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Southlake Style

Don’t Forget Your Spouse When You Have Small Children

Dec 17, 2015 08:46AM ● By Audrey Sellers

By Leah Spina

We have a three-year-old towhead boy and an 11-month-old baby girl that resembles a live Cabbage Patch doll. They make us laugh and smile each day. We love them with all our might. But the transition from one to two small children was a rough one for my husband and me. We took turns at having a life – someone was always “on” watching the kids. I felt completely overwhelmed and our marriage suffered.

It wasn’t because we didn’t care about each other. We were simply chronically exhausted and stressed out caring for the five-million constant needs of a baby and toddler, night and day. We had little time or energy for our marriage.

That’s when we decided we had to make some changes. Sure, we could survive these years and hope to reconnect when the kids were older. But who wants to live like that or hope their marriage will somehow survive? We did not want to emerge haggard strangers. We did not want a child-centered home. Our first priority was our marriage and then our children. So we sat down at Starbucks (with double shot espressos thanks to teething-baby-sleepless-nights) and jotted a list of problems and then solutions to prioritize marriage in the diaper chaos. Here’s some ideas on building your marriage while parenting small children.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION SOLUTIONS

Whether it’s a newborn, teething baby, scared toddler or sick child, sleepless nights are a bear. You naturally snap at your children and spouse when walking around like a zombie during the day. Every small annoyance seems like a big deal in a cloud of exhaustion. I vividly remember David with bloodshot eyes reminding me, “We’re both tired so I think it’s important we try to extend a lot of grace toward one another.” Try to overlook offenses and give grace to your spouse – you both are just not yourselves. Eliminate potential conflict – it’s not time to discuss big life issues or over commit the calendar or travel.

END OF THE DAY/WEEKEND TIME OFF/SCHEDULING

When dad returns from work, he is tired. So is Mom. Both desperately crave a break but look! There are those adorable little ones still needing attention, dinner and bedtime. Talk through what works for you as a couple so that both of you can relax at some point each day. You’ll both have a better attitude about weeknights and weekends if the expectations are voiced/discussed and you formulate a plan of action. Also, we learned the hard way about over-scheduling and taking too many trips with small children. Now I watch our calendar like a hawk. We do not risk over-committing to the detriment of our marriage or our children. It is JUST. NOT. WORTH. IT. Learn to say no. Your marriage and children will be glad you did!

RECREATING YOURSELVES INDIVIDUALLY

In the wake of small children, both spouses can feel they eat, sleep and breathe small children. You can feel you’ve lost your identity. Like you are rat on a spinning wheel that cannot jump off. A mama and dad that never get a break are miserable. Make a list – both mom and dad – of what recreates you as an individual. Then create daily/weekly schedules so you can both recreate yourselves and return home a better spouse and parent. Some things we prioritized was personal quiet times, working out, social/shopping time for me, Dave taking time for his hobbies, etc. It feels selfish at first when you have to get a babysitter or your children may “suffer” from not being with you at a young age, but this alone has eliminated so much tension because we are not running around on empty.

FUN MEMORY-MAKING ACTIVITIES

I remember rocking a baby overhearing David talking on the phone to one of his guy friends – they were laughing and joking about old times. A lightbulb went off – we need to develop fun, memory-making activities and experiences as a couple. We associate fun with certain people because our connection to them is through fun activities. Unfortunately, our best friend – the one we love the most – is often just a roommate and fellow caretaker during the small children stage. Dave and I decided we needed to proactively create fun, memory-making experiences with our spouse that we can laugh about and talk about later on through the years. I know it feels like you have no time or energy to even think about getting a babysitter or researching a new activity but I promise you it is WORTH IT! Our lives are as interesting and fun as we make them.

SHARED GROWTH EXPERIENCES

We try to learn new things and grow as a couple whether it is a structured class or reading a book together to discuss. Maybe a parenting class, a church small group or a new hobby or a mission trip. We also commit to one marriage conference a year. During those experiences, we are both learning and changing as individuals and as a couple. We have new material to discuss as a couple. Before we implemented fun and growth activities, we felt our date night dinners were merely checking in on each other’s individual lives. Now we are growing and having fun as a couple with lots of shared memories and topics.

DATE NIGHT

Each day I feel like I’m putting on my work uniform – comfortable clothing and shoes so I can get down on my knees to change a diaper, lift a dirty toddler into their car seat, etc. When all we see of our spouse is that one side – working mama in clothes with baby spit up on the shoulder, and a husband that comes home to unwind – we forget that cute guy that made our heart flutter, or the girl he couldn’t wait to see. When we go on a date night, Dave and I both try to pull ourselves out of our parenting/work identities and even wear clothes that are for each other! It makes me love Dave all over again when I see him getting dressed in something special for “our time” and I try hard to dress like his girlfriend instead of a tired mom. I cannot tell you how different it is to step into our white suburban without kids. I look back at the two empty car seats, reach over for his hand and say, “Hey! How ARE you? I’ve missed you?” This is the crucial few hours where we can actually concentrate on each other without our energy and focus zapped from children. I’m not going to lie – sometimes it’s a good 30 minutes of just being quite while we slowly unwind from high energy/stress to relax, eat and start to talk!

TRIPS WITHOUT KIDS

Dave and I took our first “big” trip away from the kids two months ago – it was better than our honeymoon! We were like high-schoolers in love again! It opened our eyes to how much stress we maintain each day that keeps us so tired. We really do like each other! We just have little energy when taking care of kids all the time. We want to try to do a trip like this once a year to reconnect. Hot, uninterrupted meals, time to get ready, no buckling children in the car seat or being on a time clock for naps or bedtimes – and SLEEP, glorious sleep! We couldn’t stop talking and laughing and just being relaxed together.

SIMPLE, SCHEDULED LIFESTYLE

We made a spreadsheet of all the goals we had for each other and our family. Then we created time slots on specific days and times to implement those goals. For example, once a week Dave and I have a formal meeting when the children are napping to schedule our week and upcoming dates/trips. We also made meals simple – I buy a lot of prepared foods and we use disposable, plastic tableware. This is just not the season for me to cook elaborate meals or spend time doing unnecessary dishes. We do take-out and use frozen pizzas and I’m learning to not feel bad anymore. My red-light indicator is when I start snapping at the people I love the most – what can we adjust to eliminate underlying stress? I sometimes felt disconnected from Dave because we rarely had deep conversations – so now after the kids go down, we try to take about ten minutes to debrief about the day while relaxing in bed. We also realized that sex was thrown in whenever we both felt like it or had the time. With small children, it kept getting pushed aside and often one of us was too tired. Now we have specific times that are set aside each week. If it happens in between, great. If not, we both look forward to those scheduled times and don’t put it off because it is a priority. You always get the things done in your life that are important to you. Sometimes it just takes scheduling to make those important things happen.

Takeaway: Obviously we did not implement all of these the day our second baby was born. But as the weeks drew on, we knew something must change. We tweak these ideas according to our life season that constantly evolves. But the most important thing is we are no longer tagging marriage building activities in when we feel like it or remember it. We really try hard on a daily and weekly basis to build our marriage.

Photo via Flickr

Leah Spina is a former journalist of a national newsweekly turned stay-at-home mom to three children, age five and under. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband, David, and is a speaker to mom groups and conferences. Her new book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years helps parents to enjoy, not just endure, the little years by changing their parenting perspective. Visit leahspina.com to sign-up for Leah’s free weekly parenting blog and video. You can also follow her on Instagram (leahthespina) and Facebook. When Leah is not burning macaroni and cheese, she enjoys singing Italian opera, riding horses and drinking inordinate amounts of Starbucks coffee.