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?
ANSWER: 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
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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