By Annie Gebel
As the old playground rhyme goes – so should life, whenever possible. I’m not talking about whether you actually had kids before getting married or how that all went down. I’m not even talking about whether you are actually married or not. What I do want to address is after you’ve got the kiddos – regardless of whether you’re married, romantically involved, or a single parent – and how this rhyme still applies.
First comes love.
Then comes marriage – or any other relationships with other adults.
Then comes baby in the baby carriage. Or calling you insistently, “Mama, Mama, MAMA!” Or stomping up the stairs. Or squeezing in between you and your husband while you’re trying to watch TV. Whatever your babies are up to these days, they’re third in the rhyme.
So often parents let their children be the focus of their lives and lose sight of their relationships. I recently heard that empty nesters have a higher divorce rate than ever before. This increase could be for any number of reasons, but there are a few prominent hypotheses that could explain this sad reality. One is that parents push annoyances and frustrations aside and stay married because of their kids and once they’re gone, couples feel like they have no connection any more. Another is that the kid-centric world we live in leaves couples little time to grow with their partners and in their marriages. Regardless of the reasons, I think it’s heartbreaking that couples who have shared homes for a couple decades haven’t shared their lives.
So, let’s nip these problems in the bud and get you all focused on the health of your adult relationships. What do you say? Here are three things that might help and can be applied even if you haven’t said “I do” to anyone.
Stop Putting Your Kids First
Sometimes the kids need to get attention, guidance, or their basic needs met. But not all the time. You don’t need to stop every conversation you’re trying to have because your child has something important to tell you. Teaching them to wait a moment is a good thing and lets you use your brain in some fantastic adult conversation! It also encourages the reality that they are not the center of the world and will not get everything they want the second they want it, simply by teaching good manners.
When you’re organizing play dates for the kids, do so with your play date needs in mind too. In fact, try organizing your date first. You could schedule an actual, out-of-the-house date with your spouse and instead of hiring a sitter you could ask a friend to watch your kids and let them have a “play date” while you take in a matinee that’s not rated G! You could also plan a park day with friends or host a game night. Either way, YOU can interact with people who don’t call you Mommy and your kids can play with their friends. And during this time – they need to be outside of your circle. While you’re having your play date, it is okay if they’re bored on the playground – they’ll live and will likely find a new way to have fun in the next three minutes.
I hope you’ve noticed here that you don’t need to be alone to have time with other adults. I know it’s hard (and expensive) to go out on dates and hire sitters. So show your children while they’re present that Mom and Dad’s friendships and relationships are important too. That’s fantastic modeling and it’ll stay with them in their lives.
Don’t Ignore the Little Things
Both the little things that bother you and the little things that you can do to say “I love you” are important. If there’s a petty argument that keeps coming to the surface every month and nothing ever changes, don’t simply ignore it and let it simmer in the background until your kids leave for college and the top blows off your tea kettle! If you’re unable to resolve some annoyance on your own, seek outside help. If something is recurring and bothers one or both of the people in a relationship, it’s worth addressing. Marriage counseling can be a great resource and is often only turned to when one or both partners have already given up. Why not go before then, while you still feel hope and you just need to hear a voice outside the issue?
The little things you do for your spouse are perfect for those years when the kids do seem to be underfoot constantly. When you feel like ships passing in the night with quick air kisses on the way to and from work, to and from sports, and to and from all the other things called life, use your time and energy wisely. Write notes to tuck in your husband’s lunch. Send a quick text before going into a meeting. Slip a little tongue into your normal quick peck of a goodbye kiss. Those little connections send a strong signal that you remember that person is someone special. Just be sure your little touch of romance doesn’t become an annoyance your spouse complains about. My husband would think one note in his lunch was eye-roll worthy, but sweet. Beyond that, though, he’d likely respond negatively. Thankfully I know this about him and try to speak his love language to him – which involves baked goods and suggestive winks and such.
Making plans for the future is something my husband and I do often. We’re both naturally planners, so it’s a good fit for us. I know, though, that not everyone is that way and many of you might be seat-of-the-pants kind of folk. The good news is that I think dreaming for the future is even more important than planning for it.
Where would you be in a decade if money were no object? If you could retire at 40, what would you do? When you’re a grandparent and telling your grandkids about their parents, are you rocking on a porch, fishing, playing pool in your fabulous game room? Dream big and share with others. There’s something magical and playful about dreams, even if you’re 99% sure they’ll never see reality. By sharing that spark of excitement with your husband, your sister, your best friend, you’re continually renewing, joyfully, the bond you have with that person. And you’re placing that person in your future life by recognizing them in your future dreams.
These three suggestions are certainly not going to make parenting a breeze, but they do help you rekindle your love, which is first in the rhyme. You’ll remember why you fell in love with your spouse in the first place. You’ll see the depth of love you have for those friends that are with you through thick and thin. Perhaps most importantly, your love for living life will be reignited. After all, as a parent, sharing a love of life might be up there on the list of things we’d like to pass on to our children and we can’t do that if our only goal is to make the kids happy even at the expense of our own joy. We have to take care of ourselves and our relationships and put love (not babies in carriages) first.