This is the story of how a fence strengthened my marriage and saved our family.
Yes, a fence.
This past spring, when the weather started getting nicer, my two and four-year old children (understandably) could not wait to play outside. I enjoyed the nice weather too… for about ten minutes. At that point, my four-year old ran to the front of the house, which borders a moderately busy street, while my two-year old started climbing the playhouse ladder in the backyard. It wasn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice, but it was frightening. Almost the same thing happened the next day, with roles reversed when my two-year old ran out front to “watch the cars.” I quickly learned two things: (1) my kids were way too fast, and (2) playing outside was way too stressful. So, I asked my husband if we could get a fence. Initially he was reluctant, but I made my point by asking him to play outside with both kids. It took less than fifteen minutes to change his mind.
We looked into the various options of professional installation versus DIY. Ultimately we decided to go DIY, with some help from our families. We picked an installation date and ordered supplies and materials weeks in advance, to allow plenty of prep time. Of course, when the install date finally rolled around, it was raining, but we all powered through. I had my mother and sister helping me watch the kids and my mother-in-law working on landscaping, while our fathers helped my husband enclose our backyard with a child-resistant fence.
In the end, it turned out amazing! With the fence done, we were able to add beautiful new landscaping and gardens (thanks to generous donations of time and plants from my in-laws). I found some fantastic deals on outdoor toys, kiddie pools, and patio furniture at garage and clearance sales. We opened up an entire new outdoor living space — bigger than our house — providing a perfect place to let the kids run wild. As a result, we have spent almost every day outside together, met new neighbors, and hosted cookouts and parties with other parents and their kids. Even better, my husband and I have been able to sit together and read or even talk, while the kids play.
In addition to enabling us to spend more time together, our backyard projects also prompted my husband and I to really appreciate each other more. When he agreed to build the fence, I felt he acknowledged and validated the challenges of my SAHM job for the first time in a very long time. He realized keeping two young kids safe, healthy, and engaged can be difficult–sometimes, downright vexing. Similarly, when I watched my husband labor for three days to build our fence in the little free time he has from his demanding day job, I felt renewed appreciation for him as well. He said it best, when he called us a great team — I watch the kids while he builds things, and he watches them while I garden. The fence reminded us how hard we both work to support our family, how much we love each other, and how we both need to express appreciation for each other.
The fence also gave us some relief–a light at the end of the tunnel. The past five years have not been easy on our marriage; to be honest, they have been the worst. In addition to having two young children (including one very spirited child) we have also experienced selling/buying a house and moving, job transitions (including an unexpected layoff), ADHD, and postpartum depression. We have fought, cried, and sought counseling. At times, we were surprised our marriage survived.
Thankfully, we are both incredibly stubborn and do not give up easily. As much as we fought each other, we fought even harder for each other and for our marriage. Now that our kids are a little older and we are no longer trying to survive the haze of unrelenting sleepless nights, we have experienced a sense of relief. Actually, more than relief… elation. Between the kids getting older and our work to create a new “safe space” for them, we can actually enjoy doing a lot more things as a couple and as a family. Being able to sit together and enjoy each other has given our marriage a new start.
Having a fence also has helped with my postpartum depression. For starters, I was able to return to gardening — a fantastic creative outlet that relaxes me and helps me feed our family. But, having a fence helped on a deeper level. Ever since the birth of our second child, I struggled to accept that my husband was done having children. This sent me into a midlife parenting crisis, which contributed greatly to the strains on our marriage. Now that things are finally becoming easier — and yes, they DO BECOME EASIER! — I have no real desire to start over with a newborn. I got a taste of what life with another child would be like when I watched a friend’s toddler (along with my kids) for two weeks. As much fun as it was (and it really was!), it was also very difficult, even just logistically. I realized that if we had a third child, we would have to buy a new car (again), buy new car seats (again), and buy baby gear and clothes (again). Further, we would probably need more space (meaning building an addition or moving) and I would have to continue putting my career on hold.
So instead of longing to start over with another child, I have become happy living in the present–playing with my two kids, appreciating my husband, and feeling like he appreciates me. I no longer cry when I pack away or donate the baby clothes and toys we do not need anymore. I can actually keep it together when leaving the breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and cloth-diapering Facebook groups. I can enjoy the stages my children are currently in and take joy in their growth. It is incredibly exciting that my four-year old is starting to enjoy chapter books and that my two-year old is potty training. Experiencing those milestones with them, in the present, is so much better than dwelling on their past infancies. I feel like a better mom for being more present, supportive, and happy with them and my husband. Plus, if I need baby snuggles, my friends with newborns are usually more than happy to let me take their babies for awhile.
Finally, I feel like our children are safe, our marriage is happy, and our family is complete.
Except for a dog…we do have the fenced-in yard after all…