One of the wisest pieces of advice I received as a new parent was the following: The greatest gift you can give your child is a healthy and happy relationship with your spouse. Four kids later all I can add is a loud “AMEN”!
It is so easy in the thralls of new parenthood to be completely obsessed with your new baby or child. It is also pretty common to be completely overwhelmed by the demands of new motherhood/fatherhood. This is the case regardless of whether you adopt a newborn, a 6-year-old, or foster a sibling group of 3. Parenthood can be all-consuming if we let it. I’m suggesting that you don’t let it consume your marriage.
Parenting is a Marathon, Not a Sprint!
You’re going to be parents for a LONG time. Even when your kids are grown and have flown the nest, you will still be parenting. It’s easy to forget this at the beginning. When asked in the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group what they were doing to find time for their marriage, we heard the following:
- Not Much. But we’re older parents and I guess we had time before to ourselves so we’re kind of ok with all family time. We go out maybe every 6 weeks or so. We’ve kind of turned more into best friends and partners in crime but we’re ok with that.
- We are fostering and parenting and all our time and energy are going to the kids. I feel like we give each other only our leftovers. And lately, neither of us has much leftover. We know we need to do something about it, but just don’t have the energy or time to do it.
- We don’t. DH and I are lacking. We try to have alone time in the car or at 2 am, but it’s hard.
For the record, the alone time when you are passing in the hallway at 2:00 a.m. does not count!
A Solid Marriage Gives Your Kids a Sense of Security
I feel like any time I give my husband is time I should be giving to the kids. They need so much and there is only so much of me to go around. He’s an adult and he can cope better than them.
Nurturing your relationship with your spouse is another way you are nurturing your kids. Children feel more secure when their parent’s relationship is healthy and happy. Think of spending time on your relationship with your spouse as an investment in your child’s emotional health. You are also providing a role model for your child on how to have a satisfying and fulfilling adult life. A fun relationship with your partner is not only good for you; it is crucial to your kids.
I am such a believer in Date Nights! I credit our commitment to date nights with the strength of my long-standing marriage and with maintaining my sanity in parenting four kids. The biggest impediments that I hear to having a regularly scheduled date night are the cost of childcare and a misunderstanding of attachment parenting. I firmly believe that you can have securely attached kids and a strong mutually satisfying relationship with your spouse, and I’ve written about that here and here.
Affording a date night is a bigger challenge. Here are some suggestions from parents:
- We enroll our kids in several Vacation Bible Schools throughout the summer. My husband can use flex-time so that he can go to work later during those weeks and we have time together in the morning.
- Our child’s former foster parents offered to help us and we ask them to babysit once a month. It has made all the difference.
- We make good use of the daycare facility at our gym. My husband and I go together and work out.
- We sit the kids down in front of a long movie and have a candlelight dinner in our bedroom.
- We leave little love notes on the bathroom mirror for each other or tucked them into our lunch bags.
- It is difficult to get a babysitter as foster parents so we don’t get many chances to go out, but what has worked for us is that we keep the kids on a strict early bedtime. They get cranky when they haven’t had enough sleep anyway so the earlier bedtime allows them the rest they need and we have the opportunity to spend time together in the evening.
- We aim for a date once a month. Sometimes that requires childcare help, but sometimes it’s just doing something fun after the kids go to bed. We also have a strict bedtime (7 pm for our 1yo and 8:30 for our 13yo; we also try to get the 5-month-old in bed by 8) so we can enjoy time together at the end of the day. We also utilized respite for 2 nights for our babies while our oldest was at overnight camp last month so that we had 2 kid-free nights, which were glorious.
- We don’t have family nearby so we rely on exchange babysitting with friends.
- We have been making a point of doing something 1-2 times a week and it’s made a HUGE difference. I am a SAHM [Stay at Home Mom] and my wife works weekend nights so we spend ALL our time with the kids and need some breaks. We pay my Mother-in-Law to come in once a week, and we have a babysitting exchange with another family, too, which is 1-2 times a month. We decided to set a time every week with a nanny (who turned out to be MIL) because if we didn’t have a regular schedule we’d never bother. Some weeks we do necessary errands and some weeks it’s pure fun.
- This sounds silly, but playing card games together has been wonderful for my SO [significant other] and me. We’re feeling very disconnected with me being in grad school, fighting depression, etc. It always seems to work. And it’s cheap!
- On Saturday morning when the kids are watching cartoons, we created our time. We make a special cup of coffee and sit together and talk.
- Good wine! Actually, we try and have lunch or dinner out at least once a week just to decompress. Our kids can be challenging so getting away, turning off the cells, and just catching up helps us stay connected….and did I mention good wine!
Here’s how one longtime parent has maintained the spark in her marriage:
I believe to teach my children how to have a successful marriage, it has to come first. We I show my girls how I honor my husband and at times we just run by and get only him a shake as a treat. At times he and I will leave the kids with my 19yr son and we will go out to eat while they make sandwiches. At times we will have a weekend away. At times we will just dance in the kitchen in front of them. We are very connected in our church and have retreats or conferences where we invest in our marriage that way too. We have been known to leave to go get ice cream and just go driving. My kids do plenty and get plenty, but one day they will be gone and I want to have a relationship with him. I don’t want it to have been where we rarely see each other because of games or dances or parties. We also limit the kids to only 2 activities each year. We also sacrifice things to support each other’s dreams or callings. It means the world to me when he helps me raise money for mission trips and cares for the kids and our home while I go. He has a shop and loves to work on cars, mostly for other people, so I am not a nagging wife, I have learned to give him time that he loves to unwind and be creative and also to bless others. Serving one another, it’s the way to go!
Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Enjoy
- Dr. Purvis’s Tips-Staying Happily Married When Adopting/Fostering
- Balancing Work and Family (Once You Finally Get Your Family)
- How To Keep Money From Messing Up Your Marriage
Image credit: katiebordner; Grant Bierman; personalcreations.com
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Great reminder – hard but necessary…and fun when you can actually make it happen!!