Marriage. Before I became a parent that word meant a lifetime of love, passion and happiness with my soulmate; someone to grow old with, and to raise a family with. As they put it so eloquently in one of our favorite movies, Wedding Crashers, “Love is a soul’s recognition of its counterpart in another.” and for my husband and I, that was a completely accurate description of our relationship. We were the most important people in each other’s lives. We took care of each other when we needed it most and lifted each other even higher when we were at our best. We had similar likes, dislikes, favorite meals, hobbies, and vacation spots. We challenged each other in our careers, as well as in fitness, wellness and spirituality. We spent our weekends with friends, family and on dates just the two of us and we even adapted each other’s favorite activities into our own repertoire because we knew how much they meant to the other person. Life was easy, carefree and filled with love.
Now several years and three children later, the word “marriage” still has those meanings but not as effortlessly as it used to. Why is that? As many married couples will admit, when your title shifts from Mr. & Mrs. to “parents”, somehow your focus seems to shift also. Instead of only taking care of each other, your survival instincts click into play and your children, who are too small to fend for themselves, end up being your top priority. They need food, clothing, shelter and love and while we need all of these things too, it’s easy to put ourselves and our relationship on the backburner while we actively participate in raising a family.
The problem is that while we may be a great parents, our marriage came first for a reason. That is what started this whole incredible journey of becoming a family; without the two of us, there would be no “them”. It would be amazing if marriage could be like a good book that you can put down and pick back up any time you want (or in this case when you were out of this sleep-deprived, potty training, birthday party every weekend phase). Unfortunately, relationships don’t usually work that way and that’s why keeping that spark alive, even when you are parents, is really important.
Being a parent will always be a top priority in my life but remembering to keep my marriage as the highest tier has positively impacted not just my relationship with my spouse but also our entire family. Below are some of the ways we have kept our connection through the craziness of these parenting years and I hope one or even all of these ideas will help your relationships too.
- Make Your Spouse a Priority: It may sound silly, but thank your spouse for all the little things they do to help around the house. They are just as tired as you are and by showing appreciation, they are more apt to replicate themselves. Also, try saying hello to each other first and then your kids. Your children will be fine waiting their turn and your spouse will feel like they are your first priority which usually sets the mood off in the right direction.
- In-home Dates: Once a week, wait to eat dinner until after your spouse is home and the kids are in bed. Give yourself one night to enjoy a hot dinner, a glass of wine and conversation that extends passed bowel movement counts, vegetable negotiations and who’s turn it is to put the kids to bed. Make it even better by opting for takeout to save the effort of cooking and cleaning so you can get that extra quality time together.
- Trade Babysitting Services: It’s likely you have friends that have young kids similar in age to your own. Strike a deal with them that you will watch their kids once a month on a weekend night if they will take your kids another night. The cost of a babysitter can add up and double the overall price of a date night which for many couples is a drawback. By trading services with good friends, the evening’s cost run low and you still get your grownup night out.
- Set Bedtimes that Work for Everyone: It can be hard negotiating a time your toddler needs to go to bed but by standing strong ensures you and your partner have adult time every evening to unwind just the two of you.
- Unplug: There are tons of blogs, articles and studies out there that stress the importance of “unplugging” when you are with your kids and the same holds true for your partner. It’s hard to do, so set realistic goals. Maybe it’s just 15 minutes in the evening after the kids are in bed. Take this time to discuss your days and anything eventful that may have happened.
- Stay Connected Throughout the Day: Send a text, email, fax, or even a good ol’ fashion call on the phone to check in and let them know you are thinking of them. Something this small can really make a big impact.
- Make Your Schedule Work: Instead of always saying “yes” to every invitation, really consider whether that activity is in the best interest of your entire family – and that includes your spouse. If there is too much going on and not enough down time, that can add stress. Choose your calendar adds wisely.
- Dates Are Important: Once a month make an effort to go somewhere just the two of you. Even if it’s just a Saturday afternoon or even a Sunday morning. Just running an errand together without the kids will feel liberating.
- Encourage Hobbies & Participate Too: Sometimes a little “me” time is a good thing not only for yourself but also for your relationships as a parent and spouse too. Encourage your partner to find hobbies that positively impact their lives. Find a schedule that works for the both of you and whether you watch the kids while they do their activity (and vice versa) or even going and participating with them and getting a babysitter or relative to take the kids for a few hours, shows you care about the other person’s interests.
- Think Happy Thoughts: Think positively about your relationship and about your spouse. You may have unhappy or frustrating moments along the way but be mindful of how your mind perceives them. If you continue to think kind, loving thoughts about your partner, you will naturally react and speak to them in that manner.
Sarah Navin is one of our cofounders at Lilladu Exchange, an online clothing exchange service for toddler clothes, focusing her efforts in marketing and communications. After a decade of experience in the marketing industry and completing her Masters in Business Administration, she and her husband celebrated the birth of their first child and she decided to take a new career path of a stay at home mom. Today they have three children, Zachary age 4, Alexandria age 2 and Victoria age 4 months. In addition to her efforts for Lilladu and being a full time mom, Sarah is also on two boards for nonprofits and volunteers her marketing services for several nonprofits in her community as well.