By Kathryn Sansone Author of Woman First, Family Always: Real-Life Wisdom from a Mother of Ten
It's easy for parents today to get swept up in their children's lives. From the minute we take them home, put on their first diapers, and give them their first bottles, we begin trying our best to fulfill all of our children's needs and demands. While I am a firm believer in being a thoughtful, committed parent, I also know that if couples don't put their relationship first (most of the time), then no amount of devotion to their kids will keep their relationship alive.
That said, I also realize that it's not easy to keep a healthy balance between thinking of ourselves as both partners and as parents. How do we achieve the right balance that makes us feel that we are doing a good job as parents without losing sight of the reason you became a family in the first place?
Carve Out Time
Despite so many kids, so many demands, and so much enjoyment we get from our kids, Jim and I always carve out time for just the two of us. It's not always easy, but we don't waste time trying to figure out if we deserve it.
One night last summer we did just that. It was a Friday and I had been with the kids all week. I was exhausted and had spent all my energy reserves. As usual, the kids had a swim meet, and Jim and I had planned to meet there to watch them race. When he arrived from the office, we took one look at each other and knew we needed to create time for just the two of us. At the end of the swim meet, we took the kids to McDonald's (not something we regularly do) and then home. Once they were showered, in their pajamas, and set for bed, we headed out the door, leaving the older kids to babysit.
We didn't deliberate over whether the kids were okay; we knew they were safe and sound. And we also knew it was just as important for us to have time alone. We had a lovely, albeit short, dinner out and enjoyed every minute of it.
The best gift you can give your children is a loving relationship with your spouse. When children know -- and witness -- their parents putting aside time for each other, kids understand that their parents are committed to each other. They also know that their parents love each other. In turn, this love between their parents makes kids feel safe, enabling them to grow unhindered, following their own unique destinies.
On the other hand when children are always put first or experience rancor between their parents, constant fighting, verbal violence, or a lack of trust, then children question the very root of their foundation. Such a lack of safety breeds internal chaos and insecurity, two obstacles to healthy self-esteem and confidence.
Show Your Love
For both your children's sake and your own, it's important to put energy into your primary relationship. Show your love toward him in front of your kids. Take time to be alone with your spouse. Your kids couldn't have a better gift than to know their parents love and respect each other and like to spend time with each other.
This also means that you have to save some attention for your man at the end of the day. When Jim gets home at night, I will have his dinner place set with a pretty placemat, plate, and a big glass of water with lemon and, sometimes, a drink. I try to greet him at the door, looking eager for him to get out of his car. I get off the phone so he knows I am focused on him. I will also kiss him. When he gets home, if I'm not right at the door, he seeks me out.
Taking Time to Reconnect
Even if you feel wiped out at the end of the day, you will feel reenergized simply by reconnecting with your spouse. Granted, you may not have the energy to greet him with a beautiful smile on your face each night, but if you do it often enough, he will know that you care about him in that way.
Consider these ways to reconnect with your spouse:
- Plan a date night, which means putting a date on the calendar, hiring a babysitter, and making a reservation if necessary.
- Send the kids to their grandparents', friends', or cousins' house so that the two of you have a night alone at home.
- Talk to your kids about how important it is that parents have alone time. Explain that this doesn't mean they are less important, but rather that a family's strength comes from the parents having a solid relationship.
- Hire a babysitter to take your kids out to a movie or mall so you and your husband can stay home alone; what a wonderful feeling, to be alone. Have dinner uninterrupted! Your partnership is both an oasis and a source of strength, so give it the attention it deserves.
Reprinted from Woman First, Family Always: Real-Life Wisdom from a Mother of Ten by Kathryn Sansone. Copyright © 2006 Kathryn Sansone. Published by Meredith Books; January 2006; $24.95US/$34.95CAN; 069622832-7