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Carving Out Guilt-Free Couple Time



Filed under : Relationships

By: Wendy Helfenbaum

For Young Urban Moms, finding time alone with their partners is crucial to keep the relationship strong


We snuck out at dawn, exhausted but exhilarated, careful not to awaken the three-year-old sleeping angel upstairs. Our mission? To carve out some much-needed couple time by taking an overnight trip to catch a show. We giggled like teenagers as we removed the car seat and loaded in grown-up snacks and CDs. And then, blowing a kiss up towards our son’s bedroom window, we sped off on an adventure most new parents fear they will never have again. (Of course, please note that the babysitter was close at hand!)

Finding time alone after children come along seems nearly impossible, but three parents who found creative ways to stay close say it’s crucial to keep your relationship strong.

“When Chuck and I fell in love, we knew that our children would only be with us for a season of our marriage, so we vowed to grow with each other during our child-rearing phase and beyond,” explains Sue McKitrick, mom to James, 10 and Elijah, 8.

Throughout the McKitrick’s 14-year marriage, making time for each other has remained a top priority. “We have a great support network, which is key. Chuck’s mom lives nearby, we have friends with kids the same age, and we have babysitters that help us out. We’ve built that into our budget and into our life,” says McKitrick, adding they also regularly take off on short motorcycle rides, leaving Grandma behind with the boys. “We’ll go for an hour, stop for coffee and just chat. It’s enough time to connect and be close together.”

Every three months, the McKitrick’s try to get away for a weekend alone, and once a year, they take a weeklong trip together. Can’t imagine being away from your kids without feeling guilty? McKitrick misses her boys, but strongly believes time with her husband is good for everyone. “When I’m away from my children, it’s my time; I just want a break, so that I come back and I’m fresh. Because when I’m fresh, everybody’s happy,” she reasons.

Keeping the lines of communication wide open is the first step when parents start to resent the fact that spontaneous nights out have become a thing of the past, says Dianne Gilmour, a registered clinical counselor who works with couples. “Parenting young children can so easily make couple time seem like at best, a luxury, or at worst, a complete inconvenience,” notes Gilmour, the mother of two teenage sons. “Kids can set the agenda for every spare moment of our time, and over the months and years, the importance of the couple takes a back seat; all of the sudden you’re looking at each other saying, ‘I forget who you are’.”

Whether your kids are 13 months or 13 years old, making small changes in your daily routine with each other can make a huge difference, advises Gilmour. “The spontaneity factor no longer exists when we have kids, so we have to create it. Use every opportunity you can to connect. Be curious about each other’s day, and maintain that friendship factor in your relationship. At least five times a day, make a conscious effort to touch each other; something as simple as a light touch on the cheek will keep that intimacy alive.”

For many parents, finding a shred of energy to keep intimacy alive after countless sleepless nights and mountains of diaper changes is a huge challenge. “Couples will say that they’re exhausted by the time their kids go to bed, even if it’s at 7:30,” notes Gilmour, “but it’s really important to find the energy to do something that you both enjoy doing together.”

Karen Bowman and her husband Daryl, parents to Kylee, 6 and Connor, 2, have done just that. “We need to be as connected as we can to be the best possible parents to our children,” says Bowman. “If we’re completely frazzled and disconnected, they’re not getting the best parenting from us, so we make it a priority to have the energy. It’s not just the chores in life that you need to find energy for, it’s finding time for yourselves.”

Bowman is blessed with parents who live 15 minutes away, and who gave the couple an ingenious Christmas gift last year. “It’s a ‘Date Night A Month’ card, so once a month, they’ll watch the kids all night long, or even for a sleepover,” she says.

The Bowmans also take advantage of Parents’ Survival Night, a program run by The Little Gym, where children can be dropped-off for a supervised evening of sports, crafts and music. Bowman says it’s a great option for couples that don’t have anyone to watch their kids.

Whether you have a support system nearby or not, making ‘Date Nights’ at home is another way to stay connected.  “Enforce bedtimes so you have downtime with each other,” suggests Sue McKitrick. “We have this rule: we don’t care what you’re doing in your room, but you can’t come out. The nights are ours, and I think kids like to see their parents together.”

Dianne Gilmour tells her clients that parents who regularly spend quality time together set a great example for their children. “The strength of your bond is really crucial to the sense of security for your kids.”

Why should you have all the fun on date night? For $30, you can drop-off your child from 6-9:30 pm to enjoy an exciting evening of gymnastics, music and crafts. Visit www.thelittlegym.com/sm/country.180/state.9/locations.aspx for upcoming programs.

• Many local YMCAs or community centers offer drop-off babysitting services as well. www.ymca.net

Date night in the basement, and other ways to stay connected

• One night a week, put the kids to bed early and take a bath together.

• Work out together in your den to a yoga DVD.

• Establish rituals, such as a cup of tea on the couch after the kids are asleep, or an early morning walk before the kids get up.

• Have a picnic in the basement: spread out a blanket, light some candles and relax with some wine and music.

• Organize monthly shared babysitting with neighbors or friends whose children are the same age as yours.

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