Being parents is hectic. There is homework to check, meals to prepare, laundry to do, school projects to help with, gymnastics and football practice to manage, and very often there are children sleeping in your bed. Our natural inclination as parents is to put our children’s happiness above all else and let our marriage take a backseat as we focus all of our love, attention, and affection on them. But it turns out that doing this may actually be causing them more harm than good. According to David Code, author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First parents in today’s society can seem more married to their kids than to their spouses, and this isn’t doing anyone any favors. “This creates stressed-out parents who feel disconnected from each other, and demanding and entitled kids who act out,” he says. “Some kids might become overly dependent on parents as a result of all the attention.”
It can feel almost sacrilegious for us to shift our primary focus from our children to our relationship as spouses, but it is actually good for them in the long run. “A strong relationship provides security for your children and demonstrates how a loving, respectful partnership should be,” says Laura Berman, PH.D., author of a couples guide titled The Book of Love. “What could be more important?”
OK, so we have established that your marriage should be priority numero uno, but that’s a lot easier said than done. How do we put our marriage first when we are already so tired and drained from all our responsibilities as parents and working full time jobs? Here are some tips to help get you started.
1. Begin integrating bonding time into your everyday routine. Don’t try to implement large changes such as a date night every week or trying to find a sitter every weekend, as this won’t be sustainable and can lead to even more stress. Instead, concentrate on making small changes in your everyday routine that can lead to more time spent together. For example, begin making it a point to cook dinner together every evening or plan a weekly movie night for the two of you after the kids have gone to bed. Make an effort to bring more couple time into your everyday life and you will begin to feel more connected.
2. Try something new together. Sign up to run a marathon and train for it together, or learn how to cook new recipes together. Find something that peaks both of your interests and try it together. Life with kids can get monotonous, so trying something new together can be a good way to add some new excitement and allow the two of you to reconnect.
3. Be affectionate. Make a point to hug and kiss each other whenever you depart or come back together. Hold hands as you watch TV, or give your spouse a back rub as you lay in bed in the evenings. And don’t be shy with the compliments. If you think your husband looks particularly handsome in that shade of green, tell him so! Showing each other affection is one of the best ways to keep that loving feeling alive.
4. Send each other texts throughout the day. With busy work schedules and our kids’ hectic activities schedules, we can end up spending the majority of our days apart from our spouses. But being busy and in separate places doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected. Make it a point to send your spouse quick texts throughout the day letting him know that you are thinking about him and missing him. They don’t all have to be overly sweet or gooey, it could be a picture of your smile, or a joke you heard that you thought he would find funny. The more you stay connected, the more bonded you will feel.
5. Have daily kid-free conversations. Begin making it a point to have a conversation with your spouse each day that doesn’t involve the kids. It can be as you talk while you prepare dinner together and the kids are playing, or as you get ready for bed after the kids have gone to sleep. Take a few minutes each day to talk to each other about how your own day went, any fears or worry you may each be experiencing, and anything good that happened to you that day. You should make a point to keep talk about the kids out of this conversation and make it all about each other instead.
One of the best gifts parents can give their children is to model for them what a loving, respectful, committed, and happy relationship looks like. Having a happy and healthy marriage provides a happy home life for the entire family and shifting a portion of the focus away from the kids and toward each other helps kids grow up to be more independent and less reliant on their parents. Begin implementing these tips on a daily basis and you will all reap the rewards.