Keeping the Fires Burning

The early years of raising children are physically and mentally demanding. It’s easy for parents to get so caught up in meeting and anticipating their children’s every need, in addition to fulfilling other obligations (employment, volunteering, household  management, helping aging relatives), that the setting aside of quality time with a spouse is neglected.
In order to flourish, the marital relationship must be continually nurtured by a conscious, ongoing investment of time and effort. Chances are, though, you won’t “find” coupletime at this busy stage of your life — you have to carve it out, making it a priority. For instance, do you or your spouse devote time to individual leisure pursuits? If so, scale back and substitute couple-time.

Make regular dates
Consider establishing a weekly, biweekly or monthly date, perhaps going out for dinner, attending a cultural or sporting event, or trying a new activity together. If you’re on a tight budget, collect and use coupons for local restaurants and attractions, go out for dessert instead of a meal, take a long walk or go cycling, pack a picnic lunch or supper and go to a park, or drive somewhere that offers a great sunset view. Vary activities and the time of day to make dates even more fun, and take turns planning them.

Carve out time to be alone
Give preference to activities that allow you the opportunity to be alone and to communicate. Remember how much time you spent talking — both face to face and on the telephone — when you were dating? So if you like going to the movies, build in time for  coffee or a walk afterwards. Once or twice a year, try to arrange an overnight date, at home or away.

Find a reliable babysitter
It’s best if the babysitter is someone your children know well: a grandparent, aunt, uncle, teenage cousin, or a good friend of yours. Another option is to hire a teenager from your neighbourhood — someone whose family you know, or who has good references. If you don’t know of anyone, ask around. (Make sure your kids are comfortable with the sitter, and vice versa, before you leave them alone.) Or consider taking turns babysitting with another set of parents you know. Also, check out the weekend preschool programs at YMCAs/YWCAs and area recreation centres, or at local children’s museums; they allow enough time for
you and your spouse to go for coffee or a walk, or do some errands together. (Note that a division of labour isn’t permitted
in this case).

Enjoy late-night dates at home
If it’s hard to arrange babysitting, or you feel your children are too young to be left with a sitter, plan home-based dates. Once the kids are settled in bed, order your favourite takeout food and enjoy a candlelit dinner in the dining room; have a picnic on the living room floor; cook a special meal together; cuddle up and watch a movie (perhaps one you enjoyed while courting); or play  cards or board games. Turn off the telephone so you aren’t interrupted.

Use flex time at work
If you both work outside the home, arrange a lunch date, or jointly arrange an afternoon off to do something fun together until it’s time to pick up the kids. If you can flex your work time, plan to go in later one day and have breakfast together after taking the kids to school or daycare.

Take time to talk
It’s also important to find ways to build quality couple time into daily life, even if all you can manage for now is 15 minutes. It can be as simple as habitually sitting down together to talk about your day once the kids are settled in bed instead of automatically turning on the television or computer, delving into your briefcase or dashing off to do household chores. Give each other your full attention, eliminating all distractions.

Show your partner appreciation
Get into the habit, too, of demonstrating affection on a daily basis, and expressing appreciation for the things your partner does for you and your family. Perform thoughtful gestures, such as completing a household task your mate customarily handles , or serving breakfast in bed. Revive courtship practices you once engaged in, like giving flowers or writing notes.

Rest assured that as your children grow, couple time will be easier to come by. However, you must lay the groundwork now. Without question it’s a challenge, but well worth the effort because a good marriage is a source of refuge from the trials and tribulations of life and provides great fulfillment and joy. By fostering intimacy as a couple, you also create a nurturing home environment and set a positive relationship example for your children. In other words, the whole family benefits.

Lisa M. Petsche is a registered social worker and a freelance writer specializing in family life and health matters.

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