Right after my husband and I got married, we spent a lot of time together. We had every evening and all weekend long to do nothing but be together – cook, play games, watch movies, visit family and friends, or go to beautiful places in the country that we enjoyed seeing over and over again. Needless to say, after we had our first child, things changed. Now, we’ve been married for almost three years (third anniversary coming up next month!), and we have two little boys, one almost two, the other almost one. When Baby #1 entered our lives, all the time we had to be together was replaced with changing diapers, doing extra laundry, feeding the baby, playing with the baby, cleaning up after the baby, teaching the baby… and trying to catch a few winks of sleep in between. With Baby #2, things went from busy to busier. While we absolutely love being parents and spending time with our kids, Eddy and I missed the time we used to have together, so we began finding ways to stay close in our new stage of married life as parents. Even though we have less time to be together, I appreciate the things we do to keep our love fresh even more because of how special those moments are…
These are some of the things we do that I think could be manageable for most couples, even after having kids:
- Redefine success. While I love being a mother, it’s hard, at least for me, to give up the level of productivity I had prior to having kids. Once babies came around, it became impossible to keep my own standards regarding the amount of work, housework, and hobby time I used to have. Once the kids go to bed, there’s always the temptation to run around like a madman to get everything done – folding laundry, washing dishes, working on the computer, finishing DIY or craft projects… the list is endless. My husband also has plenty of interests and found himself having to adjust his schedule and the amount of time he could dedicate in order to spend time with the kids as well. We both had to change our understanding of success from what how much we accomplish to our relationships. Now, success means keeping a balance – getting what we need to done, but also prioritizing BEING together. Don’t get me wrong – things do need to get done, and procrastinating isn’t a solution, but prioritizing is, and sometimes spending time with my husband (or kids) is more important than a DIY project or making a fancy meal. Things can often wait when people can’t. Taking at least a little time to talk or just be with your spouse can go a long way in showing that no matter what happens and how busy you get, your relationship with each other, which is the very foundation of your family, is still important. Also, keeping channels of communication open and regularly sharing with each other each day can help prevent misunderstandings or gradual distancing in the relationship.
- “Date nights” at home. We don’t have time to go out together without the kids often, but date nights at home after the kids are in bed are always a possibility. We set aside an evening to watch a movie together, have a romantic candle light dinner at our own dining room table after the kids are asleep, play games or just talk.
- Never let the day pass by without saying “I love you,” and try to find creative ways to say “I love you” (a couple of weeks ago, I came home to be surprised by a bouquet of roses and “love punch” pillow Eddy bought me – gestures like that can really go far helping a spouse feel loved and appreciated in the middle of a busy life). Always say “I love you” before leaving, and if you’re apart for longer than an hour or two, send a quick text or make a quick call to show that you’re thinking of the other person while apart. Even if you’re in the middle of feeding a baby in a high chair or at work, take the time to send or say a few words that mean a lot.
- Cuddling. People have different ways of showing their affection and different ways of feeling loved. My husband and I (and, incidentally, both of our kids) are cuddlers. In addition to talking, we love just spending time together on the couch or in a big arm chair. Physical presence can make a big difference – hugging and feeling your spouse next to you can bring a sense of security, strength and rest, and doesn’t take more than a few minutes a day.
- Do chores together. When the laundry, dishes or errands really DO have to get done, we’ve found that doing them together is one way to keep the household running and strengthen our relationship. Sometimes my husband comes into the kitchen to help me make lunch or bake, or we go with each other on errands that normally only one of us would do. This gives us time to be together and talk while still getting necessary tasks done. It also requires one of us to sacrifice something else we would be doing, but that’s part of why it strengthens our union – we prioritize helping each other.
- Play with the kids together. This really has more to do with family time, but playing with the kids together is another great way we have found to strengthen not only our relationship with our kids, but our love for each other as well. Often, when one of us starts playing with the kids, it’s an opportunity for the other to “get something done.” Even though playing with the kids doesn’t usually require both of us, it’s very special when we’re all together. The kids love it, and we love sharing the excitement of watching them grow, sharing our pride in them, and sharing our desire to help them learn, explore and enjoy whatever they are doing. We always share with each other things that happen when one or the other of us is with the kids, but there is a special sense of joy and togetherness that only happens when we are both watching them or playing with them at the same time. This also gives rise to good parenting discussions afterwards regarding how they are growing and learning, and different ideas we want to start, stop, adjust, etc.
- Never go to bed without saying goodnight, and never go to bed angry. If we’ve had a disagreement, we try to sort it out the same day so we leave it behind us and wake up the next day closer, stronger, and on the same page, even if it required a compromise and isn’t exactly what one of us wanted. We’re both on the stubborn side, but we’ve learned that it’s more important to be united and support a decision we make together than to simply get our own way… After all, just by being different people, we both had to give up at least some of our own way as individuals the day we got married, in order to come together as a couple.
- FIND the time. If we know we are going to have a busy day, spread out in different directions, we put out extra effort to make sure we still get at least a little time on our own, even if it means waking up earlier or going to bed later than otherwise. In the end, we often rest more by being together than we do by getting an extra half hour of sleep.
- Both of us are Catholics and proud of it. As Christians, we believe that prayer is important. It strengthens us and keeps us connected to God, just as talking with each other strengthens us and keeps us connected to each other. Our schedules are sometimes hectic – sometimes we have more time and sometimes less, so we don’t always have the time to pray together as much as we would like, but we do try to find time when we can to pray together, because we realize that having a successful marriage and family requires our effort, but depends on God even more than it does on us. We pray together asking him to strengthen us in our marriage, to bless our children and to guide our family, now and in the future.
These are just some of the things we try to do to keep our love for each other fresh. After three years and two kids, I find myself in the middle of a busy, fulfilling and challenging family life, and am ever more grateful for the man I have at my side and the two best sons a mother could ask for; I am looking forward to the years to come, and hope that we always find time for the little things that help us keep strengthening and growing in our love for each other day by day.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”