Most of you reading this are in the “Let’s get married and think about children later” stage of life, but you will be amazed at how quickly time flies! It seems like yesterday when Eric and I were friends hanging out at our alma mater, and now we are close to pushing a decade of marriage! It’s crazy!
For many, kids come sooner than expected! Even if they come at the precise time you plan for them, they will still change your life in unfathomable ways. With that being said, how will you keep your connection strong during those early childhood and teenage parenting years? Little people (and bigger people) will take loads of energy to raise, so start thinking about creative ways you and your future spouse can keep the flame burning when you feel nothing but exhaustion! ~smile~
Below are a few ideas to start you on your way:
As Much as Possible, Have Family Dinners Each Night
I know some evenings will follow stressful days, and dinner will sometimes be an after-thought – especially with a newborn in the house. Before the baby comes, you may want to eat in a lot, save your pennies, and have money set aside for take out on those nights where you simply cannot cook.
Whether the food comes straight from your kitchen, or straight from Pizza Hut, attempt to sit together and talk while you eat. You will likely be interrupted by a hungry baby, an impatient toddler, or an enthusiastic kindergartener who cannot wait to tell everyone about his day; but, just sitting together as a family and drinking in this time together can help keep your connection solid.
If dinner-time turns out to be a bust, do your best to steal away and catch up with each other for fifteen minutes before bed. Never stop talking to each other, even if you have to communicate loudly above the chaos. Utilize text, Facebook, and e-mail to keep in touch as well.
Start a Babysitting Exchange Program
A note of warning! Before you set up a babysitting trade-off, be sure you know the other parents well. You will want to know their parenting style, how they react in situations where their children are offending other children (i.e., if they think their children are never in the wrong, or never take responsibility for their actions, etc.), and if they are comfortable with you and your children.
A date night won’t be a date night if you and your spouse spend the evening worrying about your children! ~smile~ Once you are comfortable with some other families in your church, neighborhood, or community, ask if they would be interested in doing a babysitting exchange. You can each take an evening of the week (or month) to babysit while the other couples go out. To keep life less hectic, you may want to cap it at three or maybe four families per group – depending on the number of children each couple has, of course. ~smile~
If the exchange program does not work, I would still prioritize date nights once you believe the kids are old enough for a sitter. If you have family in the area, they may be able to help. If not, there are people everywhere looking for babysitting jobs. Look for someone responsible, ask others for leads, and be willing to pay a little more for an adult if you are uncomfortable with younger babysitters. (Although, some teenagers are more responsible than some adults!)
Be Team Players
Sometimes, connecting with your spouse will be as simple as saying, “You stay in bed. I’ll see to the baby.” Or, “You’ve had a rough day. I’ll take care of dinner.” My heart goes out to the young mother who cannot lean on her (or who does not have a) husband for support. Taking care of youngsters typically comes more naturally to women, but children also need the affection and care of their fathers.
Even if it’s uncomfortable at first, I would urge you gentlemen to hold crying babies, change icky diapers, and to occasionally get up with the baby in the middle of the night so your wives can rest. From what I have witnessed, few outside jobs ever leave women as weary as caring for children – especially babies – twenty-four hours a day. When you swoop in and do even the smallest of tasks (e.g., laundry, dishes, holding the baby so she can take a walk, etc.), you become a hero! She may not have the strength to tell you so, but you will be her hero. ~smile~
The more you help, the more rest time she will have. The more rest time she has, the more connecting time you will have later. Think about it. ~wink~
Before the First Cry
Before you hear your baby’s first cry, or first hold him or her in your arms, start preparing to be a parent. Read about parenting, interview new and seasoned parents, and get as much rest as possible! Children are going to change your focus and your priorities, so don’t walk into the ring unprepared. Some lessons cannot be learned until you are in the moment, but you can gain a lot from reading, watching, and experiencing.
Babysit together. Befriend couples with kids. Drink up parenting resources like water. See what God’s Word has to say about raising children. You will not emerge from your studies a perfect parent, but hopefully you will enter parenthood with realistic expectations and a game plan for keeping your connection stronger than ever!
How have couples you know kept their connection strong after the births of their children?