Maybe Baby’s ‘Hot Date With Your Valentine’ turned out to be a one-of-a-kind afternoon. Full of twists and turns, it mirrored what marriage and life with children felt like. There were moments of suspense, laughter, enlightenment, bewilderment and even tears.
Good tears - Tears that flow uncontrollably when your sweetheart whispers words of gratitude and devotion. For some, it might have been a first time; for others, a long time since the children arrived – and it did not matter that there were 99 other couples in the same room. That moment went down in the books and the lovebirds sealed their love again.
Not quite what you would expect from a public event. The line up of speakers delivered in essence what it took to keep the magic in your marriage, even with baby.
Alexander Yuen, an illusionist kicked off with a jaw-dropping start as he bedazzled the audience with swanky tricks and even a flying table.
The ‘magical’ segment paved the way for Mr. Arthur Ling and his wife, Mrs. Ling-Chang Chee Siah. Seventeen years of marriage and three children later, both Mr. and Mrs. Ling were bursting with insights on how to keep the magic in a relationship despite having to manage their children and careers at the same time.
The dynamic duo walked the talk with their on-stage chemistry and authentic sharing, which continued into the panel discussion, joined by Peter Lim (Head of Strategic Pursuits, Director of KPMG and Honorary Treasurer of I Love Children) and Tan Yi Lin (working mother of two and a MaybeBaby blogger). Petrina Kow, panel facilitator, kept everyone captivated with her humor while expertly navigating the intense sharing from all four panelists.
Maybe Baby ‘Hot Date with Your Valentine’ provided an opportunity for a very pertinent topic to be explored.
“What comes to mind when I show you this equation: Marriage + Baby = ? ”, offered Chee Siah.
While answers like “Stress ah… No sleep… Headache…” came up, seasoned parents also piped in with ‘Love’ and ‘Joy’. However, this might not be the case all the time. When you are in the thick of the action (think wailing babies and agitated spouses), ‘love’ and ‘joy’ are probably more associated with sleep or comfort food. Your patience, and your fuel, runs low. You get annoyed when the baby is fussing and you do not know why. You wished the hubby or the wife could take a little more initiative.
Arthur proposed to the audience, “Being committed is using your will to love even though your ‘feel’ (feeling) is low. Even though you don’t feel for it, say it or act it.” Rituals like holding hands or kisses are important. He reminded couples that even though circumstances change, it is important to honor what’s deeper in the relationship.
Marriage can be a ‘happily-ever-after’ even with baby, because the happily ever after is a choice one makes; a choice that needs an on-going commitment even when you ‘fall out’ of love momentarily - like when you or your spouse get too busy for each other, or when you both are at a dinner date with your phones instead of each other, or when your differences start to rub each other the wrong way and you begin to wonder why you married this person. These incidences are normal and are necessary to ‘fall in love’ again.
Because without the downs, there are no ups. The lows bring on the highs. These bumps in the marriage present to both parties an opportunity to work through the challenges together, especially when the ‘little adults’ are around to remind you that they still need responsible, loving parents. Chee Siah shared that when she loses it, Arthur steps in and takes over. Arthur lets her know that whatever happens, she always comes first in his life. This binds the relationship and the expressed commitment to each other gives both parents the strength and assurance needed to heal, grow and give more to the kids.
Is it okay to have cold wars?
It sure is not wrong, but if you decide to launch a war against your spouse, do not prolong it. If you find a war launched against you, let the other party know that you are aware of the situation and give him/her space to cool off, but check in occasionally so that the cold war does not drag. A war with no end in sight only ends up deteriorating the marriage. Peter Lim offered a solution he found to work with his wife: Take turns giving in, but always try to be the first anyway. Little agreements like these keep the focus on building a healthy relationship with a two-way communication flow. Arthur reminds us “being understanding is more important than being right”.
Arthur shared that close to 70% of a couple’s problems cannot be solved. Before you throw your hands up in resignation, here is the point: It is normal to be disagreeing with each other a lot of times. Learning to communicate with your partner in a healthy way will help you both work through the differences to reach a working agreement.
All four panelists unanimously agreed that a strong relationship is the foundation to a happy, growing family. Marriage as a unit is complete in itself. Children expand the unit. They do not ‘complete’ the marriage, and they are not and should not be the solution to a weakening relationship. When children come, they bring challenges, and this will stress an already shaky relationship. These parenthood challenges either push you to give in to your shortcomings, or to become a bigger and better individual – because imparting values to your children means having to ‘live’ them on increasingly larger levels.
Yi Lin tackles this sometimes-scary thought of responsibility. She addressed a common misunderstanding that children equal to transitioning from being a wife to a mother. As unprepared as we were in becoming a ‘husband’ or a ‘wife’, nothing would ever fully prepare us in becoming a ‘father’ or a ‘mother’. But she points out that becoming a mother is an additional role, and that we need to know when to play what role. This separation has allowed her to let go of the guilt she experiences on weekends she decides to dedicate more time to the husband than to the two girls.
While Yi Lin and many other parents are thankful of the extra help they get in the form of grandparents and helpers, some new parents find themselves wondering, “how do we find couple time if we don’t have extended help?”
“Build your network – friends, neighbors, part-time nannies. Consider taking leave from work. Get creative with other moms and set up an arrangement where you help each other babysit the children for an evening,” suggested Peter and Petrina.
It was evident throughout the sharing that a solid marriage foundation prepares you ‘better’ for parenthood. There hardly seems a ‘best’ time, and as the saying goes, “you can never be fully ready” – exactly like most other major transitions in life. Who could ever prepare us enough for our first day at school? Or our first relationship breakup? Becoming a wife or husband did not come with a manual and useful recipes either. Such are the times when we just make a decision to embark on the next great thing that seems right, and it usually opens a whole new magical chapter in our lives.
“The bottom line is to learn to respect each other, then you’ll be able to know what is love, patience and acceptance for one another.”
“Spent some quality time with my wife – something different that I don’t do everyday!”
“It’s not about the perfect mate, but it’s about how I can be the right mate for her.”
“It was a lovely afternoon – thank you to I Love Children for organizing this for us.”