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Pam Moore is an occupational therapist, a writer, and the co-producer of Boulder’s Listen To Your Mother Show. She dreams of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, completing the manuscript of her book on home birth, and checking off every item on her To Do list. She blogs about motherhood, marriage, running, and life with her husband, two children, and six backyard chickens on her blog, Whatevs… You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
A friend of mine and her husband, newlyweds, came over for brunch recently. I asked them what the rest of their day entailed.
“We’re not sure.” she said. “Maybe we’ll walk around and do some shopping downtown?”
“I could go for a nap,” he said.
My husband and I stared at them, in awe. It was as if they told us they might take a rocket ship to the moon. They had time to do whatever they wanted. They could even be doing different things at the same time. And it didn’t require any forethought, planning, or communication.
I really hope I didn’t say, “Enjoy it while you can.” out loud.
I find one of the greatest challenges of being a parent is juggling my roles as mom, wife, and me. The precious hours I have to myself each week are few and sometimes unpredictable, as the mom of a baby and a toddler. My husband and I both realize , though, that we aren’t much good to anyone- ourselves, our kids, or each other- when our own needs haven’t been met.
My husband and I are still working out how to best manage all of the competing demands on our time. We are by no means experts. We are just a (mostly) happily married couple who want to support each others’ goals while maintaining a happy home with two young kids in the mix.
Here are some strategies that help us get our needs met, both within the marriage, and outside of it.
1) Have a standing schedule
For example, between 5:45am and 7:30am, I manage the kids while my husband does his thing on Monday and Wednesdays. The roles are reversed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It doesn’t matter if you take the time to work out, write, or sleep. If it’s your day, you do what you want and no diaper is going to get in your way. It is so much easier to have this default schedule than to have to negotiate the early morning time slot on a daily basis.
2) Use a shared online calendar
Before we had kids, the only time my husband and I considered each other’s schedules was when we wanted to do something together. When our first child was born, we had to check with each other about virtually everything, to ensure someone was home with the baby. I was resistant to ditch my day runner, but it’s much easier to manage our schedules now that we have synched our calendars on Google.
3) Schedule dates
Maybe you reserve Saturday nights for each other, and twice a month you hire a sitter and twice a month you do something fun at home. Whatever your system, find a way to carve out time together to do something you both enjoy, or that one of you enjoys (seriously!). Without a plan, it’s too easy to get distracted by piles of laundry or the blog post you’ve been meaning to write. That stuff may feel urgent (ok, not Facebook), but it’s not nearly as important as nurturing your marriage.
4) Use babysitters
If you don’t have family nearby, or someone else that you trust, be open to meeting someone new. I met one of our best babysitters at a restaurant. You can also check in with the employment office at a local college, or ask local preschools if they have teachers seeking extra hours. If you can’t afford a sitter, be creative. Consider trading babysitting hours with a friend or a neighbor. Maybe you have a skill that you could trade for childcare. Join a babysitting co-op, or start one. Use the childcare services at your gym, if you belong to one. Babysitters are great resources for date nights- whether you’re on a date with your sweetie or with yourself. There will be times when both partners need some “me time” simultaneously. It’s ok to use a sitter for those times.
5) Adjust your expectations
You’re not going to have the life you had before. That’s ok. You can still be you, but things are going to have to change. For example, I used to love to go the gym, enjoy the hot tub, and take a leisurely shower afterward. Now, I save time by running outside or working out in my basement. Sometimes I squeeze in my workouts when the kids miraculously take a nap simultaneously, with the baby monitor closeby. It’s not ideal, but it gets the job done. I used to have my girlfriends over once a week for craft night (which was sometimes just wine night). I don’t have the energy to host after my kids go to bed. I craft and see friends a lot less than I did before, and that’s ok.
Being a parent, a good partner, and maintaining your identity means figuring out how you can strip down your hobbies or commitments to the bare essentials and shucking the ones that aren’t priorities.
What tricks or tips do you have for maintaining your sense of self and/or nurturing your marriage since becoming a parent? I’d love to know what works for other couples!