came a mere 19 months after the birth of our first son, Jack, creating a shockwave in our well-ordered life. So why is it that divorce courts aren’t cluttered with our tattered hearts as well as those of other parents of twins, triplets or more? I honestly needed to know the answer. To find it, I decided to take a closer look my own married life and see if I couldn’t find a clue that would help me solve this particular mystery.

Before Kids

First, I looked to our marriage before the advent of children. I think we were pretty normal in that we had our fair share of arguments tempered with maybe more than our fair share of laughs. My husband can still spin quite a good yarn about the remote control I shattered when I lobbed it at his head during our first year of marriage. Good thing my aim is so horrible. One thing I do remember as being out of the ordinary: people constantly commented about how sweetly we spoke to one another on the phone.

“How long have you been married?” I remember a co-worker asking. “About 10 years,” I replied. “Geez…you guys are so polite to one another I’d have pegged you as newlyweds!” I beamed for hours afterward; we really felt like newlyweds! And so it was…until the children came.

The First Born

In the year following Jack’s birth, it would be hard for me to say whether things changed or stayed the same between my husband and me because we were completely and totally devoted to our new son. Coming on the heels of years of infertility treatment, Jack was our miracle boy. His every thought, smile, whim, step, gurgle, laugh, or fart was dutifully photographed and downloaded, with copies sent to every friend and relative, regardless of their level of interest We were so wrapped up in our child that “together-time” consisted of looking away from the baby just long enough to exclaim, “Isn’t he AMAZING!” Within the first year, we decided Jack was so great, we should try for one more just like him.

The Big News

“Do you see the heartbeat?” I asked during my 6 week ultrasound (standard when you conceive using IUI, like me). “Uh-huh,” the nurse responded distractedly, still staring at the display screen as if it were one of those “Magic Eye” pictures at the mall. I waited for her to say something else…and waited…and waited. “Is it twins?” I prodded, forcing a dry croak out of my throat and hoping it passed as a chuckle. I knew she was holding something back. Turning to me, she said flatly, “It’s triplets.” The look on her face told me everything she wouldn’t say, and I felt my heart sink. She turned to gather up her papers without looking at me, assuring the empty hallway that the doctor would be in soon as she bolted out the door. I picked up a worn Reader’s Digest and stared at it for some moments before I realized it was upside down.

So began the next phase of our marriage/parenting journey. Luckily for our family, the triplets were cooperative, allowing themselves to be cooked for 34 weeks. They came home together after only 11 days in the NICU and proceeded to advance along the normal infant developmental curve. That being said, three children still needed to be fed every three to 4 hours all day and night, and my husband was right there beside me despite a grueling work schedule. There was the financial strain of a bigger house, a minivan, a nanny, diapers, wipes, formula, clothes — you name it, they needed it. And forget “free time.” Every moment was accounted for and we still found ourselves scrounging for more.

Post Apocolypse

After the triplets, there was a noticeable change in our relationship. Jason and I were essentially walking zombies, automatically retracing our set nightly routes from bed-to kitchen-to crib-back to kitchen- to bed. Jason had the added hurdle of work thrown in between sets, but once he returned home, he fell right back into line. We lost our collective sense of humor and with it the ability to laugh off those odd moments when the words came out wrong. Also absent was the will to apologize for the inevitable slights that occur between two exhausted people. Not that we intentionally meant to hurt one another, we were just too darn tired to care. There was no overnight ice age, but the emotional temperature was dropping by degrees. I think it would have been easy to go downhill from there: to catalogue the slights, the oversights, every imagined insult and allow them to snowball into grounds for divorce.

Take a happy marriage. Add 4 children, then subtract sleep, money and time… and what do you get? I say you’ve created a recipe for disaster. So why aren’t Jason and I just like the couple on t.v.? Was the reality show solely to blame for the dissolution of their marriage? Did money and power drive a wedge between them? I say no. I think it was something a lot simpler. So simple, you can find it within the pages of one of my children’s favorite books,¬†The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners.

In this little morality tale, Mama Berenstain notices the children are fighting more and Papa is not really helping the situation. She enacts the Berenstain Family Politeness Policy, with household chores serving as punishment for infractions. The kids are exaggeratedly polite to start, thinking it will annoy Mama so much that she’ll forget the whole thing, but gradually they forget it’s all a game and settle into simply being thoughtful of one another out of habit. Think of it as the Golden Rule as interpreted by talking bears dressed like the Waltons. Make sense? Try it as it pertains to my husband and me.

When the triplets reached 2 and a half, Jason and I decided to take a weekend trip away with just the two of us. Heresy! It took a full-time nanny and an extremely understanding mother-in-law to pull it off, but we did it. While we were away from our normal routines, we reconnected and had a wonderful 48 hours together before we returned home refreshed and ready to take on the world — or at least 4 little boys. Within 72 hours, we were right back where we started. Discouraging? You better believe it! We both knew we couldn’t continue along this path.

Finally, we sat down and described in excruciating detail what each of us was feeling. The big shocker? We both felt maligned and misused in exactly the same ways. We knew we couldn’t change our situation, but it became apparent that how we reacted to one another within the context of our day to day life was the make or break point. We resolved to treat each other with the courtesy we might normally reserve for friends or acquaintances we wanted to know better — in other words, we promised to roll out our company manners for the most familiar person in our lives.

