Any relationship is defined by key milestones. Meeting. Dating. Moving in together. But the biggest one is the birth of your children. Your world gets turned upside down and you suddenly go from “just the two of us” - the honeymoon period to which my husband and I affectionately refer to as B.C. (before child) - to a wonderful and chaotic phase of parenting.
Becoming parents is a roller coaster of joys and sacrifices, a search for balance which possibly doesn’t exist, a process in which we oftentimes prioritize our kids’ needs over our own.
In talking to my friends and co-workers on a daily basis, a question of priorities often comes up. The biggest issue people grapple with is what I call the “guilt-free parenting” concept. They ask questions like: “Should I pursue the career I love or spend more time at home?” “Should I feel guilty spending a lot of time on the road?” “What am I really giving up for not being there for every one of my kid soccer practice?”
The question that we don’t ask ourselves as much is this one: “Am I losing sight of being a good spouse by focusing solely on being a good parent?” We are so focused on being good parents, it consumes us entirely. We get confused about who we are, what makes us tick, what makes our marriages work. We run the risk of our marriage turning into an exclusively parental relationship. There is a lot of danger in that.
Here is my deep parental belief: If you are happy, your child is happy.
Loving what you do contributes to your happiness. Having healthy hobbies and passion projects contributes to your happiness. Having a great relationship with your spouse contributes to your happiness. You are a better parent when you are happy, than when you are not.
What brought these thoughts on?
Plum Organics just launched a campaign provocatively named “Do Your Part[ner].” Yes, you heard it right. They are inviting their customers to make love a priority and they produced a fun video to deliver their message. The campaign definitely intrigued me as a marketer, but more so as a parent. I connected with it right away because my husband and I often struggle to carve out the time for us as a couple vs. us as parents.
This campaign isn’t a coincidence. Plum Organics did research to see if parents are putting themselves first every once in a while and here is what they found:
- 70% of millennial parents feel guilty when they’re away from their child for a night out with their partner
- Nearly 70% of parents with a significant other talk about their kids the majority of the time they’re alone together
- Over 1/3 of parents say the thing they do most in their bed besides sleeping is catching up on news or social media
- Parents say they are 52% less likely to celebrate Valentine’s Day after they became a parent
Interesting stats, especially if you consider that 88% of parents think having a good sex life is essential to their family’s happiness and 63% would rather get an uninterrupted meal with their partner for a Valentine’s gift instead of fancy jewelry.
It is absolutely essential not to lose sight of your personal relationship and your marriage. Parenting is all-consuming and it seems easier to de-prioritize your personal needs. But that’s not the right approach.
My husband and I haven’t been on a date for 5 years after the birth of our daughter before we realized how important it was for us to set boundaries and get some alone time.
For those of you who are looking to re-establish and nurture relationship with your partner, here is what worked for us:
- Go on a date at least once a month. And make an effort to talk about topics other than your children.
- Hire a babysitter for those “date nights” that your child likes to spend time with. We have a high school student our daughter adores who babysits for us specifically on those nights. They play games, read books, and do other fun activities. Our child prepares for those evenings in advance and looks forward to them, practically kicking us out of the house when time comes.
- If possible, solicit grandparents’ help on the weekends or over the school break. Ask them to take care of the kids overnight or for the week and dedicate as much time as you can to the two of you.
- Find new things you want to experience together and do them. Or plan a small road trip you can get excited about. Be sure to take occasional vacations without the children.
- Teach your kids to help with chores to create more free time for yourselves.
- Text each other funny images every now and then or heart-a-grams without any reason. Let your spouse know you are thinking about them.
- Do not bring any electronics into your bedroom. We have no TV in our room and we leave laptops and mobile devices in the living room. Talk about your day, do anything but stare at the screen. Not only will this improve the communication between the two of you, but it’ll help you sleep better. There is no need to invite hundreds of people into your bedroom, which should be a personal space for just the two of you.
- Don’t allow your kids to sleep with you. Period.
Do whatever works for you. But remember: when the kids go away to college, it’ll just be the two of you. Make sure you are prioritizing your marriage as much as you are prioritizing being a parent, because it’ll make it so much easier – and more fun – to go back to “just the two of you.”