The other day, I wrote about choosing to spend time with my husband (here). I wrote about learning to appreciate the extra time I have on my hands right now, that I can choose to spend on our relationship. I ended that post very quickly, with thoughts yet to record , when my phone rang and the day carried on.
Later, as I read the comments, one made me stop and go back to the thoughts left unsaid:
I am neck-deep in mothering young children, and it's sometimes so overwhelming. I am that mother loading groceries and babies into the car, all the while trying to corral the toddler from running into the parking lot and oncoming traffic. And Oh No - the cart is rolling away and into that nice new car parked beside us...Whew!
When I wrote yesterday's post, I wanted to find a picture of Carl and Ellie of Pixar's Up sitting in their chairs. All I could find on short notice, was this one, showing them moving into their fixer-upper and arranging their chairs:
While it wasn't my first choice at the time, the picture I found is the perfect representation of what was on my mind while I was writing. The image I originally wanted to insert was just a small part of the whole story. And in the rest of the story, there is a lot of effort and many choices and not a little sacrifice. Marriage, even at its best, requires a lot of work. A lot of time. A lot of charity.
That comment made me think back to my days as a mother of very young children. How did I divide the little pieces of myself among so many needs? How did I balance the needs of husband and children and myself?
Well, the short answer is, I don't think I did it very well. I believe that I am getting better at it, but I also believe that the reason I'm getting better isn't just because I don't have lots of small children tugging at my pantlegs. Obviously, the children are bigger and far more independent now, but they continue to figuratively tug at my pantlegs. In other words, I'm still busy mothering, it's just that the needs have changed from nose wiping and stroller pushing to homework helping and ride giving and media monitoring. I'm getting better at the balancing act of children and husband because I am more conscious of making the effort to do so. So, if the DeLorean found itself in my driveway, there are a few tips I'd love to take back to myself in 2001.
Primarily, the Bionic Man and I have discovered that what we need as a couple is lots of time. Time together, or—at a minimum—plenty of time to talk if we have to be apart. Here are a few simple things that we do that help us to get that time and create balance between our roles as parents and as a couple.
- Say no. This one is so easy, but it's hard if you haven't had much practice. There are a lot of good, compelling things out there that can fill up our schedules. A lot of them are not optional. We choose to say no to the ones that are if we need more time to focus on each other. As much as we enjoy birthday parties and nights out with friends and girls' night out or guys' football night, we don't accept every invitation that comes along. We certainly aren't hermits, but we don't let fun with others get in the way of fun by ourselves. This also includes saying "no" to the children on occasion. As in, "No, I am not going to come tuck you in again, because right now is my time with Daddy."
- Put the kids to bed early. They hate this. They think it is so unfair that mom and dad stay up and they have to go to bed. Especially on weekends. But we do it anyway. It's incredibly refreshing to have 1-2 hours to be Ruth and Bionic Man instead of Mom and Dad, even if all we do during that time is read magazines. For me especially, I have been parenting all day long, and it is wonderful to have a break. As part of this, we've taught our children that if they can't sleep, that doesn't mean they should leave their bedrooms. We provide them with books and quiet toys that they can use to entertain themselves until they do fall asleep. It's a wonderful skill to give a very young child, that he/she does not require parental assistance to fall asleep.
- Go on dates at home. This only works if you have put the kids to bed early. And if they are older, you can get away with it even if they stay up for a while. There are some Friday nights when we tell our children that we are going on a date in the basement (where our TV/VCR lives). We tell them they are free to play games or read or whatever, but they should only disturb us in case of blood, fire, or armed intruders. Then we go watch a movie or play a game or research home improvement projects or just talk. (Bonus: this is a great way to prepare older children for the eventual responsibility of babysitting.)
- Budget money for dating each other. We try to have at least one night out together each month. Our dates aren't astoundingly creative or elaborate. We might go tile shopping. Or visit a bookstore. Or go on a picnik. Occasionally we splurge on something like a concert or a fancy restaurant. Sometimes we join other couples for board games. It doesn't really matter what we do, the point is we've budgeted money so that we can go out on a date without guilt or excuses.
- Think creatively about how you can maximize your time together. Thank goodness for cell phones with headsets. One of the best times for us to talk is when Bionic Man is driving to and from work. Frequently, we use that time to exchange information and schedules. We set goals and discuss our children's needs. Guess what? Taking care of that business via cell-phone during the Bionic Man's commute frees us up for actual conversation after we put the kids to bed.
The bottom line is this: I don't feel that balancing the roles of wife and mother requires elaborate couple getaways or nannies or expensive retreats. It really just requires a willingness to make time together a priority.