My husband says we should have “date nights” without our three kids, but free evenings are almost impossible to find. Our children’s schedules are full of school, sports and social activities that keep us coming and going, and when we finally choose date night, I’m either too tired to go out or I feel guilty for taking the time away from home. I think our time would be better spent having a family dinner, which we don’t do enough. Our kids are 8, 10, and 14. How bad would it be if we just give up on date nights until the youngest is older and finding time as a couple is easier?
To: Desperate Daters
Consider this: Whatever is in the best interests of your marriage is also in the best interest of your children.
We all know that having children is both indescribably satisfying but also extremely stressful. Little children are physically exhausting, big children are emotionally draining, and children of all ages are demanding and expensive.
More than that, in our culture we’ve been convinced that children come first even before our marriages. You see this attitude exhibited in couples running themselves ragged to accommodate their children’s sports and extracurricular schedules, not to mention their busy adolescent social lives, yet take virtually no time to nurture their relationship as husbands and wives.
The pressure to be “perfect parents” sometimes causes us to go way out on a limb for our children, leaving us no time, energy or funds to attend to our marriages. If this is true for one parent but not the other, resentment can build within the marriage, resentment some say the children can sense.
“Child-centered” families in which parents sublimate themselves and their marriage to satisfy every want and whim of their children are petri dishes for problems. When it’s “all about the kids,” the adults can grow isolated and unappreciated, or worse.
On the other hand, “parent-centered” or “marriage-centered” families are built around the premise that a healthy marriage makes for the happiest home, and that children will most benefit when Mom and Dad are first and foremost husband and wife. In these families, the children understand that the love between Mom and Dad is shared among the children. Nothing feels more secure and safe to a child than living in a home when he’s sure his parents love each other with all their hearts.
It’s easy to slip into habits of child-centeredness. After all, children need supervision, transportation, food and water. Typically, when they are finally all tucked into bed and the tasks of parenthood are done, all we can do is stay awake for an hour of TV. The idea of a sparkling conversation with our spouse is almost overwhelming.
If you’re living in a child-centric home, remember that a healthy marriage is the foundation for everyone’s happiness. How to regroup?
Check in once a day with your spouse without talking about the children. Ask how their day is going and try to keep the focus on each other without careening the conversation into Kidville.
Drop your standards for what constitutes a date. It can be as simple as taking a walk after dinner or as deluxe as dinner and movie. Don’t be afraid to excuse the children from the room and explain that Mom and Dad want to be alone. They may roll their eyes at you, but secretly they’ll think it’s cool.
Plan a weekend getaway. This doesn’t have to cost a dime. Farming the children out for a night or two to a friend can be just as restful and rejuvenating to your relationship as spending the weekend in a hotel. In a few weeks, return the favor and support another married couple as they take a much-needed kid break.