Thanks to Sara Thatcher, LCSW, for today's Relationship Series guest blog.
So you are married with a toddler…Who has time for a spouse? Becoming a parent completely changes the dynamic between spouses. Sleeping in and cuddling with your beloved on weekends is replaced by little voices requesting your undivided attention immediately at the crack of dawn.
As a relationship begins to ease into ‘parenthood’ the ultimate sacrifice of personal and couple time becomes an easy habit to get into. Instead of date night you have family movie night. Rather than cooking elaborate meals together and dining by candlelight, many parents are frantically trying to get mac and cheese on the table before a meltdown ensues in between changing dirty diapers.
As normal as this shift may be, it is still possible to have romance in a marriage with young children. While it will definitely look different from pre-children couple time, it is essential to keeping the spark alive. One of my favorite analogies is the ‘airplane mask’. In case of emergency while flying, you are told to always ensure that YOUR oxygen mask is on first prior to helping your child. Why? Because if you aren’t ok, your kid/s won’t be ok. This same concept applies to families. When the foundation of the family (the parents) is no longer solid or is weakening, the whole house can come tumbling down.
Taken from my own marriage, here are some suggestions that have helped to keep our foundation solid:
- Regular weekly date nights-outside of the house! This one is key. Initially we figured, who has time to go out? We would attempt to have date nights at home after our son would go to bed. This inevitably would turn into doing chores and getting distracted by work emails until around 11pm when my husband and I would look at each other, shrug and fall promptly asleep. Getting out of the house forces a couple to actually spend time together and avoid the distractions of household responsibilities. Having a trusted sitter or child care provider is key and getting on a regular weekly schedule (ex: every Friday night) is helpful.
- Doing different things together. While dating and in early marriage we would explore local music scenes, travel and check out museums or take hikes. After kids it seemed like all we could figure out to do was go out to eat and even that had to be kid friendly, quick, and we would spend most of our time entertaining our child in order to avoid the dreaded potential restaurant meltdown. It took some planning and researching but we began to find things that we liked to do as a couple outside of our son. We try to regularly do something ‘different’ at least once a month. In 2016 we got season tickets to the NC Theatre and have had a blast doing dinner at a new restaurant downtown each time and making a night out of it. Who knew we both would love theatre so much?
- Taking an overnight trip somewhere-sans kids! This provides a much needed break from parenting along with a re-establishment of uninterrupted ‘couple time’. Instead of trying to fit in a few hours of time around babysitters, sleep schedules and meals, you can make big decisions like how late to sleep in, what shows to catch or how much time to spend at the pool, all on your own.
- Sharing things you both love with each other: I love yoga. My husband loves video games. I have little interest in video games and he has the same amount of interest in yoga, however we have both made attempts to share these activities with each other. And while I never thought I would say it, I actually enjoy a good video game (for a short period of time) and my husband has enjoyed doing yoga, as long as no one is watching.
- Going back to things you loved to do as a childless couple. When my husband I began dating we loved to hit downtown Raleigh on the weekends. We would check out new restaurants, meet friends for drinks and occasionally stay out later than 11pm. Since having children we realized we were spending most of our weekend evenings at family friendly restaurants or locations (the mall) close to our house and would end our evenings no later than 7:30pm. Reliving a bit of the old excitement by getting dressed up, visiting non-child friendly locales and staying out later is a fun change and makes us feel at least 5 years younger.
- Just being us. In all honesty, some of our favorite moments are staying home, being lazy and re-connecting. Prior to children we would stay up talking for hours at night, debating the state of the world, planning our next vacation or making each other laugh-this is how we fell in love. Oftentimes with the weight of parenting and pile of responsibilities on us it can feel like all that we have time to talk about are bills, schedules or our child. While these things are important, they are not all that define ‘us’. Sometimes it feels great to just spend an evening relaxing, laying in pajamas, eating pizza and laughing. These moments can sometimes be the most powerful times to reconnect as a couple
In conclusion, while it’s normal to fall into the rut of the parental responsibility relationship focus, it’s also important to nurture the ‘us’ side. Sometimes bringing the focus back to the foundation of your family and remembering how you fell in love coupled with some excitement or fun can bring back the spark that can often dwindle in the face of little people who need our constant love and attention. Similar to a plant or flower, our marriages/relationships need the right amounts of sun (love/affection) and water (attention/focus) in order to thrive.
Sara Bagramian Thatcher is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Trauma Specialist, & Registered Play Therapist with over 15 years of experience in the mental health field, specializing in Play Therapy for children aged birth-12 and parent support/coaching. Sara is the owner of Oak City Counseling, a private psychotherapy practice located in North Raleigh that specializes in counseling with children, adolescents, teenagers and adults. www.oakcitycounseling.com