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Married with Children

We’ve all heard the advice: Parents need to make time for their relationship. But so often the rigor, stress and, yes, boredom of daily life conspire to extinguish marital romance.

Balancing family life with intimacy takes effort, but, oh, the rewards! So Family Times sought to mark this Valentine’s Day in our own family-friendly fashion. We asked three couples, each in a different stage of raising children, to talk about how they keep their marriages strong. Their comments may surprise you, and they may even inspire you to sharpen your own Cupid’s arrow.

Andrea, Samuel and Maarten Jacobs

Baby Bliss

Andrea and Maarten Jacobs were drawn together not just by their personalities but by shared goals.

“We just kind of both work toward the same things,” Andrea, 26, says. “We’re just trying to make where we are a better place. It’s funny to say, but it’s true.”

The pair met at a friend’s wedding four years ago and embarked on a whirlwind courtship. They quickly found they shared a commitment to Christian values and community involvement. Both had even participated in different chapters of the Christian youth group Young Life as teens. They married in 2007 and have settled in Syracuse, where Andrea was born and raised.

Maarten, 27, a native of Belgium, was raised in Philadelphia and was studying community development and clinical social work at University of Delaware when he met Andrea. “He told me what he wanted to do and what he was learning, and we had a connection right away,” she says.

Shared faith and values made the shift from single to married life an easy one. The idealistic pair became parents last October with the arrival of their son, Samuel. Thus far, the newest Jacobs seems to have inherited his parents’ easygoing approach to life. Andrea has since resumed her job as a youth ministry director at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, and Maarten is director of Syracuse University’s Near Westside Initiative, an organization committed to building community within the city and encouraging young people to stay.

“I got a new job, we moved and had a new baby all in the space of about three months,” Maarten says. “It was crazy.”

The Jacobses are clearly in the honeymoon phase of parenting. Everything is an adventure, and the couple shows no signs of new-parent strains. Samuel “hardly ever cries” and even “sleeps a lot” at night. The Jacobses have successfully negotiated diaper and feeding duties, and they have generous support from Andrea’s parents and extended family. Andrea and Maarten say the key to staying connected has been easing the baby into their already full and active lives—as opposed to changing everything in their life to accommodate the baby.

“No matter what we are doing, we have fun together,” Andrea says.

Andrea says the couple’s low-stress approach to parenting has no doubt contributed to Samuel’s demeanor. “I don’t have, like, a million parenting books or any of that. We’re just winging it, staying pretty laid-back about it.”

The Jacobses admit that they don’t get a lot of couple time right now, and that’s all right with them. “Our time together now is taking care of Sam,” says Andrea. “We’re just having fun hanging out with him.

“Our jobs require day hours, night hours and weekend events, so we knew having Sam would change our time management,” she adds. “But we also knew that he would be loved by so many people.”

When Samuel is a little older, Maarten and Andrea will have a team of willing babysitters to call upon. “Right now, I would only leave him with family or very close friends, but so many of the teenagers at the church have already said, ‘When can I babysit? I’ll do it for free,’” Andrea says with a laugh. “The time will come when we will feel comfortable going out more.”

Since Andrea’s parents live close by, they have been able to help with Sam’s care when Andrea cannot bring him to work or work from home. Maarten’s parents live in Philadelphia and try to visit about once a month. In February, they will help Maarten for a week or so while Andrea travels to El Salvador with a group of teens from Holy Cross.

The Jacobses say parenthood has only deepened their affection for one another. Maarten marvels at how calm his wife has been adjusting to new motherhood, while Andrea proclaims her husband “a diaper-changing champ!”

Maarten adds that the couple’s shared faith and mutual support of their career choices help them stay in touch with those qualities that first brought them together.

“I volunteer a lot at Holy Cross Church, getting involved with the youth work that she does,” Maarten says. “I know the kids she’s reaching out to, and her boss. Likewise, she would help out on the North Side, or get Holy Cross kids involved in one of my projects.”                           

Jack, Jeremy, Stacey, Maggie and Charlie Reynolds

High School Sweethearts

Spend any amount of time with Jeremy and Stacey Reynolds, and you get it: These two were meant to be. The couple met as juniors at Jamesville-DeWitt High School (class of 1992), and have had eyes only for each other ever since.

“I just thought he was cute,” Stacey says, glancing at her husband. “So I asked him out.”

“Everyone told her not to,” Jeremy, 36, says, picking up the story.

“He was a tough guy, but his eyes were so sweet,” Stacey, 35, adds. “So, I asked him, ‘Do you want to do something Friday night?’ And he goes, ‘Sure!’ So I said, ‘Did you understand the question?’”

The young lovebirds remained attached through graduation, separation (Stacey went off to college at SUNY Cortland, Jeremy served in the Army), and years of hard work as Jeremy launched his own landscaping business. But they always knew that they would eventually marry and start a family.

“We were busy doing our own things, but we were working toward common goals,” Stacey says. “We just kind of hung in there and stuck it out.”

They married in 1998. Today the couple work hard to balance their relationship with parenting Charlie, 9, Jack, 7, and Maggie, 4. They live on a small farm in DeWitt that has been in Stacey’s family for generations.

Their friendship and affection for each other have made for a strong bond. But the couple says a solid marriage within a busy family unit does not happen on its own. “We constantly work on it,” Stacey says. “We have to use a system of checking in with each other to make sure we are always on the same page when it comes to the kids.”

“And it’s always changing,” says Jeremy.

