February is the month of love. It’s the month of Valentine’s Day, a holiday created to bring a little warmth into our lives during what can be the coldest month of the year.
We need something to warm our hearts, and our relationships, when the harshness of the weather can make us cranky and short tempered and can make us forget how much we love the people in our lives. Sometimes we need reminders.
Valentine’s Day can present a particular challenge for couples with babies and young children. Your lives and relationships have been turned upside down by the arrival of children. Much of the time your focus is on your baby, or your busy toddler, or your energetic preschooler. Besides dealing with children’s intense and obvious needs, you have to get meals prepared, laundry done, the bathroom door fixed, the bills paid, appointments kept, older children driven to activities, your partner and/or you off to work …. and on and on.
Parenting takes so much time and so much emotional and physical energy. It’s not particularly romantic. Having children has definitely been identified as a strain on a relationship. Sometimes you are pulled in so many directions, and are so drained, that you forget about your partner. Working on your relationship falls to the bottom of your priority list. Parenting comes first.
But having children is also a great source of joy and fulfillment and can bring a couple closer with a deepening of their bond.
What makes the difference? How can you sustain and deepen your relationship after children come into your lives?
Here are some ideas:
• We all carry a deep imprint of how parents are “supposed” to behave. Our partners’ imprint is different from ours. It’s a good idea to talk honestly and deeply about how you were each parented, how it affected you, how you think parents “should” act, and together choose how you want to parent.
• Be sure to speak up about your expectations. Your partner can’t meet them if he or she doesn’t even know what they are. And once they are articulated, you may find that they don’t really make sense in this new family that you have created.
• Be real about your feelings with each other. It’’s inevitable that you will have some negative feelings and it’s okay to have them. Listen to each other. Accept your partner’s feelings.
• You will also have many positive feelings of delight, pride, deep deep love and wonder at the little beings you have in your life. Share those moments with each other as well.
• Avoid the “I work harder than you” syndrome. You are both working hard, you are both probably tired. Together you are having an experience you have never had before.
• There really is no instruction book for parenting. There is no formula – if there were, there would only be one parenting book and everyone would read it. Parenting is a real “learn as you go” experience. View this as a shared learning journey. Read books that make you feel good about yourself and your children. If your partner doesn’t read, read to him or her.
• Do little things to bring you closer together.
– Take some time together to watch your children sleep. It always brings feelings of love.
– Have a candlelit dinner together once a week – even if it’s take-out or macaroni and cheese.
– Leave little affectionate notes for each other regularly.
– Read non-parenting books to each other.
– Put on some music and dance together – even if you have to hold the baby at the same time.
– Hug – even if for a few seconds. It’s good for your children to see you being affectionate with each other.
– Every day take the time to say “I love you.”
– Practice random acts of kindness with each other.
– Make a point of getting outside and going for walks together.
– Connect and spend time with other couples with children, preferably couples who share your parenting approach and whom both of you like.
• If you find yourselves growing more and more distant from each other, go for counselling sooner, rather than later.
Take the time to look into each other’s eyes, and remember how much you love each other. You chose to become a couple and to have children together. Allow yourself to let the love resurface through all the tiredness, chaos and disruptions of parenting. Remember that you are each, each other’s Valentine.
Happy Valentine’s Day.