Achieving the perfect balance between your married life and your responsibilities as a parent is something we all find challenging. It can often seem as if one or the other is getting the short end of the stick. But there are some ways to get a handle on this delicate balancing act.
"I think it's vital to remember that the foundation of the family is the marriage. Without a strong foundation, the whole construction crumbles," said Mary Kay Cocharo, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles with more than 25 years of experience.
Cocharo recommends couples use the time after children go to bed as their "tune in to each other" by talking, sharing concerns, even just cuddling. "It's important to turn off your screens and look at one another," she said.
This is just one of several ways you can reconnect as a couple. Here five great tips on juggling marriage and parenting responsibilities:
1. Never neglect your identity as a couple
Couples who throw themselves into their role of parenting and stop paying attention to their pre-children identity can find that their energy for each other burns out. While it may seem beneficial to be constantly putting the children first, in reality, this works against you. Adults need time away from their offspring so that they can remember what it was like to have a conversation without constant interruptions (that's what babysitters are for).
Couples need to have an opportunity to put on nice clothes and go out as they did prior to becoming parents. Seeing your spouse as the man or woman you fell in love with (and not just as a father or mother) can do wonders for recharging your battery, which in turn allows you to return to your role as a parent with renewed energy.
Schedule at least one date night each month (book the babysitter well in advance) and let this be something you can look forward to when you are feeling overwhelmed by your parenting chores. Remember: a loving relationship with your partner is one of the best things you can model for your children.
2. In between date nights, do the 20-minute connection
You don't want to wait until your date night to connect with your spouse. Commit to making time to connect each day after the children are in bed for the night, as Cocharo suggests. Sure, it will be tempting to just chill on the sofa and tune into your favorite television series, but that would not enhance your relationship, however good it may sound.
Before you move on to whatever you want or need to be doing with these precious childfree moments, touch base with your spouse. It doesn't have to be long - 20 minutes will suffice - but it will be enough for the two of you to maintain your emotional intimacy. Review your day, offer a soothing massage or cuddle and breathe together.
3. Share the household chores
If you are like most couples, you put off the household chores until after the children are in bed. Tackle these as a team. For example, you can incorporate your connection time into your laundry folding time. Have a conversation while you both sort the recyclables.
It works best if these responsibilities are shared between the two of you. If only one assumes the lion's share of the chores, resentment can build and your relationship can break down. Nothing gets a spouse angrier than seeing their partner pick up the remote control and relax in front of the television while the other person is left to do the dinner dishes.
When herding young children, it can be too easy to spend the day in sweatpants. Has it been a couple of days since your hair has seen a brush? Take a moment to pull back and remember: you deserve to look and feel your best, as a person and as a parent. You don't need to put on a designer label outfit every day, but you do deserve to wear clean, well-cut and flattering clothes.
It doesn't take hours to arrange your hair nicely (start with a good cut that makes styling your hair easier) and put on a spritz of scent. The boost you get by looking your best is well worth it. Watching your spouse do a double-take when he or she comes home from work is also worth it.
5. Let the children see your expressions of love
Express love in front of the kids. Hold hands when you are out and about as a family. Be open with your physical gestures of love. Let your children hear you tell each other, and them, how much you love them. Even if they cover their eyes and giggle when you two are kissing, it is good for children to see their parents so in love. It makes them feel secure and safe.
Finding the right balance between your marriage and parenting responsibilities may take some trial and error. But keep lines of communication open between you and your spouse. Share what is working and what is not. A happy, joyful relationship with your partner is important for creating for a happy, joyful family. You've got this!