And they’ve had to make some tough decisions. Stacey is certified to teach secondary math and special education. When the couple’s first son was born, she went back to work, believing that teaching was “the perfect job for a mom.” But the hours were difficult to manage with Jeremy’s schedule, so the couple decided that Stacey would stay home.

About three years ago, the couple decided that Jeremy’s 18-plus-hour workdays were not supporting their family’s well-being. Jeremy gave up his business and entered the police academy. Today, he’s an officer with the town of Manlius and is enjoying a more predictable third-shift schedule.

“It was a conscious decision, and the positives were there to justify the change,” Jeremy says. “One of the things I appreciate most about Stacey is the support she gives me in whatever I’m doing.”

Stacey also praises her husband. “To me, he gives security and safety but also freedom and support,” she says. “If there is ever anything I want to do, he would help me do it. I also like the way he can simplify things for me so I can see the bigger picture. I can get caught up in something as simple as dinner, and he’ll just say, ‘Pizza!’ That quality is like a breath of fresh air sometimes.”

Jeremy’s career change also brought an unexpected bonus: some child-free couple time almost every day. “We don’t have set date nights, but it’s much easier for us to have some time just for each other now,” Stacey says. “Basically every night once the kids go to bed, we have an hour or so before he has to go to work. We count on that time. We’ve always said, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality. But now, if we do feel there’s a disconnect, we can address it quickly. It can be 10 minutes while we talk about something. It doesn’t always have to be a two-hour dinner.”

“Flowers,” Jeremy adds with a laugh. “I was on a roll with flowers for a while. But really it’s just about wanting the same things.”

Similarly, husband and wife are devoted to raising their children with security and consistency. “It’s more about: What can we do to raise the kids to be happy, independent, well-functioning adults?”

After 12 years of marriage, Jeremy and Stacey say they are quite proud of the life they have built from what started as a high school crush. “This is what we worked for and now we’re kind of there,” Jeremy says, smiling. “Stacey does a pretty good job with all four of us.”

“We’re living the dream,” Stacey adds. “But, boy, it’s work. If you can stay consistent, you’re good!” 

Carol, Braulio, Mia, Brittany and Braulio A. Melendez
(not pictured: Danielle)

(Still) Crazy for You

With kids ranging from 4 years old to 20, Braulio and Carol Melendez of Warners have seen pretty much everything parenthood has to offer. They just celebrated their 22nd anniversary.

Thinking back on their relationship, Carol describes a gradual evolution. “We met at Braulio’s parents’ house. I was best friends with his twin cousins and they spent a lot of time at his house, so I did as well. We fell in love gradually. We were friends for years … our parents were friends and we would go on family vacations together. It was always comfortable.”

On one of those vacations, something changed. “I was freezing on the way home and Braulio held my hand to warm me up,” Carol says. “My heart fluttered a bit and I knew there was something there. We started dating right after I finished high school. We went to a party together and the rest is history.”

As the children came and grew, Carol, 41, and Braulio, 51, adapted their parenting style. “We are much more relaxed now than we were with our first child,” Carol says. “We just go with it. We have learned that strict schedules and specific nap times and dinner times are just not realistic in a family with this many kids. It’s OK to have breakfast in the car or dinner after 8. The kids will be just fine!”

With a busy family and two full-time careers—Braulio works for the Onondaga County Department of Corrections, and Carol is an administrative specialist in the Office of Campus Planning, Design, and Construction at Syracuse
University—couple time must be fit in.

“As often as possible we do get away for dinner, a cup of coffee, meet friends for drinks,” Carol says.

The Melendezes keep romance alive, and their children have grown up knowing that it is important to a strong relationship. “They tell us all the time that we are more ‘huggy-kissy’ than any other parents they know,” Carol says.

Indeed, the pair seems to have lost little of the spark that initially drew them together. They speak easily of the qualities that struck each other when they first met. “It was his smile,” Carol says. “His smile still melts my heart and although his sense of humor can drive me a little crazy sometimes, he still makes me laugh!”

“Her eyes: big, brown and happy,” Braulio says.

While their children are in different stages of their lives, the Melendezes say it is important to be united and consistent in their parenting style. With two kids—20-year-old Danielle and 18-year-old Brittany—now in college, the couple work hard to maintain a sense of family unity.

“It is hard letting your kids grow up, letting them make mistakes and helping them learn from the mistakes,” Braulio says. “We talk about everything. Some of our dinner conversations would make most other parents blush. But this has also taught our kids to talk to us, to feel comfortable with us.”

“But they also need boundaries,” Carol adds. “We have to remind them that they are not too old to respect us. One of my quotes to the kids is ‘Every action has a repercussion.’ All the kids can recite it, I use it so much.”

“We feel blessed to have four wonderful children,” Carol says. (The younger children are 16-year-old Braulio and 4-year-old Mia.) “Each and every one of them brings something different to our family. We have taught them to be who they want to be. No one can choose their path for them and even if they hit bumps along the way, we will always be there for them.”

For parents of children entering young adulthood, Carol offers the benefit of her experience. “Talk to your kids. Listen to your kids; they know more than you think. Let them make decisions.”

And what is the secret to a happy marriage?

“Communication,” says Braulio. “Listening to each other, respecting each other. Oh, and saying ‘Yes, Dear’ a lot!”

“Being best friends,” Carol says. “I can’t think of anyone I would rather spend my time with than my husband.”                          

Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.


© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York