Here is a question I have received from Prudence, one of my readers. I am posting my reply here, because I think that my answer may help other people.
Prudence asked, "We are almost at our 2nd year anniversary. We have two foster children, 14 and 10. Our marriage is happy, fun and exciting, but sometimes I feel we don’t have enough time just the two of us… how do you do it with two kids?"
I guess that becoming a parent to a big kid is not the same as growing together with your kids since they are babies. Kids want all the attention on them all of the time, which we give them at first. Along the way, we gradually learn to use our time better: to complete things a bit better, a bit faster or just to get rid of some time consuming habits.
I became a mother of 2 after a 16-year relationship with my partner, so I guess knowing each other and becoming a mother of one kid at a time made life much easier for me. I had Eden and Tsoof nearly 7 years apart and Noff after another 6 years, which allowed plenty of time to adjust slowly to the parenting changes.
Time is a valuable resource when you have kids and time together with your partner is essential in order to keep your marriage healthy. If parents separate because they do not have enough time for each other, even if they are the greatest parents in the world, their kids will still suffer.
19 years ago, when our eldest daughter was 11 months old, we found out that we did not have any "us" time. We loved her so much that we wanted to spend every second with her, so in the evenings we were quite happy for her to go to sleep at the same time we did. It took us 11 months of excitement to realize that we were missing out on our time as a couple. We started noticing divorced families and realized that giving her all our attention at the risk of our relationship was too high a price to pay and that it was not good for her in the end. So we came up with some new rules. I hope you find them helpful:
Time flies, but you are the pilot
- Go on a date once a week - Once a week, no matter what happens, no matter how much money we have, no matter how tired we are, we go out.
When Eden was only a year old, we lived in a town with only one cinema, in which the same movie ran for 3 weeks. So we would get a babysitter and go out for a walk on the street. Even when we moved away from our extended family (across the oceans from them), we made sure we found a babysitter and would leave our daughter with her and go to the movies or even just spend 2 hours having coffee with friends.
When people tell me they cannot afford a babysitter, I tell them they cannot afford not to get one!
Even now, 19 years later, we do not need a babysitter anymore, but we still go out once a week on average. This can make a world of a difference to your married life. If you have 4 families in your circle of friends, you can arrange it so that one couple stays with all the kids and the others go out, and then rotate. This probably means that your living room will become a campsite for about 8 kids every 5 weeks, but you will get to go out with your partner 4 out of every 5 weeks. With such an arrangement, everyone wins. A funny movie and popcorn can keep kids busy for hours - and why not let them giggle till late?
- Get the kids to bed at a set time - The second thing we discovered when our daughter was just 11 months old was that we were missing valuable "us" time because she was going to bed at the same time we did. This can be an especially hard issue for couples that have been together for a long time before having kids. Those couples may be so used to filling up their time with what interests them that it is hard for them to give up those things after such a long time.
Put your kids in bed at a set time. I think it is good to read up a bit on kids and sleep to find out what you think is the best bedtime hour. My son is 13 soon. He goes to sleep every night at 8pm and gets up at 6:30am. I thought that by now he would ask for a reduction of his sleep time, but he has not. Your kids may want to go to sleep later but still make sure they go to sleep, or at least to bed in order to relax before they fall asleep, at a specific time. This will give you and your partner some time to yourself.
For 19 years, with a 19 year old daughter, we have had "us" time every day of the week from 8pm onwards.
- No TV, no computer and no mobile phone in the kids’ rooms - To make sure that kids are not tempted to stay awake (and for health reasons), our kids do not have a TV, a computer or a mobile phone in their room. Our eldest daughter reads in her room if she does not want to sleep. We accept reading before bedtime, but with the young ones, we even try to limit that.
