By Gail Jackson
Kids need lots of our time. Kids need our support. They need our encouragement. They need our acceptance. They need our respect. Their needs add up to what sometimes seems like overwhelming amounts of our time.
But, they don’t need our absolute and undivided attention. Spouses need our time, our support, our encouragement, our acceptance and our respect.
Children are smart and me-centered, and they naturally use these attributes to their advantage. They can quickly see if they have us wrapped around their little finger, available to them every minute. Or, they can learn that they are not the only important person in the family; that they will not always be catered to.
In our family, when a child’s wants didn’t require immediate attention (and most wants don’t), their dad actually came first with me, and still does. He even gets the extra helping of dessert! Why? We were a couple first, we are a couple again now that the children are grown, and it was important to maintain our couple-ness while raising a family. We have seen too many couples lose that identity when their children start arriving.
An unidentified but very wise person wrote, “The greatest gift a man can give his children is to love their mother.”
It works in reverse, too, for the mom to love the dad. We all know that example is the greatest teacher.
Our kids have been known to tell their dad that I had a rough day and that he should take me out. If the full truth were known it probably would have been that I was taking my rough day out on them and they would like me out of the house for a while. Even so, they were learning about others and other’s needs.
During our child-raising years we always tried to follow the Church’s counsel that couples should spend an evening alone together weekly. Often all we could afford to do was go for a ride or to the library or some other free activity. But still, we were doing whatever it was just as a couple, taking time to regroup and refresh. The money spent on a babysitter was money well spent. At times, when we couldn’t even manage that much money, we traded evenings with another couple, taking care of each other’s kids for a couple of hours.
When our older children were big enough to care for the others, they were given that one-night-a-week responsibility. We coordinated our evening out with their schedules. We didn’t pay them–it was a part of the family working together–but we brought them home a malt or some other goody as a thank-you.
When they were all old enough to be home without being officially “tended” by the other siblings, they all stayed home together on our night out, along with a cake or some other treat. Our night out was their night in.
We also tried to get away for one weekend a year. Sometimes we would do this in early November and do our Christmas shopping at that time. Occasionally grandparents would watch all of the kids. Other times we would engage a reliable college student or a newly married couple. (The newlyweds joked it helped them reconsider the advisability of immediate parenthood!) If necessary you could trade week-ends with another couple that had kids compatible with yours. It is a wonderful and beneficial weekend no matter what you do. It is well worth the effort it takes to make it happen.
As busy parents with often overwhelming responsibilities, it is imperative that we also maintain our identity as a couple.
We needs to be friends and companions with shared goals and interests beyond our children. We need to keep falling in love with one another. Very few things remain status quo without attention or nourishment. It’s something to think about.
Gail Jackson and her husband Dave have been happily married for many years and live in Southern Utah.