Question: I'm a recent newlywed. Even in just a few short weeks, my husband and I are feeling overwhelmed. Life together isn't playing out the way we anticipated. Is this normal? We both really want to make this relationship work.
Jim: Yes, that's completely normal. No matter how strong your relationship with your new spouse, the lofty expectations you had before the wedding rarely match the reality after you say "I do."
For instance, my wife, Jean, and I had a really rough time early in our marriage. Jean was dealing with depression, and I had come from a broken home with no positive male role models. If not for counseling, prayer and help from caring friends, we might have become another divorce statistic.
That's why I think it's very important for young couples to have "marriage mentors" in their lives. Simply put, these are older couples with years of experience weathering life's storms. Mentors can offer wise counsel to young couples who might be feeling uncertain and overwhelmed.
Some newlyweds come from stable families and might see their own parents as potential marriage mentors. However, moms and dads don't always have the objectivity to offer unbiased advice. According to Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, a marriage mentor is NOT a mother or a father, nor a close peer. Marriage mentors are not "on call" for every crisis, and they don't know everything. They don't have perfect marriages themselves (nobody does). Instead, they're friendly acquaintances who can model a healthy committed relationship and offer insights when needed.
So, I hope you newlyweds will take the time to seek out marriage mentors. And for the "old pros" who might be reading this -- look for a younger couple with whom you can share openly about the challenges and joys of a lifelong commitment. You'll gain as much as they do.
Question: My husband and I have a one-year-old son. We're talking about having another baby, but we aren't sure what's best for the dynamics of our family. Are kids happier when they're closer in age, or is it better to plan them farther apart?
Dr. Danny Huerta, vice president, Parenting & Youth: I'm glad that you're even considering the potential impact on your family dynamics. Being intentional and thoughtful parents makes just as much -- or more -- difference than the age differences of your children. There really isn't a simple "one size fits all" answer, but there are some things to consider.
Children born within two years of each other are more likely to develop close bonds than those spaced farther apart. However, the closer siblings are in age, the more opportunity for intense conflict and competition -- it's only natural!
Kids four or more years apart are less likely to connect due to social, emotional and life stage differences. This sometimes produces a more peaceful household, but there may be different challenges. For example, if the older (and bigger) child tends to be aggressive, parental focus will be on the safety of the younger child. But if the older child is mature and cooperative, it can be tempting to place too many adult responsibilities on his shoulders. A child in this position needs to still be encouraged to play and be a kid.
As you ponder timing for your next baby, consider your health, the genuine desire for another child, the stability of your marriage, finances, your schedule demands and your support system. The goal for your children should be their healthy development -- keeping in mind that growth involves learning to overcome challenges. All told, there is a higher likelihood of siblings' relationship being molded by shared experiences and understanding the closer they are in age.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program.