Our first three children were born just shy of three-in-three-years.
It was a time of diapers and wipes, doctor’s appointments, potty chairs, figuring out bedtime routines, sticky fingerprints, cheerios, and regular night interruptions.
And then we added two more by adoption.
I remember a lot of joy during those early years, but it’s also a bit of a fog as I try to think back–
Because I was walking around in a bit of a fog at different points along the way.
But one thing I do remember clearly is how difficult it was to make time to invest in our marriage during those years when exhaustion ruled and the needs of little ones were constant. We didn’t have family in the immediate area who were able to help out and it was too expensive to always pay for a babysitter. But one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a solid marriage, so it is crucial during all stages of parenting to make time with our spouse a priority.
And I know that is easier said than done.
And if I’m honest, there were definitely windows of time when we didn’t do this well.
But during those years, God provided ideas and showed us ways that we could invest in our marriage when our children were little. So, in hopes that it may encourage someone else out there, if you are looking for ways to find time to build your marriage relationship, please consider the following ideas:
1. Find (and ask God to provide) couples in your church, neighborhood, or community that can fill the gap if you don’t have family in the area.
This took time, but God eventually led us to several different couples who became adopted “aunts & uncles”. Two of the couples were older, didn’t have children at home, and grew to love our children. One couple was married, but at the time had no children and they enjoyed “trying out the role” as they cared for our crew of kiddos. As our relationships grew, we felt more and more comfortable asking them to watch our children so we could go out for the evening or could spend an afternoon together.
2. Develop a good bedtime routine with your children.
Again, easier said than done, but for us, this was probably what helped us the most. It took hard work, but we were able to put all of our children to bed and the expectation was that they would stay in bed unless something unusual happened (sickness, bad dream etc.). Now, mind you, it took a while to get everyone to that point but it was absolutely worth working towards because my husband and I knew that after dinner and baths and books…it would be just the two of us and we could reconnect.
3. Think smaller and appreciate windows of opportunity (aka lower your expectations).
I know, that probably sounds awful. But I really believe part of my frustration in this area grew out of unrealistic expectations. I was envisioning long, leisurely dinners with extensive conversations, but my contentment grew when I was able to give thanks for moments of marriage connection. For example, we often took night walks after dinner with our children. As they would ride bikes ahead of us, we could walk hand-in-hand and catch some talking time. Similarly, car rides became a precious time, especially when our littles would fall asleep in the back of the minivan and we could have an almost-alone-conversation. It’s important to look for those moments– when they are all busy in the sandbox and the two of you can grab a cup of coffee and be “alone” together as you watch them play.
4. Develop friendships with other couples who have children and who like your children.
It’s also very helpful to find like-minded families who are in a similar scenario and who would be willing to trade child care. Over time, we developed friendships with a handful of families that we trusted to watch our children, and in turn, we would trade and watch theirs.
5. Find a good babysitter you trust.
I know– it’s expensive. It’s difficult to find one. But there are just times when the other options fall through and you need some time together as a couple. Because our children were all little and there were several of them, we contacted our church’s high school youth leader and asked for some recommendations. We built relationships with two of the girls and even now, ten years down the road, one of them still housesits for us if we go out of town. As our babysitters grew older and they knew and loved our children, we even felt comfortable leaving our crew overnight with both sitters staying at the house to watch them.
6. Be creative with the time you do have together.
While the easiest date option is often dinner and a movie (and I do enjoy that option), it is also important to look for ways to really connect and it’s fun to try something different. Go for a hike. Take a bike ride. Spend a Saturday morning wandering garage sales. Visit a nursery or plant store. Explore your city’s downtown. Visit a Saturday market. Grab a coffee and walk through an interesting neighborhood. Do a service project together. Go to a restaurant that teaches line dancing. Walk through Costco and get samples. Sign up to run or walk a race together. Play a game at a coffee shop. Dream together as you wander through a local home improvement store.
7. Put a lock on your bedroom door.
And I mean that both literally and symbolically. Our children need to know that there are times when their parents need and want privacy and they will be blessed by the value they see us placing on our marriage relationship. Intimacy in marriage is precious and crucial and it must be a priority to keep that part of our marriages alive and healthy.
8. Remember it’s not forever.
Everyone will tell you that time flies and before you know it the children will be grown and gone. So I’m not going to repeat that. Well, I guess I just did. But, we are now in the– how-many-more-years-do-we-get-to-have-them-at-home phase. And this stage makes me realize that I am thankful we enjoyed them when they were little, but it also makes me realize how important it is to pour into our marriage because, in a very short while, the relationship that we’ve built and maintained is what we will be left with when our children have moved away from home.
9. Look to God to meet your deepest needs.
On this side of Heaven, all of our relationships, including our marriages, will be impacted by sin and struggle. A close marriage relationship will take constant work and effort. But with God, there is hope for real change and growth and healing and redemption. And in those hard seasons, we can cling to Him to provide a love that never fails.
“Marriage really is just a long-term exercise in gardening. When you see a garden in full blossom, you know that a lot of labor was invested – clearing land, digging holes, weeding, watering, and pruning. Those flowers didn’t just appear on their own. In the same way, a healthy marriage doesn’t develop overnight; it takes the daily work of pulling weeds and planting seeds.” ~Paul David Tripp
When our children were little, I struggled at times with making them a higher priority than the priority I placed on my husband and my marriage. Their needs were physical, ever-present, felt very immediate, and often left me exhausted. It was easy to overlook investing in our marriage, but I am so thankful for the ways God provided for us to keep and build our relationship. It is still a struggle at times because it’s so easy to allow what seems most-pressing to crowd out what is the most important. But when we look to God’s Word we see how much He values marriage and our hearts and priorities should reflect His.
“Let marriage be held in honor among all…” ~Hebrews 13:4
I pray today for each of you (with little children especially)… that God will protect your marriages, provide ways and time for you to connect and grow your relationship with one another, and that He will help each one of us to make investing in our marriages a priority.
Kara is 18-years-married to her husband Jason, one of the funniest and most generous people she knows. They have 5 kiddos, 4 here, and 1 in Heaven. They also have a muppet-like-mess-of-a-dog Penny, non-breeding Madagascar Hissers (who have had over 100 babies), chickens, fish, and a bearded dragon named William Wallace. Kara writes mostly about family adventures, adoption, grief, Heaven, education, books, and most importantly, clinging to God in everyday life. www.karachupp.com