Everyone knows that having children will change a relationship. Some people even have them because they want to save one. Perhaps they are mad.
I know that parenthood is a privilege, a wonder, the early years, especially, those we’ll look back on misty-eyed with nostalgic yearning - a shared adventure filled with daily miracles, but, hey, that stuff gets old.
And, relationship-wise, there’s a debit column to be considered. Post-kids, apart from the sex, the money, lie-ins and unencumbered mini-breaks, the communication can go out of the window.
My partner and I will have been together twelve years this September, while our oldest child turns seven in May. The numbers bother me. More miles on the clock as knackered, mutually resentful co-parents than as attentive, carefree lovers. It’s like some kind of tipping-point has been reached.
As those five years of pre-breeding bliss fade further into the distance, ever dwindling in relative significance, I fear a future in which, year by year, we talk less and less, until in our dotage we become one of those couples who have eschewed the verbals altogether, and just sit glaring at each other in baneful, toxic silence.
Those conversations over meals, coffees, in bars, art galleries, on beaches, long walks and in bed; peppered with laughter, silences that hummed with contentment.
We used to talk about everything. Those conversations over meals, coffees, in bars, art galleries, on beaches, long walks and in bed; peppered with laughter, silences that hummed with contentment and “what are you thinking about right now?” queries that didn’t sound like accusations. What’s happened to them?
Nowadays what facetime we grab during the narrow window between bedtime duties with the kids and exhausted screen-slump is spent checking who is performing which onerous duty the following day (punctuated with a bicker over which of us is doing it tougher - it’s me, by the way, it’s ME) (it’s her), which bills have been paid, what the latest trouble is with the car, the house...
And as they get older, our beloved offspring, the chance of having a decent chat in their presence becomes a fine thing.
“What are you talking about?” our daughter demands, as we foolishly attempt a little kitchen discourse while unpacking the groceries.
“Oh, we’re talking about a silly man called Donald Trump, who -”
“BO-ring! Look at this picture I’ve made of a fairy doing a handstand.”
Because the last thing these children want is to share their home with two grown-ups who are yakking about stuff they don’t understand, which might not have anything to do with them. How can we be available to answer their relentless questions, listen to their interminable accounts of daily minutiae, serve them food, or act as referees for the inter-sibling squabbles that break out every fifteen minutes, if we are talking to each other?
So we forego the adult chit-chat in vain pursuit of a quiet life; gossip, badinage and work-related rants go unshared, or are always interrupted.
Yes, the numbers bother me.
The last thing these children want is to share their home with two grown-ups who are yakking about stuff they don’t understand.
You know those married couples who call themselves “mum” and “dad”? They weren’t always that way. At some point, “mum” and “dad” had the hots for each other. My in-laws call one another “mum” and “dad”. (Whether they stick to these handles during moments of intimacy is not something I care to dwell on.)
“How is everything going for you?”
I have decided, rather than to fret about the lack of communication in our relationship, to grab the bull by the horns and make it happen: to initiate open and honest conversation. As I walk into the bedroom, all pumped up to listen actively, to give it plenty of eye contact, non-verbal signals, all of the good stuff to keep it flowing, I realise that this is no chore at all. I absolutely long to know what this wondrous individual is thinking and feeling, she is the love of my life, my fellow warrior on the battlefield of parenthood, with whom I now have more in common, more to share, than ever before. How lucky I am to be with her.
She looks up at me from Pinterest on her tablet.
“I’m fine,’ she says, the flicker of a smile in her eyes.
“The cat’s pissed in the bathroom again. And it’s your turn to clean it up.”