Having children is really a blessing and an indescribable joy to parents. However, having kids, nurturing and raising them come with unique challenges to marriages that require creative solutions.
What usually happens when kids come into the picture is that couples resign from their roles as husbands and wives to handle the tasks at hand. Their major focus shifts to the child(ren) such that they cease from being individuals or a couple, but are solely defined by their roles as parents. This shift is critical for bonding, survival of the baby and gaining efficacy as it applies to parenting. However, if the shift becomes a permanent one with the marital
relationship taking a backseat, problems arise.
A healthy marriage/family is one in which everyone in the family is able to successfully adapt to change. The issue then here is not having children per se but what we do in reaction to this new change – insert having kids.
From my clinical observations and personal experience, these 2 things tend to suffer once couples have kids:
Self care- One way or another, we convince ourselves that being a mom or dad is the most important task and nothing else matters as we fulfill this sacred role. Women in particular suffer from this disease the most because we often are the ones that carry most of the responsibilities of having a baby; the division of labor or child rearing responsibilities often fall unequally on women.
Due to all the new demands that are tugging at us, we subconsciously or semi-consciously conclude that we are not as important and we neglect our selves. We neglect friendships, our bodies, hobbies and interests and so forth for the sake of our children, at least that is the reason we give.
Marriage- Our marriages take a major hit as we pay less and less attention to ourselves and our spouses. Parents are often tired and less inclined to go the extra mile. By the time couples realize there is a problem, they are having arguments about everything! Both partners become very exhausted and overwhelmed by this new change and responsibility. Hence, in stead of working together they begin to fight each other by arguing, having screaming fits or avoiding and tolerating each other.
As parents, when we are tired from work or taking care of the kids (in many cases, both) the highlight of our day is the fantasy about the kids going to bed and then hitting our soft pillows. When we have conversations with our spouses, it centers on the children and bills and for many of us, this is the only point of connection. As couples, we spend less and less time holding hands, kissing, and connecting; in it’s stead, we have business transactions. For some of us, we may have sex once in a while and we are usually looking forward for it to be over. Sex now becomes a chore and charity work. Something you do because you feel bad about saying no all the time, something that takes time and cuts into your hours of
When these patterns continue, both partners become very emotionally lonely, detached and dissatisfied until something is done to remedy it. This is a very dangerous place to be maritally and emotionally and can create an environment conducive for affairs to occur. Some marriages do not end up in affairs; they
just become emotionally dead marriages, like working a dead end job just for the money. Many people do not want to be in this situation; in fact no one plans this, it just happens.
There are ways to make changes to our marriages and this applies to those with new born babies and those with teenagers. I have outlined some helpful ideas that I have worked for other couples and added some that we use as a couple to avoid the trap of complacency, try some and see if it is at all helpful. If we do not get creative, mindful and intentional about our marriages, we are in danger of losing intimacy, joy and fulfillment in our marital homes.
Also, when we prioritize our marriages, we communicate to our children that mommy and daddy love each other and our kids draw upon that love for confidence and self esteem. We also demonstrate what a loving healthy relationship looks like to our children so that they have good role models. So in the end, it can still ALL be about the kids. Happy marriages make happy parents, which in turn makes for optimally healthy home for raising kids.
Please note that some of these may or may not work for you, you may need to adjust it to fit your lifestyle, mood, and schedule. The key is not for you to do the exact same thing, the point is for you to start doing something different, get creative and mix things up.
1. Date nights, pick a day of the week and stick to it no matter what. This is one that we are faithful to, for us Friday night is a sacred night. Neither of us is allowed to schedule ANYTHING on Friday nights without first making sure it is alright with each other. We started practicing this while pregnant with our first child. Yep, it takes practice!
2. Date night does not always have to cost a lot of money, sometimes a little splurge works too – dates can include cuddling up on the sofa watching a tv show, driving around and just chatting, lying down on the bed talking for hours, eating a nice home cooked meal or a Chinese take away. Dates that could require some money- going to watch a movie, going to a restaurant, trying out the different Irish pubs in the neighborhood, going to listen to jazz artists etc. Just make it happen, be creative as to what you would deem a date, as long as you are together and having fun with each other, the goal has been met!
3. Sofa nights – we tried this but it did not last long as our son grew up, he just joined us on the sofa and we couldn’t kick our own son off the sofa because we were on a sofa night date. So that kind of morphed more into family time.
4. Do nice things for each other – Cook your partner their favorite dish, record their favorite TV shows, watch their favorite sport and TV shows with them, help with chores in the house, wash dishes. It communicates that you are paying attention and that you care.
5. Kiss and hug before leaving the house and when you return every day, yes even if you are going to the store. This is a fun family one as well; you can do this with the kids as well. Call it a “family hug,” it encourages bonding with your children and it signifies togetherness and assures the children that you are all a unit.
6. Use words of affirmation – telling your husband what a great father he is goes a long way. Like wise, men, tell your wife how much you appreciate what they do. If you think it, say it! If you don’t say it, we do not know it. An encouraging word goes a long way. Everyone loves to be told how lovely, beautiful, sexy, and kind they are. Men, especially should take the time to appreciate the woman’s extra efforts and responsibilities in caring for the
children, it should not be taken for granted.
7. Be spontaneous- we have sometimes traveled out of town to a hotel for the weekend by ourselves, just because! Or decided at almost midnight to head off to cheesecake factory, purchase cheesecake, chat and eat on the chairs outside at the mall or while sitting in the car.
8. Make time to connect – have lunch with each other from time to time, especially on work days if you can and meet with other couples to have double dates.
Having children can be very demanding and you may wish to say to me, Jummy! You’re so lucky; I wish my life was like that. I am tired all the time and I usually have no energy. To which I will respond, I understand, I have been there, in fact, I am there! If we want something to change then we need to start getting real and making different choices.
The suggestions that are outlined above are not easy to do, in fact, there are times that our spouses need to help us to remain faithful to the cause and at other times we are the ones that will need to do it for our spouses. What we must not do is to be so focused on our children that we let our marriages/relationships go. We must not neglect our wives and husbands and resign them to parenting roles. Before we became parents, we had names, desires, visions and goals. Those do not die just because we become parents. We need to find simple, practical ways to meet our needs. Taking time for our relationship takes practice. I know that sounds so mechanical but it is true.
If you want to try out some of the above suggestions, here are some important things that you could do to get you there and make the attempts successful and long lasting.
- Start this week. Do not wait until next week. Talk this over with your spouse and pick and schedule a day to stay up and cuddle on the sofa or eat a candle lit meal at home
- Hold each other accountable to make this happen
- Drop your pride at the front door. That is, if your spouse forgets or books something else that day, fight for your time together. Don’t get frustrated and say, well he or she clearly does not care so why should I? Remind your spouse how important spending time with her is to you and create a make up date right away.
- Put date nights/activities in your calendar as a recurring event
- Let your friends and family know what those days are so that they are aware and won’t disturb you or ask much of either of you.
- Be silly, enjoy and be spontaneous
- Practice, practice, practice. If you don’t, you won’t!