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A New Leash on Life: How Our Dog Makes Us Better Parents

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A few years ago, my husband and I hit a rough patch. It happens, people. Knee-deep in parenting three boys plus jobs and sports schedules, we were reduced to communicating basic logistical information only.

Like an air traffic controller, I was focused on avoiding near collisions while trying to land all our planes daily without loss of life or limb. But the reality was the cargo of our marriage had shifted during the parental journey.

I missed being able to just chat without interruption. To dream and laugh with my husband and he missed me too. We tried the whole “date night” tactic but movies gave us no time to talk and bars and restaurants were loud and crowded.

It got us out of the house but not into each other.

With a job change looming, we needed to hash some things out. Alone.

So, one night we walked the dog together. A long winding trek that allowed us to speak freely without little ears perking up.

We walked the dog the next night and the night after that. Soon enough, it became not only habit but our time together. Now four years later, the dog walk is often the highlight of our day. We plan our evenings around it, sometimes adjusting the time so we can both be there.

I won’t lie, the winter is challenging. I walk the dog several times during the day, so when 8pm rolls around, the last thing I want to do is bundle up and head out into the dark and cold again. My pj’s and a blanket are a strong pull toward the couch. But I know if I don’t go, I will likely miss the only chance to have one-on-one time with my husband that day

The fresh air and brisk pace are an immediate stress release for both of us. There are nights we talk about nothing and are lost in our thoughts but usually one of us has something we have been chewing over that needs a sounding board. Of course, the schedule doesn’t always permit both of us to go, but we try not to miss two nights in a row. On the occasions that we walk solo, it is still a good time to reset.

Our kids have gotten used to this routine as well. We are honest with them; explaining that we want time alone together and they have to respect that need. We are fortunate our kids are old enough to stay without us for 45 minutes while we are gone. The bonus is that this break from the house gives us a little extra energy and distance before tackling bedtime and making the kids shut down for the day.

We have taken an ordinary task and made it something wonderful and our marriage got stronger in the process. We had to get creative to carve out time together because it just doesn’t happen organically. A great reminder that this whole marriage and parenting gig is work. And that we, singularly and as a couple, are a work in progress even almost 20 years in.

Ironically, we have found that when we take the time to step out of the parenting role--even for an hour a day--we are better people and better parents overall.

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