[It has been scientifically shown that computer monitors simulate sunlight and keep us in "day mode". The use of computers should therefore stop at least 2 hours before bedtime]
- Extend the days with more energy - One more way to increase the time you have together with your partner is to be able to stay energetic for longer. Gal and I used to be dead tired at 9pm, which then shrank the time we had together from 3 good hours to only 1. This is a typical problem. Parents are too tired. If you have the same problem, you can always find ways to increase your energy. Try exercising (we went to the gym for 3 months, but that did not work for us). Reduce stress - you can subscribe to this blog to get many stress management tips for parents. Sometimes, it is useful to change your eating habits (this was the magical cure for us - Food Combining for Health). If you fall asleep in front of the TV or during a movie, find ways to extend the hours during which you can stay awake and be energetic.
- Meditate - Another tip to stay energetic for longer and to have more active hours in your day is to meditate. 9 years ago, our whole family learned transcendental meditation. In this type of meditation, you need to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. Each session of meditation is equivalent to two hours of sleep. When we meditated properly (i.e. actually did it every day), we could sleep for 6 hours and still be full of energy and motivation for the other 18 hours. Whenever we go to sleep very late (i.e. in the early hours of the morning), we meditate first and this helps us survive the sleep deprivation the following day. Find a kind of meditation that does this magic for you.
- Stop watching television - When Gal and I moved in together, we were students. My grandmother offered us her old TV and we made a courageous decision that changed our life - we said, "No, thank you". People said we were strange, but it worked perfectly for us. We worked so many hours and studied for so many hours that having no TV made our life much easier.
I still think we have more time together because we watch little TV. The TV set in our house is a piece of furniture more than it is an appliance and it is only on for about 5 hours a week. Even then, most of those hours are spent watching DVDs that we rent from the video store or shows that we record so that we can fast-forward the commercials.
In my time management workshop, I ask people to estimate how much time they dedicate to different things in their life, and it is funny to find out that many people add up their time for different activities and reach 200 hours a week, when there are only 168 hours available. Almost 100% of those people with time management challenges watch TV for MANY hours in any given week. No wonder they are tired! An no wonder they have no time left! It was scary to find on some people’s sheets they spent from 12 to 30 (!) hours a week watching television. Estimate how many hours you spend watching TV and remember that every hour you stare at the box is one less hour of quality "us" time.
- Fast food dishes - Preparing food and eating takes a long time every week. To save time, we came up with some arrangements that save us lots of time. We decided that preparing elaborate dishes at home was a waste of time, so we make simple, healthy and easy-to-make salads and main courses. We can always go out for fancy food, in which case we waste no time at all on cooking…
When we prepare our food, we often make double portions, so we can all take healthy food in our lunch boxes the next day. When we clear the table, we store the leftovers in boxes, which makes our mornings much more relaxed as well.
- Playtime for Mom and Dad - We explained to the kids that mom and dad need some time to be together. We told them that, just like they have time with their friends and we help them organize this, Mom and Dad are best friends and they need time together too, so we expect them to respect that.
This is something you can explain even to a 2 year old. Kids are actually happy to hear that Mom and Dad love each other. The fear of Mom and Dad separating is so real nowadays (so many kids in their class have most likely divorced or separated parents) that they look at you for signs of love and intimacy (this is why arguments between parents make kids so stressed.
- Weekends away - Try once a term to organize for your kids to sleep over at a friend's place at the same time that you and your partner have a night away. If you have extended family around you, send the kids to sleep over at their grandparents or at other family members' houses. It will give you some time off for an outing, a movie or even just a sleep in on Saturday morning.
If you have a good babysitter, you can go away, just the two of you, for a whole weekend. One night away from home can boost your relationship incredibly. If you talk to other parents, you will find that other parents will also be excited about such an arrangement and you may be able to alternate looking after the kids.
- Do chores together - We have found that doing the things that have to be done together, gives us more time to be together. If we can, we cook, hang the washing, fold the washing, work in the garden and clean together. It gives us the opportunity to talk, kid around and share achievements. It also makes it faster and sets a good example for the kids.
If anyone has more ideas and tips to manage time better and spend more time with your partner, please share them with us by writing in the comment box below.