As an empty-nesters, our memories about deciding to have a baby are swayed by how we feel now.

By that I mean we tend to glorify the struggle of rearing our only child.  Now that our son is off at college, we find ourselves reminiscing and it all has a positive spin.

Remember that night when he was a screaming, colicky infant and we drove for hours to calm him down? Boy, do I. Thank goodness you were there to get me through that night.

What about when he had the car accident by fooling around in the parking lot?  He sure learned his lesson and it changed him for the better.  

In other words, we faced many stressors as parents.  I assure you there was not always positivity about these things in the moment.  

We are happily navigating empty nest-hood, and having fun working through “Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love”. Date # 5 is Room to Grow:  Family. Since we already have a family, it was fun for s to reflect on the last 20 years of parenting, plus our decision to enter into parenthood.

As with all of the dates, a suggestion is provided for the date location.  In this case the suggested locations were a playground, amusement park or family friendly restaurant to have kids in your field of vision.  

Torchy’s Tacos didn’t disappoint.  There were toddler fraternal twins in eyesight, simultaneously self-feeding and flinging food.  

It brought back those happy memories again.

WHAT RESEARCH SAYS ABOUT TRANSITION TO PARENTHOOD

Before we discussed the open-ended questions, we talked briefly about John Gottman’s research with marital happiness and parenthood.  

He found that 67% of couples have a drop in marital happiness in the first three years of the baby’s life.  For the one third that stayed happy, he found that it was more likely when men were respectful to their wives and accepted their wife’s opinions. 

These men were also different during the pregnancy in that they complimented their partner, and were involved during the pregnancy and birth.  

Check.  And check.  

Whew.

Research aside, we reflected on how we were able to stay in the happy group.  For us, it has always been a deep friendship filled with laughter. Despite all of the normal fears, frustrations and incompetence we felt as new parents, we never forgot how to laugh.  Or how to lean on one another for support.

Even when we didn’t have money to go out on dates, or babysitters to watch our son, we had home dates that were deeply satisfying.  Think Scrabble, wine, The Soprano’s and bike rides.

OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS

The open-ended questions are intended to guide couples into discussion about:

  • whether or not to have children
  • if so, how many
  • what did parenthood do to our parent’s marriages
  • and things to consider if you do or do not have children

We reflected that for the first four years of our relationship, there was no talk of marriage or children. We both had prior marriages and were in no hurry.  We simply enjoyed one another and built a strong foundation.  

In the fourth year we married and it was I that brought up having a child a year later.

So, I am not getting any younger, you know. My eggs are getting old.  So, uh, I think I want to have a baby before I time out and the factory shuts down.

Are you sure?

Ya, I am sure.

Really?

Okay.

And that was it.  We didn’t have the benefit of the Eight Dates questions to guide us through a more thoughtful conversation. But my influence-accepting husband trusted my instincts that the time was right.  

He was scared but in agreement.  His parents divorced when he was two.  But he was adopted into my big, crazy family and knew that family could look different. 

We didn’t have a plan, but we had a deep bond.  That bond has sustained us over the last 20 years, albeit with some ups and downs. We feel proud of our parenting.  And while we don’t feel regret, we sometimes wonder what it would be like to have more children.

But as our son says, “Why mess with perfection?”.  

Being on the downside of parenting, we find ourselves with a strong desire to have grandchildren someday, but that choice is not ours.

But you can bet that we will give our son and his future partner a copy of Eight Dates to have that essential conversation someday.  

Mary Beth George
Mary Beth George is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Gottman Therapist, Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and co-owner of Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates. She is an empty nester with a passion for rescue dogs, traveling and spending time with people that make her laugh.