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The Key to Balancing 3 Kids
and a Marriage Too!

QUESTION: I am a mother of three and I have been married for six years. My husband and I always had a wonderful relationship, but things seem to be going downhill. We never have time to be together. I feel like I am always answering my husband with, "I can't, I'm feeding the kids" or "I am doing ... with the kids." I can tell he is as frustrated as I am. I love my children dearly but I am at my wit's end. What do you recommend?

Mothering three children means that you and your husband are outnumbered! Yet, it is in the best interests of your children that Mom and Dad take some quality time for their relationship. Since you have identified the problem, why not start there? Securing time together on a daily basis now may save you the expense of later marital counseling or an unrealistic, last ditch push for a "weekend away" to save your marriage.

Two things must happen to get your marriage back on track. First, organize! The larger the family the more important it is to develop productive routines so that you do not waste energy "reinventing the wheel" each day. Divide duties between yourself and your husband so that lunches get made, teeth get brushed and homework is supervised. Initially, effective scheduling takes effort, but planning will pay off in time saved and lower frustration levels.

Secondly, you must carve out time for your couples' relationship on a daily and weekly basis. You are each other's nourishment. Your energy is derived in part from the heart and soul of your marriage. In other words, the love, attention and appreciation you give one another is what helps you through the day.

Your children by about age four can learn to respect 20 to 30 minutes of "parent time" each evening after dinner. And while children are younger, you and your husband can create this time after their bedtime. Children's bedtime needs to occur in a timely fashion that also allows for this quiet sharing and "down time" together. Use it to catch up on your day and consider a family business meeting once a week to brainstorm planning strategies for the family schedule as things are constantly changing. Soccer schedules, kids' play dates and school activities can be devastating to family organization and morale if you "play it by ear" in a larger clan such as yours.

The secret of enjoying larger families (though it is beneficial for smaller ones as well) is to delegate. As your children reach appropriate ages, it is possible to obtain their "help" in a cooperative fashion which both increases their sense of worth and helps you out.

Develop a strategy for handling daily chores in a routine manner with children pitching in to help. Washing dishes, putting toys away at a specific time of day, and encouraging children to play "on their own" for 20 minutes while you and Dad have "talking time" can become their "jobs" in the family. Age appropriate duties encourage children to become responsible adults, and some form of "helping" can start as early as two years of age. Middle aged children (8 to 11 years) can become increasingly helpful, and adolescents may blossom into helping out by cooking one dinner per week, shopping for the weekly staples at the grocery store and other time consuming family tasks. Delegation can make running a family smoother and more enjoyable.

The key here is consistency and establishing a routine. Children do flourish in a stable, structured environment, which is also balanced with family fun and predictable activities that serve to bond families together. If kids are rewarded with enjoyable family time together, chores can represent a sense of belonging. Self confidence develops for the child when routine duties are balanced with predictable family outings, whether it be Friday night pizza at the local family bistro or Sunday afternoon walks to the park. Create ways to balance spontaneity with consistency and order.

Now, back to you and your husband! Talk with your partner about realigning your relationship. Make a regular weekly (or bimonthly, if necessary) couples' date. Take Saturday afternoon or evening time to remember what it is like to be alone together. Maintaining a boundary around your couples' time models intimacy for your children. Your marriage is the foundation on which their lives are built. Like watering a garden, spending quality time together assures your children's sense of security and continued growth.

Balance your schedule so that you can enjoy family and couples relating. For example, you could create a weekly schedule that alternates couples' time one week with a family outing the next week. Once predictable times for enjoying family relationships are established in this manner, you can always look forward to the next time you have carved out together. In this way, the relationship serves as a buffer to the many stresses of daily living.

The early years of raising children are particularly time intensive and physically demanding. The couples' time you create may feel like an oasis in a desert in the early years, but with consistent reinforcement you will find yourself in more lush surroundings as your family matures.

Now is the time to make order out of chaos. Family researcher Froma Walsh contends that it is the processes and quality of family relationships that determines health or dysfunction. Establishing routines which nurture and activities that bond now will bode well for your family's future!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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