Monday, August 22, 2011

If you do ONE thing this week...


Does going out on a date sound inviting, but the reality of actually doing it is overwhelming? Are you so disconnected from your spouse that you fear you'll have nothing to talk about? Finding a reliable sitter isn't always easy, and paying for a sitter can be even more painful. Plus, after dealing with work and kids all day, who has the energy to stay up late enough to go out?

Alright that's it, stop right there! When Dave and I got married we made a pact that our relationship is #1 no matter what. Yes, we love our children and they will always be a top priority but they come second to our marriage. It always kills me when I hear people say they haven't gone out with their spouse in months. Months??? Are you kidding. I'd kill myself. Dave and I are very intentional about going out once per week without kids. Usually Saturday night. Whether we have plans or not. I always get asked, "what do you guys go do?" Sometimes it's a well planned out night. We might be meeting friends or have a function to attend. Other times we hop in the car, drive to a new city and end up at a restaurant that has great Yelp reviews for round one of cocktails. Then hop to a new place for appetizers. Then on to a different spot for dinner. Followed by a fun place for dessert. Those are my all-time favorite nights. They are spontaneous and exciting. There have been times though that I've ended up in Home Depot in heels picking out paint colors. And other times we might just go on a walk. A super fun night that pops into mind was when we were driving home from dinner and Dave pulled off the freeway, handed me $20 as we walked into the Casino and told me that once the money was spent, we were leaving. No matter what the date night entails, we know going out, being around one another without the kids is what keeps our marriage healthy and vibrant and is well worth the time, effort, and money - for both us and our kids.

But after a busy day, I get that many of us have little energy left for our mates. The needs of work, children, and the household are real and often immediate, leaving our spouses' needs last on our lists. Yet while an infant's needs should take priority—and yes, infants have a lot of needs—denying your spouse's needs and worrying only about the kids can be detrimental to your marriage.

One might assume a strong family unit focuses on the children, yet experts agree the heart of a successful family is a secure marriage. In Parent Power!, author John Rosemond states that the marriage is the nucleus of the family. It creates, defines, and sustains the family unit. Rosemond says, "Children's needs are met if the needs of the marriage are met."

Dr. Judith Siegel, PhD, author of What Children Learn from Their Parents' Marriage, agrees that couple time is a necessity. "I have found that couples who rarely spend time together are not able to support and take care of each other, and that there are painful consequences," says Dr. Siegel. Having children is stressful enough without the added burden of an unhappy marriage. Instead, experts agree couples should spend time together as a way to keep the marriage a priority.

Finding alone time with your spouse may not be easy but it is achievable, and having fun together enhances a marriage. According to Linda and Richard Eyre, co-authors of The Happy Family, dating your spouse keeps your relationship fresh. "Married couples who still have a weekly or biweekly date on a set night tend to keep a courtship mentality that prompts better communication and a more lasting romance," they write.

But what about the children? Isn't leaving them behind unfair? Experts say no. Going out with your spouse teaches your children that marriage and partnership are important. Dr. Siegel notes that children learn what to expect from a marriage through their parents' relationship. "When children see how much their parents value each other and their relationship, they are learning about an important source of fulfillment and gratification," writes Dr. Siegel.

Here's a thought: Your children might actually enjoy having a babysitter. For many, a babysitter is a change of pace, someone new to interact and play with, someone whose rules and ways of doing things are different. Even children who have difficulty at first will come around. Everything takes time. Learning to have fun without you is a good lesson in independence for all children. And just remember - they need a break from you just as much as you need a break from them!

Last but not least, what about you? When is the last time you felt like a person instead of a parent? Being a good mom or dad does not mean being a martyr, and even the best of parents get tired of changing diapers, playing Barbies, and picking up toys. Remembering that you are a human being with a personality and interests can be very refreshing—and make you a better parent.

Trying to think of fun dates that won't break the bank? Unfortunately the cost of dinner and a movie isn't what it used to be so look into a matinee. If money is an issue for you, get creative. A free concert in the park, a hike together, a stroll through the art museum—the possibilities are endless. Find a place to go dancing (Dave's ultimate date!). Instead of doing out to dinner, pack a picnic and go watch the sunset at the beach. Or grab appetizers during Happy Hour for half the cost. Or sip on coffee at a local coffee house while listening to a local artist play. Even an hour to grab ice cream can be all you need to reconnect. Any money you spend is an investment in your marriage. No matter what you do, you'll bask in the freedom of no stroller, no diaper bag, and no interruptions!

Dating your spouse is fun and healthy for the whole family. The key is to do what feels comfortable and right for your crew. With a little ingenuity, you'll find a night out with your spouse is a positive experience for all. My one rule: No checking email and no texting during your time together. It will be there when you are done. So go on, line up sitter and give yourself a break! Pretty soon, your kids will be asking, "When can we have the babysitter again?"

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