This Rack of Lamb with Mint Basil Pesto. These New Potatoes with Feta Cheese. And these Glazed Carrots. The trio of recipes Kory and I cooked together for dinner last night. My plate was almost too pretty to eat! But I did eat it, and everything was delicious!
It was all part of our effort to date each other without leaving the house. To get off the merry-go-round of life that’s kept us really busy the last six weeks. To do something together that we both enjoy. And to reconnect.
Because the best parenting advice we were ever given as a young couple was a word of encouragement to put our marriage first. (Second only to our relationship with God.) And we’re trying really, really hard to live into that advice within the context of our family.
Sometimes it comes easy.
Like in Rome, Italy.
When the kids are thousands of miles away, our bellies are full, and we’re sitting on the patio of a restaurant sipping a lovely Barolo while a woman is rolling homemade pasta at the table next to us and the locals are strolling by. (No. I’m not “homesick” at all.)
And other times?
Like the last six weeks?
Not so easy.
But looking back over ten years of being married with children, I do see the patterns. And experience shows that the quality of our marriage relationship directly impacts the quality of our relationship with our children more than anything else.
For those of us who are married, we will never be better parents to our children
than we are a spouse to each other.
But how do we manage it? How do we pull it off given all the demands on our time? All the pressures? All the expectations? All the things we’re called to be as professionals, parents, families, friends, and Christians?
Those are great questions.
And we’re still discovering the tricks of the trade.
But early on, God placed a number of couples in our lives who modeled the concept of “marriage first” within their own families. We asked them to share their secrets, we learned from them, and we’ve taken their secrets and made them our own.
When “life happens” (and it does), and the obvious things like an extended vacation or a date night out aren’t as consistent as we’d like them to be, there are still things we can do in order to invest in our marriage. I know that so many of you experience these heavily congested seasons of life too. And like us, you may struggle to find the time to spend together when those seasons come. So in an effort to remind myself and attempt to encourage you at the same time, below are the top five things Kory and I do to keep the home fires burning when we’re running mach3 with our hair on fire!
Date Nights at Home
When we can’t get out of the house because of scheduling conflicts or lack of a babysitter, we’ll set aside an evening for a date night at home. Note: This involves more than laying comatose on the sofa together, exhausted from the day’s activities. (Though laying comatose on the sofa is pretty tempting sometimes and does have its place!)
From our perspective, for an evening at home to count as a date night, three things should happen.
First, the kids must be in bed at a reasonable hour. This works well for incorporating a date night into a school night. So that we can start our date around 7:30 when we put Little Bit to bed (because let’s be honest…there is absolutely NO WAY we could have any quality of a date while Little Bit’s awake), we’ll ask that our two oldest children begin entertaining themselves in their rooms at that time and put themselves to bed (with the assistance of a kitchen timer if needed). We’ll swing upstairs for kisses and prayers, but otherwise, they’re on their own.
Second, we must spend some time during our date doing something interactive together. Sometimes, we dive into some not-so-kid-friendly recipes we’ve been dying to try. Sometimes, we’ll play a game of Scrabble. And other times, we’ll sit on the sofa with a platter of cheese and fruit and catch up. We may choose to end our date night by watching a movie or TV show together, but we won’t do that until we’ve spent meaningful time engaging with each other.
And third, while this isn’t always the case due to time constraints, we’ll try to freshen up for each other. (As if we were actually going to leave the house.) No, I’m not going to don a little black dress, but I am going to get out of my yoga pants and into some jeans or casual slacks and a shirt. I am going to put some make-up on, and I am going to fix my hair. Kory is usually coming from the church, so he’s dressed and ready to go when he walks in the door. This sets the tone for our evening at home to be intentional, which makes it feel much more like a real date.
Couch time is something we learned in a parenting class and used to do regularly. (3-4 days times per week or more when the kids were really young and didn’t have to be at school quite so early.) Because of the school-year grind we’re now experiencing, it’s something we’ve gotten a little out of the habit of doing and are trying to reincorporate into our routine right now. We’re just having to re-think our approach.
Couch time involves 10-15 minutes of time together at the beginning or end of the day when the kids are awake. During this time, we’ll find a comfortable place to sit together, and we’ll talk. Subjects can include anything BUT the kids. This provides us a time to exchange prayer requests, share what’s going on, sync our calendars, make some decisions, or just chat.
During this time, the kids are instructed not to interrupt us barring an emergency (i.e., someone is broken or bleeding). By setting this boundary we’re accomplishing two things. First, we’re reminding our children that our family doesn’t revolve around them. Second, we’re giving them tangible evidence that mom and dad love each other and want to spend time together. Nothing gives children more security than to know this truth!
When Kory and I were dating, our entire life existed all on the same university campus. As a result, we’d often pass each others cars in parking lots throughout the day, and we’d exchange hand-written notes on our windshields. I’ll never forget the excitement I’d feel to find a note waiting for me!
We don’t leave each other many hand-written notes these days (though that would be a great idea too), but we do exchange texts. Just quick messages of “I love you” or “How did your meeting go?” or “I just said a prayer for you” that help us maintain a heightened sense of connectedness even when we’re apart.
An Overnight Stay at a Hotel or at Home
Sometimes, we’ll arrange for an overnight stay at a hotel or for the kids to stay elsewhere so we can be at home alone. We’ve found that taking our “mommy and daddy hats” off for 24 hours, sleeping in, and eating a couple nice meals together provide amazing benefits which will generally cure the feelings of disconnectedness. They also do an amazing job of recharging our parenting batteries!
For our 15th anniversary, we redeemed some Starwood points and stayed at a resort hotel 10 minutes from our house. We spent the day poolside, freshened up for a dinner out, and visited our favorite breakfast joint the following morning. We even did a little bit of shopping before heading home around lunch time. It wasn’t Rome, but it was wonderful in its own right!
Praying for Each Other…Together
We try to pray for each other regularly during our individual quiet times. But there’s something really powerful about praying for each other together. These prayers usually occur in the quiet of our bedroom, with the lights out, just as our heads are hitting the pillow for sleep. And on exceptionally busy days, this may be the only time we spend alone. During these moments, we’ll share our prayer requests with each other, hold hands, and take time to pray together. It’s amazing what a few minutes of prayer together can do to deepen the level of intimacy between us during times when our time together is extremely limited.
Certainly, none of these things can replace the benefits of date nights away from home, full-length vacations without the kids, and marriage retreats — all things we strive to keep within the bounds of our regular routine. But they do compliment the benefits of these other marriage enrichment activities throughout the year and serve as wonderful gap-fillers when life causes us to get a little off track.
Just know this.
When we love our spouse well, we nurture an environment within our family that is safe and secure for our children. This allows them to go about the business of being kids without the burden of wondering how how mom and dad are doing. When we love our spouse well, we also model for our children what marriage should look like. Because while we may only think of our children as toddlers or teens right now, someday they’ll be grown. And someday? They may choose to be married.
So let’s show them how to love well.
Even when we’re busy.
Do you keep your marriage a priority? If so, what’s your secret?