The scene: You’re finally alone with your spouse, out for a nice dinner, and all you can talk about are the kids.
Did you talk to Ms. So-and-So about the science project?
Are you taking [the kid] to piano lessons on Saturday or am I?
We have to figure out what camps we’re doing this summer.
Can you believe that hilarious thing [the kid] did last night?
Once you have children, it’s almost as if you forget how to have a real adult conversation. It’s so easy to revert to talking about kid logistics, or kid activities, or kid-anything – but that comes at a cost, to the sense of connection you have with your significant other.
One of the key principles of my new book, Time to Parent, is that taking care of yourself is essential to your ability to care for your child. Deep connections to your significant other (and close friends) are nourishing and satisfying in a different way than the love and affinity you feel for your children.
Being a parent is not the only thing you are, right? It’s also not what brought you and your spouse together to begin with. For the health of your relationship -- and your own well-being -- it’s essential to make time for each other, with no kids involved. And once you have squared away that time, to protect it as sacred – separate and apart from your lives and identities as parents.
Here are five ideas to get you started:
Discuss as many logistics as you can over email. One couple I know takes care of as many kid and household logistics as possible over email. This includes who’s picking up who when, who’s ordering new car seats, last minute grocery lists, scheduling changes (which they put into a shared family Google calendar). It means they don’t spend the time they do have face-to-face talking logistics. It also creates a record of what they decided.
Babysitters are an important investment. I get it. Babysitters are expensive. Start thinking of your sitter as an investment in your marriage. The $40 or $80 or $100 spend is worth it, if it means creating the space for a quality connection. Once you’re out, kid-related-topics are off limits!
The magic of day dates. Instead of going out in the evening, do something with your spouse during the day -- when you already have child care lined up for the kids. Sure, you may need to take a personal or vacation day to make it happen, but what better way to spend that time than a day-long date? Go to the beach, take a walk through the city, go on a long bike ride. And if taking a full day off just isn’t possible, how about a lunch or late afternoon coffee date?
Find your daily glue. Couples who manage to stay connected in the throes of child-rearing find ways to keep in touch in little ways throughout the work day. Aim for three to five different points of connection during the day. Could be an email, a quick text change, a couple of short phone calls. Those tiny connection points will make it easier for you to connect in-person at home. It also feels good to have someone who knows what your daily existence is like.
Due the dishes together. Some couples prefer to split up the nightly duties – one parent cleans up from dinner, while the other honchos getting the kids ready for bed. But if time with your significant other is hard to come by, consider doing the dishes together, after the kids are asleep. Washing and drying dishes isn’t exactly a romantic outing -- but it’s 20 to 25 minutes of undistracted time you can spend together. Do that a couple of times a week and you’re likely to feel much more connected.
A 75-year study at Harvard University, known as the Grant Study, found that strong relationships are the most important ingredient to well-being over a long life. Spending quality time alone with your significant other is good for you, and your kids.