After Kids, Our Marriage Changed So Much. This Is How We Stayed Close

This couple has two kids and one very happy marriage.

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Kia and Preston James live in Maryland and have been together since the late ‘90s. Kia is a marriage and family therapist and Preston owns a liquor store and is a trained sommelier. They met in the marching band decades ago and have been married since 2001. Today, they have two children — a teenager and a 10-year-old. While, early on, they faced some hurdles trying to navigate one another’s personalities, over the years, they’ve found that their separate temperaments — Kia’s more of a worrier than Preston — has really helped them. Here, Kia and Preston discuss how they navigated the rocky terrain of new parenthood, the secret communication tactics they’ve picked up over the years, and how they keep their relationship and sex life fresh.

Kia: For us, going from a married couple to being parents was a huge transition. Before that, we were more carefree and did whatever we wanted to do. And then, when I got pregnant, we did a lot of preparation. Doctor’s appointments. All that. Preston was there for everything. After I gave birth, Preston took paternity leave, so we were off — what would you say — two months?

Preston: Yeah.

K: That was very helpful, considering the fact that we weren’t getting a lot of sleep.

P: Those early days definitely had some struggles. I constantly had to remember that it’s not just me and her anymore. I was constantly reminded, Oh snap, there’s this other person that is dependent on me. I had to make sure I was prepared for any time, any place, because babies don’t know what time it is or anything. That was an adjustment, having to care for this little person and be prepared for that. Diaper changing, not going to sleep, being sick, and then dealing with Kia’s changes, too, because she was stressed out because the baby is sick and every little thing. She would be like, ‘The baby is going to die if we don’t do this and that.’ So during those moments I would have to be the one to say ‘No, the baby is going to be fine. The baby is not going to die.’

[Kia laughs]

P: Kia was extra protective. Even when they got a little older and started eating solid food, she wanted to peel the skin off their grapes and didn’t want me to feed the baby any type of nuts. Meanwhile, I’m on the other extreme and I was like, ‘Let’s give the baby everything!’ I’d sneak stuff while Kia was being protective, you know? We had to deal with that dynamic.

[both laugh]

P: In the early days, the baby co-slept with us. I was ready to kick the baby out as early as possible and Kia was, of course, okay with the baby.

K: All this stuff is certainly funnier looking back than it was in the moment. I definitely was more stressed during that time period. Preston was low key. He did pretty good. If I was stressed, he was more in tune with how I respond to things. His response is different depending on how I’m responding in that moment. He helps balance me out to some extent. There are sometimes where I’m just like “Ahh!”

But for the most part, we talked through a lot of things and I’d understand what his perspective is. When we’d understand each others dynamics, it helped. So, I would say I was stressed, but I felt confident in our ability to problem solve, which helped. And Preston’s not someone who wants to see me get agitated, so I feel like his response to my agitation helped.

K: Especially with having two children, finding alone time together was way difficult. There are some things that are easier because you already know what to anticipate, a little bit, because the second child is not like the first one. So understanding children in general was helpful the second time around.

But we made time for each other through using our support network of people. My mom helped us out. We also found activities that we could do that specifically catered to children, as well. Activities where we could do our own stuff, and they could do their own stuff.

P: We once went to the spa and took my little brother with us and so when we were at the spa all day long he was with the kids at the hotel. So, little creative things like that so we can get our grown up time or whatever. Enjoy each other’s company, then come back to reality. But when it’s a family member, especially for Kia, you can trust and relax that the kid is in safe hands. If you have like some random person that you hired to watch the kids, then you’ll be stressed out about it. Are they making the right decision? What’s going on? Kia wanted to call every five minutes when it wasn’t family.

K: Now that our kids are older, it’s just different. Some things we do today, our kids don’t really need the same level of childcare. But I don’t want them to just be with any random person for an extended period of time, either. They still join us on trips. We’d do a lot of cruises when they were younger — they often have a camp for children and you leave them and you come back and they’re happy. We still do stuff like that because we know that they’ll be entertained, we’ll be entertained. and everybody still has a good time. So we still do things we did back then.

But, I think that that was just our foundation. We were trying to figure out what we could do. What can we do so that they have fun but we get to have an awesome time as well? That’s always something that is on our minds, that we always strive for, which is good and bad. I don’t — I’m somebody who really likes having the kids close by. I would rather have them and have them not be far away.

But, as they age, we do go do things by ourselves more frequently than we did before.

P: They’re definitely jealous children now. Like, when they were young we’d all go on the trips together. Now, when they’re stuck at home and we’re out on a trip, they are really in their feelings. They have no problem letting us know that we made a terrible mistake and that we should never do that again.

P: Making time for physical intimacy was an adjustment, early on. I wanted to kick the baby out of the bedroom — I’m trying to do something, and this little dude is staring at me, you know? Breastfeeding, and they are on one side of the bed and I’m over here, all alone. The kids got in the way. You’re trying to find when to kick the baby out, and let the baby have their own space.

K: I would say that, making sure the kids are in their own spaces, so that we have our own time — I’m more mindful of that these days. Before we had kids, we could do whatever whenever. Now, we’re mindful. If the kids are awake and I know they are going to be all in our face — that’s not a time that I’m going to agree to do anything.

But even if he’s going to try I’m like, okay, you have to wait, because I can not deal with all of that. It’s too stressful to be dealing with the potential of them even coming in the room. That, for me, was definitely different. When they’re younger, you don’t have to worry about that and when they’re older, they’re all over the place. With our kids, we have an open door policy. They know they can talk to us at any time. That component, too, takes a role in it.

K: We sneak out. We wait until they go to sleep sometimes and go…

P: Late dinners are a thing for us. We shut down restaurants, that’s our thing. Our friends all laugh and joke about it. We’re out at 11:30 and have dinner. Who has dinner at 11:30? That’s us! The kids are down. They’re in bed. And we go and sit at the bar and have a nice meal and chat and talk about whatever craziness is going on in our world.

Especially early on, the kids were priority number one until they were like, 5. You can forget about each other, and just talk about everything that has to do with the kids. ‘What school are they going to? What’s happening in the classroom?’ This, that, and the third. You get distracted from each other.

These days, we try to do at least one trip where it’s just the two of us. That’s our refresher course. Like, ‘Oh yeah, I do like you. I remember you. You know, you have a good time, and it’s like you’re dating all over again from back in the day.” It’s good that we do that every year.

K: So yeah, we don’t have a regular date night per se, but we do things on the fly. Random things. We probably do stuff twice a week — just doing something the two of us.

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