At almost every Build Your Marriage conference, parents of young children often ask, “We love our kids, but how do you find time in marriage for each other when raising little children?”
Drs. Philip and Carolyn Cowan learned that 92% of the young families they studied were in marital trouble and “by the time their babies were 18 months old, almost one of four couples indicated that their marriage was in distress. And this does not include the 13% who already had announced separations and divorces.”
The stakes are high to stay connected and build your marriage while your children are young. We’ve been there and now that our children are adults and well into their careers we can look back on a few things we learned along the way:
1. The 20-minute rule
Early in parenting, we discovered that the first 20 minutes of being together after work was nearly sacred for us to connect. Although the children wanted our time, Brad would take the initiative and tell them that when the clock had “these numbers on it” (whatever was 20 minutes from then), he would play with them. But first, he was going to talk to their mommy.
The kids learned to respect mommy & daddy’s time to talk and would busy themselves in another room. This allowed us a few minutes to debrief the day and catch up on the children. We felt re-connected as we entered the evening. It also elevated the children’s respect for their mom when they saw their dad placing his relationship with her above his relationship with them.
In our parenting, we established a fairly rigid bedtime for our children through junior high school. This was good for our kid’s health and it was vital for our marital health. They didn’t always go to sleep then, but it was the established time for them to be in their rooms and in bed.
Sometimes we got other chores done around the house once they were down. But often we would sit on the couch for a little while and have “us” time that was focused and uninterrupted.
Remember, your children generally won’t like whatever time you establish for them. But as a couple, you have a responsibility as their parents to do what’s best first for your marriage, and then for them.
3. Have “nap time”
When your kids reach an age where they can be left alone for 20-30 minutes, let them know that the two of you are going to have your own “nap time” on the weekends. You may even coordinate it when they have theirs. You may not have long—and you should have a lock on your bedroom door—but it can be a great opportunity for the two of you to bring planned intimacy into your day.
4. Free sitters
As young parents, the cost of babysitting can be prohibitive. Some couples can tap into nearby relatives for occasional childcare, but we never had that luxury. We lived several hundred miles from any family.
Instead, we had good friends who had three boys and we simply traded babysitting. We trusted each other, the children had fun playing, and we could bless our friends (and vice versa).
5. Stay romantic
It takes a little intentionality, but you can still flirt with each other and be playful with kids around. The cute glances at each other. A quick dance in the kitchen. A surprise love note where your spouse will find it. Hugging or snuggling up together. Make efforts at bringing the romance you had prior to children into the dailiness of your life with your children.
With a little focus and attention, you’ll find that the two of you can stay connected, raise great children, and build your marriage.