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. To make things even more difficult for my wife and I, we made the decision to plant a church (while having 3 kids under the age of 5). So, allow me to share a little wisdom and encouragement!
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 perhaps 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 just survive the chaos of young kids, you’re going to have a lot of fun ahead of you. Unfortunately, a lot of marriages won’t survive this chaos. People don’t often get divorced when there are young kids in the mix; but, I guarantee you, the initial cracks (that eventually crumble a marriage) almost always happen during this phase.
Amidst the chaos of kids, it’s very easy to ignore your marriage. And this leads us to the one simple thing that can revolutionize your marriage when you have young kids, and it’s this: 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 take people into “marriage-hell” over and over and over again.
Thankfully, I’ve watched a lot of couples figure out ways to hurdle these classic obstructions to marital health. So allow me to share a few of them:
(1). Get Rid of this “Stay-cation” Crap:
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 reassess our priorities. There are a lot of people out there who, instead of “living their lives,” their lives are “living them.” Unfortunately, most people don’t awaken to these realities until their marriages and circumstances are unbearable. 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, even still, we drive a rusty old minivan with missing hubcaps). And why? Because we prioritize date nights and vacations apart from our kids. We made the decision to collect “experiences more than possessions”… To spend more time “dreaming together than acquiring together.” Even more, we constantly pray for free vacation opportunities, and God shows 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 parents” tend to produce unhealthy kids. 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. 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”… personal health issues that eventually spill over into your children. You’ve got to teach them that your marriage and relationship with God are first… and if that means, enduring a few weepy moments, so be it.
One thing is for sure: 24 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. Let it be the same for you!
“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