While not particularly active in the therapy world anymore, I have provided mental health counselling services to countless people in the last few years, and relationship troubles are a far too common link between clients presenting with all sorts of different problems. The most common issue for couples is usually poor communication. For couples with kids, another problem is accumulated stress and a lack of connection caused by an exclusive devotion to the kids.
Should parents be devoted to their children? Absolutely. On the flipside of relationship issues, a lot of parenting issues can stem from a lack of family time. Kids need to spend quality time with parents and siblings as part of the “family unit” especially when young, as part of their development in a social world. It builds social knowledge, confidence, a sense of belonging and safety, and more. But are parents wrong for wanting “couples time” sometimes? Not at all! In fact, the resulting strengthening of your relationship may even make you a better parent. “Mommy and daddy time” may therefore be just as beneficial to the kids as it is to mommy and daddy!
I use “mommy and daddy time” as a catchphrase here, but this logic applies equally to “mommy and mommy time” or “daddy and daddy time”. This does not have to be a complicated, well planned out activity. It could be as simple as chatting and laughing together after the kids go to bed. For more exciting activities, you could arrange to have grandparents or other extended family or close friends take the kids for a night or two. Maybe you’ve both been so tired from working long hours, doing house chores, and being parents that you’ve gotten into a habit of going to bed early, or zoning out with your phones in the evening. This is common, but that unspoken lack of closeness with your significant other can sneak up on you over time. Bad habits tend to get worse, not better, unless you work on them.
Once you have the logistics figured out, the question becomes “What to do together as a couple?” It depends on what you like, of course. Ask yourself, have you actually watched a movie that’s not G-rated this year? If not, that may be a simple activity that packs more meaning than you could have ever imagined. Other simple ideas could be:
- Meeting for lunch once or twice a week
- Going for a walk in the evening, if the kids are old enough to be left alone for a short time
- Intimate time
- Talking about world events, interests, stories from the past, etc (but not day-to-day problems or worries!)
If you have some spare money, and someone willing to take the kids for a night (or a few nights), one thing that can be a really great experience is going to a hotel. It’s something my wife and I do a few times a year. In fact, I’m writing this while looking out a hotel window at the bustling Byward Market in Ottawa below me. With the kids away, we took the opportunity to have “us time” over the long weekend. A hotel stay is great because, even though it can be pricey, it offers a firm break from some of the things that make parenting (and even life in general) stressful. There is no cooking to do, and no fussing trying to make the kids eat it. There are no dishes to be done. There is a toilet and sink and shower/bathtub that can be used without thinking about scrubbing them clean at some point in the near future. Towels and bedsheets can be used and will be laundered by someone else. Crumbs can be accidentally spilled on the floor and will be vacuumed by housekeeping. The coffee is free, and the TV is large and will be tuned to something other than kids’ shows. Sleep is uninterrupted.
No, I am not a shareholder in any local hotels, but yes, I believe that a mini vacation – even just a day trip with your significant other – is one of many great ways to reconnect and strengthen your relationship. It’s easy as a parent to fall into the trap of believing you are some kind of “hero” for being stuck in a rut and devoting every waking second to your kids. However, the real hero comes out when you realize that taking the time to make sure that you and your partner are happy people will actually make you better parents. Kids are intuitive, and they see a strong relationship between their parents as a sign of security and love. Remember: you deserve to enjoy life, too!