Marriage don’t fall apart over-night. The initial cracks that eventually crumble a marriage often start long before. And it’s easy for these cracks to start when the kids are young. Here’s why:
When you’re dating, the relationship is all about getting to know each other. The relationship is all about dreaming together and treating each other like kings and queens. By engagement, you slowly become highjacked by being co-managers of a conference (called a wedding). And by young kids, the majority of your conversations can easily become dominated by basic logistics: “Did you take the kids to the dentist? Did you pick up the milk? How did Zach manage to drive his bike into our neighbors BMW?”
In other words, the relationship turns from Co-adventurerors, to C0-managers, to Co-existers. So, to avoid this role definition rut, you need to intentionally avoid this ditch. And I want to teach you how to do this using date nights and vacations.
Now, being a parent with young kids can be one of the most chaotic seasons of life. And if that’s you right now, don’t give up! It only gets better (IF you don’t kill them or force them into orangized crime).
My wife & I complicated our lives by planting Substance Church while having 3 kids under the age of 5 – which felt a lot like spraining your ankle…& then deciding to run a marathon to inspire people…
Needless to say, we lived at poverty level for the first 5 years of the church. But, throughout this time, we learned a little wisdom about how to keep our marriage strong with young kids! So, if you feel overwhelmed, read on!
The day is coming when your kid won’t need diapers. Even better, the day is coming when they’ll be able to buckle themselves into their own car seats and they’ll go to school ALL DAY LONG! And someday, they’ll even do the dishes with a good attitude (Well, let’s not get carried away here); but, my point is this: If you can survive the temporary chaos of young kids, you’re going to have a lot of fun ahead of you!
Unfortunately, a lot of marriages won’t survive to experience these types of joys. So, how can a couple reinvigorate their marriage amidst this chaos? Well, here’s one simple suggestion:
Vacation Apart from your Kids! The moment I suggest this to some couples, they erupt with excuses: “But you don’t understand my kids!” Or, “I can’t find babysitters.” Or, “you don’t understand our finances.” And unfortunately, I’ve watched the same excuses fracture marriages over and over and over again.
Yes, there is a time to travel WITH your kids. When they become teenagers, you’ll want to log as many hours with your teens as possible. (In fact, when they become teens, you’ll want to plan special vacations with EACH of your kids just to create great moments and have great convos). But, until they’re teens, here are a few things to avoid:
(1). Get Rid of this “Stay-cation” Silliness:
99% of the people who do “stay-cations” have lame-cations. Rather than exploring the world and dreaming with their spouses (which is what you did when you dated), many couples settle into “home improvement ruts.” Are they working on their marriages? Of course not, because they’re stuck in what I call, “The Co-Management Rut.” Many couples stop relating to each other as lovers and co-adventurers. Instead, they become “Co-managers of the household.” And the majority of their communication becomes hijacked by this singular role. Not surprisingly, the adultery rates for folks in this rut is quite high. So, allow me to explain why vacations can change your marriage.
Every time my wife and I place ourselves in a new location, it causes us to have conversations we normally wouldn’t have. A new context often gives birth to new dreams – or at the very least, it gives many of your old dreams the chance to reawaken. Almost every vacation we take together, it forces us to reevaluate our priorities, to realign our dreams, and enter back into our lives with newfound vision. Couples who lack this tend to feel like, instead of “living their lives,” their lives are “living them.”
Unfortunately, many people resolve their pent up middle-aged stress or grieving processes through rash decisions – having affairs, quitting dream-jobs, and making pre-mature moves. So, a good vacation isn’t merely self-indulgent; it’s a chance to reinvigorate your marriage and fill your soul with God’s greater vision for your life.
(2). Drive a Cruddy Car & Trust God for Cheap Vacations:
My wife and I drove junker cars until we were 30… And then we started upgrading to “used.” (Heck, last month, at 43 years old, we just got rid of our rusty old minivan with missing hubcaps – and we bought our first “brand new sofa”). And why did we wait so long to have these experiences? Is it because we have no concept of nice things? No! It’s because we’ve always prioritized date nights and vacations apart from our kids. We made the decision to collect “experiences more than possessions”… Don’t get me wrong: It’s ok to drive nice cars. But my point is this: spend FAR more time “dreaming together than acquiring together.”
Even more, we constantly pray for free vacation opportunities, and God always seems to show up. (We literally have a never-ending list of miracles related to this!!) Even more, there are a lot of young families in our church who would happily take your kids for a few days (especially if they knew you would return the favor).
(3). Teach your kids to become Independent:
There’s a lot of research showing that “over nurturing” or over-attached parents tend to produce unhealthy kids (for citations, see below). As one parenting researcher put it, “Kids need to learn how to ‘soothe themselves.’” Parents who don’t allow their kids to cry, or who are afraid to force their kids to go to “non-parental caretakers” tend to produce kids with lower self-regulation and negotiating skills. A large regression analysis study on parenting even put “child-independence” as one of the top 10 most significant statistical predictors of healthy kids. I.e., If you love your kids, you’ll force them to go through the trauma of “dropping them off.” To put it simply, child centered homes produce off centered marriages.
As a parent, it’s hard to endure the whining of your kids (& unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily stop as they get older). I remember when I was a little kid, I would guilt the heck out of my parents when they’d drop me off at a day-care now and again. But, it’s safe to say: Your kids NEED you to leave them back with other caregivers now and again. And more than this, YOU need this too.
This same study ranked the “overall peacefulness of the parents” as well as the “strength of the marriage” as the second and third highest statistical predictors of child-outcomes – which shows, the greatest things that affect your kids are often “indirect things”… how well you manage yourself & your marriage. I.e., Personal health issues have a strange way of spilling over into your children. You’ve got to teach them that your marriage and relationship with God are first… even if that means enduring a few tantrums as you drop them off.
One thing is for sure: 25 years ago, when my wife and I first started dating, we had big dreams. And we were thrilled to conqueror those dreams together. When kids came along, we never allowed them to highjack our relationship or our dreams. Sure, it took a while for us to find cheap vacations (not to mention, babysitters who could handle our 3 feisty kids); but we didn’t stay stuck in excuses. And now, our kids are a complement to our marriage, not a compromise of our marriage. Indeed, one of the greatest joys of my life is watching my kids pursue these adventures with us.
Let it be the same for you!
For Further Discussion:
Ask Yourself: Are there any dynamic Christian families who are a season of life ahead of you? What kinds of vacations are they taking? What insights can you learn from them?
Vacationing is an art form… There are “Sabbath Vacations” (vacations where it’s all about rest); “Family Vacations” (vacations where it’s all about compromise in order to bond with family and have new parenting moments); and “Prayer Retreats” (vacations where you connect with God, journal, and receive God’s vision for your life). Tension occurs when we unrealistically attempt to merge all three into one. So, how have other families of similar size and ages dealt with these complex and often competing goals?
Citation: 1 “What Makes a Good Parent? – A scientific analysis ranks the 10 most effective child-rearing practices. Surprisingly, some don’t even involve the kids” Robert Epstein | Oct 28, 2010 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-makes-a-good-parent/
More Science » November / December 2010