You know how it felt? AWKWARD!! It felt weird and forced and completely fake to begin with. There were times when I wanted to shout, “What the @#$% did you mean by that comment?” but held my tongue instead. Instead of barking orders at one another, we remembered to say please and thank you. When we crashed into each other en route to quiet a crying child, we both rushed to be the first to apologize.

Bit by bit, it stopped feeling strange. It stopped being forced. It simply became second nature to treat the person I love most in the world with the highest degree of courtesy and kindness I could muster. You know how you tend to use your good china only once or twice a year? The rest of the time it just sits on a shelf gathering dust. The same was true for courtesy and good manners. Who had I been saving the best of myself for?

There are some who will find this analogy simplistic. And I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is intended to be. Every relationship is complicated and many factors come into play in the collapse of a marriage. But in my relationship, and I suspect in many others, remembering to give my kindest self, my politest self, my best self to my partner has gone a long way toward helping us overcome many of the obstacles we face in our marriage and family relationships. It’s a virtually painless (sometimes saying “I’m sorry” does hurt a bit) and deceptively simple way to put a relationship back on track. What have you got to lose?

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Posted in Family & Relationships, Kids, Parenting.


18 Responses

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  1. Bells says

    Jodi this was amazing to read. I’ve been curious from a distance for a long time about what your situation is like and this is a great outline. Of course it’s simplistic. And of course it’s so much more complicated, because all relationships are. But relationships can actually be saved by simple approaches like this. I know they can because mine is in a great state now because of some very, very simple steps we took in a very complicated and messy disaster period. You guys should be so proud!

  2. jodi says

    Bells — if anyone would understand, you would. When there’s chaos around you or big things refusing to go right, how can you not internalize it? But when we really talked about it, it was the little things that mattered more in the grand scheme. I’m glad you enjoyed and felt it was on point. I always look forward to seeing what your comments will be! :)

  3. jill says

    jodi being your twin in family dynamics i could not agree more….i also wondered about her comment and thought are we doomed? but you are right. it is hard it is crazy it is hard to describe but it is our life and it is what we make it. we should all take these little steps and as stutts always says……..apparently we had so much love between us someone thought we needed to share it with a few others. So i imagine after loving all these little darlings there is a little left for the two of us.

  4. alonna says

    wow! thank you for being so honest. I had to decide on an IUI once with 4 good eggs that in the end didn’t take. Some days of being married are just harder, some days it’s easier than hugging your own parent. Props to Jodi!

  5. Caleb says

    Beautiful.

  6. Stacy Alley says

    Well put…inspirational. I know how tough it is, especially in those first months, to raise one child…I can’t imagine four! You guys are super heroes!

  7. Tonya says

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Some things come to us at the exact moment we need them.

  8. Shelley says

    First, I’m impressed by the writing. It definitely held my attention. When it comes to reading that is VERY hard to do. It also left me longing for more. It was like a short story that ended too soon. You really need to write a book or books!
    Second, holy cow! What a life. Seeing that I have no kids, it’s very hard for me to imagine living a life like that. I have always thought you guys were the best couple and totally made for each other. Does this mean I shouldn’t snap so often at the most amazing man I’ve ever known? My man might appreciate your words of advice.

  9. David Hunter says

    My sister went through the same thing. After her two children were born she became a “walking zombie” as you say, and is currently raising a 3 year old girl, and a 1 year old. One is a chatter box, the other is a constant crier. And the fights with her hubby have increased exponentially. So I feel your pain.

    Great post! I enjoyed it. I’m recommending this to my sister, who’s on Twitter as well, in the guise of a Grey’s Anatomy profile, @WeLoveEP.

    Take care.

  10. Tessa says

    So, I don’t know if it is just one of those days or what but I’m in tears!! THANKS for sharing! You and Jason are two amazing people and deserve to have all the happiness in the world!

  11. Celeste says

    Common courtesy, respect, true affection. All things that will take one far in a relationship! I’ve been married for almost 12 years and we still get the newlywed question too, lol! I’m glad to hear that we’re not the only ones!

  12. Ashley Stewart says

    Wow–how accurate. You may know that we planned a second child for approximately five minutes before conceiving, then became accidentally pregnant when that child was six months old. That gives us Jay (4), Wil (22 months) and Gus (9 months). With two high-powered jobs, commutes, separations, residencies, nannies, mothers and mother-in-law, this all sounds awfully familiar.

  13. jodi says

    This one seems to have touched a nerve with a lot of people. I think it’s one of the easiest rut to fall into when you’re torn in so many directions. All your frustrations get vented on the person who is most familiar. I think my mother used to get the brunt of it before I was married. :)

  14. jodi says

    Thank you so much for your comment, Celeste. It’s so simple, but felt like discovering the Holy Grail. :)

  15. Tahlia says

    I just stumbled upon this and felt compelled to tell you THANKS! This was exactly the advice I needed and the light on the path for me. Once again, thank you

  16. jodi says

    Tahlia, what a wonderful comment to get! It’s a strange feeling sometimes to share your real life experiences, but knowing something I’ve written has made a difference to someone else is priceless. Thank YOU for taking the time to tell me so. :)

  17. Caitlin says

    I love you.

  18. Caitlin H says

    you guys are so sweet!!



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