Marriage is the bedrock of the family. If this foundation is crumbling, so will the entire household that is built upon it. As busy and exhausted parents, we often tend to prioritise our children when it comes to our time, energy, resources and emotional capacity. While giving your best to your kids is surely important to their optimal development, we should never forget that “the best” includes having them grow up in a stable home with the example of a flourishing marital relationship. Prioritising your children and prioritising your marriage are therefore not competing interests, but two sides of the same coin.
Yet, we understand that with small, really needy children in the home it is not easy to keep the romantic fires burning. Marital sacrifices (like drastically reduced alone time) are inevitable. However, these restrictions could luckily be mitigated by the mutual joys and suffering created by co-parenting – provided that you keep connected during this season.
Staying sweethearts under stress
A useful way to nurture your bond with your spouse and avoid becoming mere colleagues in the job of raising children is to make sure you prioritise dating. This entails quality, face-to-face time without being hindered by those continuous parental pauses.
Dating during the era BC (“Before Children”) is undoubtedly way less complicated than it is during the AD (“After Delivery”) years. However, with some dedication and proper planning, it is not out of your reach to connect as a couple after the two of you have multiplied.
The first step in accomplishing this is often to adapt your expectations. You will probably need to lower your “standards” without lowering the bar for the anticipated outcome. Keeping the bells and whistles at a minimum will take loads of pressure off during a time when your energy and the family budget are probably already stretched into the danger zone. Fancy dinners, rose petals and dressing up are not the things that will keep the two of you close (although they are still wonderful on special occasions). Rather, keep the actual goal in mind: to connect meaningfully and to fill your spouse’s love tank with the right fuel.
Furthermore, if spontaneity is synonymous with romance to you, you will need to ease this perception for a while, lest you be constantly disappointed. When trying to fit everything into busy family life, scheduling is the key. If your love life is dependent on grabbing an ice cream or climbing a mountain or “getting down to business” on a whim and to your hearts’ content, well… very little might happen in that department until the kids grow up! Practicality might need to trump passion as you become parents. Diarising dates (as unromantic as it might seem to certain temperaments) is the way to go. Make a point of reserving time for weekly stay-in date nights and monthly child-free dates.
Weekly stay-in date nights
Pick a night in your week to prioritise each other as spouses – not as co-parents. On these nights, spend time together in whatever way you prefer after the kids are put to bed. No babysitters or money are required; the point of these “dates” is simply to touch hearts. Therefore, you need to have strict rules: no catching up on work, no chores, no phones, no kid talk, no TV, etc.
Home-bound dating ideas:
- Have dinner alone – or even just post-dinner cheese and wine or coffee and dessert. (Now is the time to “get naughty” with all the nibbles you forbid your children to eat!)
- Play a board game or build a puzzle
- Read a book together
- Work on fun projects or hobbies
If you prefer, vary your activities to keep it interesting, but have a go-to strategy to reduce planning and performance pressure.
Monthly kid-free dates
Organise a babysitter once a month and go on a “proper” date to do whatever the budget, the clock and your energy levels allow: Maybe it is the standard dinner-and-a-movie or the theatre; perhaps ice skating, hiking or biking. Or simply dropping the kids off and going home alone to do… anything you feel like!
This does not need to be an evening out – with very small children who need more intensive care at night, mornings or afternoons could work just as well.
Lastly, now is the time to realise the importance of community. It takes a village to raise a child – and keep a marriage afloat – so make use of your willing villagers! Reliable parents, siblings, family friends, fellow congregants… all of these people suddenly have a new potential title: free babysitter! Remember, no family is an island.