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A Second Important Question for Spouses with Kids

(Here’s the second very good question Parenting NH magazine asked me recently):

What are some practical tips and ways for parents to prioritize their relationship as spouses/partners?

Most people know about the importance of setting aside quality time together through things like “date night.” Having a planned, ritualized time alone with your partner amplifies your “couple-ness” through shared experiences, reminding you about your reasons for choosing and staying with each other. I encourage couples to ramp it up a notch by taking turns with the planning, each putting energy into the “work” of connection.

Sometimes surprise experiences can expand a sense of fun, and even ramp up friendly competition. Anticipating and later reminiscing about these events can actually build happy neural pathways in your brains!

Novelty and a shared sense of discovery by doing new things together also generates excitement and joy, which are important antidotes to the doldrums which often plague long term relationships.

Equally as important, build mini “pockets of connection” into your everyday life as a couple. Don’t overload date nights with too much expectation, especially if you can’t manage to have them regularly and frequently. Instead, look for small, subtle moments of sharing by being intentional about them:

– If you’re getting dinner ready, create a shared experience with some conversation and a glass of wine while you prepare the meal.

– If the kids are in bed sit on the deck or the porch and watch the stars come out together. Talk about your dreams and passions, not just who aced it at your kid’s soccer game.

– If you’re watching a TV program sit next to each other and use the commercial breaks to have a snack and share your thoughts about the program.

– “Kill two birds with one stone” and have some lively conversation while you walk your dog.

However brief your time together may be, protect it from outside intrusion. Get more comfortable saying “No, thank you” to invitations that might cut in on the two of you too often. Set boundaries and prioritize your time together, even if it’s not a Hallmark moment.

Whatever you do together, be intentional about it, be present, and put down your cellphones! Texts, Facebook, and Instagram can wait, unless they’re shared activities you both enjoy. Here again, remember that one way or the other, your kids are watching, and you’re giving them a template for either a loving, respectful partnership, or an empty one.

Three Big Questions for Spouses with Kids

I was recently contacted by Parenting New Hampshire Magazine for my thoughts about three big questions they have about spouses with children. I thought they were really good questions parents should be reflecting about, so I sent the magazine some of my ideas about the subject. I don’t know if my “answers” will be used in the article, but I thought I’d share them with you, my readers.
Here’s the first question:
Why is it important for spouses/partners in their own relationship to “not always be about the kids”? 
Most importantly, you as a couple came first, and unless you “fill your tanks” properly you won’t have
much of value to give to your children. Nourishing your partnership creates positive energy and “zest”
that then can radiate out into more constructive and loving interactions not only with each other, but also
with your children, especially when they are presenting aggravating or challenging attitudes and behaviors.
 
Also, by giving your marriage proper care and attention you will be providing not only a positive model
for self nurture and self valuing, but also an important frame for connective, collaborative partnership. Don’t be
fooled by what looks like self absorption in your kids – as busy as they may seem with their own lives,
they’re always watching you and unconsciously imitating your attitudes and behaviors!
 
One final thought about this question: In about 18 or so years your children will hopefully be “launched” and
out on their own. What of value as a couple will you have to share if you’ve created a totally “kid-centric”
life together? If you haven’t nourished your relationship sufficiently you will be less adept at communication,
managing conflict, taking turns, feeling close, and just plain having fun together!

Sweet Father’s Day 2012

Our family officially celebrated Father’s Day a week early, because that’s when our son was able to make the trek home from Connecticut. That meant that on the actual day, it was just my husband, “the Father,” and me, celebrating him as a great Dad.

I bought him a printer compatible with his iPad, which he loved, and then gifted him with a surprise excursion upstate New Hampshire which I had fully planned. We started the day with the present and a pot of coffee, which we enjoyed on the deck overlooking our garden – very “Martha Stewart”. We then “dubbed around” our land, picking weeds and flowers, and congratulating ourselves for all the beauty we’ve created. (That part is an almost daily ritual). Then we loaded up the kayaks and the car with supplies, and took off for the “surprise” trip to Squam Lake (“Golden Pond”), in Holderness, New Hampshire, munching on our “breakfast to go.” (He’d had a feeling it was probably Squam).

Unbeknownst to me, it was the last day of Motorcycle Week in Weirs Beach, which we had to go through to get to the lake, so the last leg of the journey was very interesting, complete with 200,000 bikers from all over, many of whom were Hells Angels. By the time we landed the kayaks it was 3:30, and as usual, most people were beginning to head home. That was just fine, as we had most of the giant lake to ourselves, as we often do on our trips, with our weird schedule. (We tooled all around France without reservations for two weeks in 1986 after a terrorist bombing, and never saw an American).

We paddled around for a few hours, admiring the stately summer homes and the mountains, as I watched my blissful husband, thinking, “these moments are precious, savor them, savor being with him, it’s not a given!”

We then left the lake and headed for Lago, a lakeside inn and restaurant at the northern point of Winnipesaukee. They serve drinks on the lawn at the water’s edge, where you sit in adirondack chairs, looking down the lake toward the mountains. It’s one of our favorite places, and we had it all to ourselves, because it was a Sunday night, and most (normal) people were already headed home. Then we had a lovely dinner at a table right by the window, watching the sunset.

It was the most perfect Father’s Day, and I kept thinking, “Why do we wait for special occasions to gift and acknowledge each other in this way? Why don’t we all appreciate each other like this every day?”

I hope you too had a lovely Father’s Day.
Susan Lager

P.S. To get a good sense of how strong your marriage is, and where it might need some tending, get a copy of my original Marital Wellness Evaluation on the “Products” page of this site.

Mothers Everywhere

Earlier tonight I went to a yearly fundraising auction for Sweetzer Services in Maine, an organization serving children and families in need. Many of the children have families who have serious mental health issues, or parents who cannot care for them. Many of the children live in group home settings, without families of their own in their lives. It’s always heartbreaking and heartwarming to hear their stories of survival and hope.

Whenever I go, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to help in some small financial way. I’m also reminded about what it must be like to grow up without a mother, or a family of one’s own.

I think it fitting, that on the eve of this Mother’s Day, mothers everywhere not diminish the critical role they play in the shaping of a child’s life through love, constancy and protection. For all you mothers who wrestle with self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion, and occasional despair, (most mothers?), remember that without your (flawed) love your children would be lost.

So, cut yourself a bit of slack, do your best, and celebrate your heroic role. Happy Mother’s Day!

A Very Special Birthday

Twenty-four years ago, right about now, I was in labor with our son Alec. I was clueless about how I’d live through the pain, and even more clueless about the grand adventure my husband and I were about to embark upon. I had never felt parenthood was part of my destiny, so making the decision to have a child was more like tossing a coin – “heads”: lets have a kid – maybe it will be fun, with no later-in-life wistfulness, “tails”: no kid – less noise and expense, more travel and sleep. So it turned out to be heads, and what an amazing journey it has been!  The experience of love so visceral, the joys so intense, the vulnerability so raw, the pride so vast, the sense of discovery so unending, the learning so constant, the mistakes so stupid, the fatigue so frequent, the disappointments so heartbreaking, the laughter and fun so deep, (on and on and on….)

So for anyone out there contemplating taking on the most important job in life with love in your heart, emotional consciousness, courage, diligence, and “ready enoughness”, I hope it will be “heads” for you too!

Happy birthday Alec, you are the most precious gift ever……….

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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