Written by Julie Hall, MBA MS LMFT Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
In today’s culture of parenting, and particularly when our children are young, it is easy to fall into a child centered routine. We’re packing water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, equipment, confirming drop offs and pick ups and coordinating schedules. Meanwhile when our kids are home, we’re feeding, cleaning up, disciplining, playing, helping our kids navigate academics, friendships and feelings. It is all so much. By the end of the day we are exhausted and then we wake up to do it all over again. Our relationship with ourselves and our partners can suffer. As a therapist, I often work with clients to develop healthier practices to re-engage those connections. Below are some practical suggestions to move from a child centered routine to a routine that also encompasses your needs and the needs of a partner relationship.
Incorporate one ritual practice a day that is solely for your own wellness.
This could look like sitting in your favorite chair in the morning while you sip your coffee. Or maybe it is a 30 minute practice of body movement outside or on a peloton or treadmill. Maybe it’s gardening or picking up a book in the quiet of the evening to read. I describe this as a ritual practice because it’s important to prioritize with consistency. In this season of life, time for your wellness will have to be claimed by you, not necessarily given. The more you can claim this time, the more that you will find that your overall sense of self is strengthened, which increases your motivation to connect with your spouse.
Communicate with one another.
In the busyness of life we can find ourselves moving in parallel with our spouses rather than in sync. It is important to have a check in as often as possible, even when passing one another in the kitchen or in the bathroom. Ask how the other is doing, talk about feelings or something that you are excited about or that happened that day. Another strategy around communication that is helpful is to set up time to talk to one another each week about the household activities and logistics. That way, when you’re out on a date night you can focus on more connecting conversations.
Build a support system
Navigating life with young children comes with challenges. Remember that you are not alone by fostering connection with families who are also in that stage of life. Engage in family activities together to build camaraderie and friendship which lightens the burdens we feel.
If you are in a generally healthy relationship, it is so important to recognize that your partner is well intentioned and perhaps struggling in their own unique ways as well. When conflict inevitably arises, try to pause before you engage your partner until you can access empathy for their perspective. When speaking, try to engage in nonviolent communication, a formula for communication that includes observation, feelings, needs and requests. When partners can “fight well”, the chances of their relational success in these stressful seasons are much stronger.
Engage in PLAY!
One of the most special parts of this season with young children is observing their play and wonder. An incredibly healthy practice to foster partner and family connection is to play with our children, whether it be with old favorites like hide and seek or tag, dance parties, silly make believe, sand castles on the beach or angels in the snow – the list is endless. Observing our childrens wonder can remind us of how much joy and pleasure the act of play can bring. Allow your childrens play to inspire you and then draw your partner into that play. As hard as this season can be, it can also be some of the most special and incredible time if we give ourselves permission to fully engage our presence in moments that can otherwise pass us by too quickly.
As a parent of a young child myself, I know how bogged down we can get with the to-dos of each day. I hope these tools offer perspective, hope and relief that there can be joy and connection with our partners in the midst of it all.
Julie is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who works with students, parents, couples, and families around many issues including anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and trauma. Julie is trained in the practice of mindfulness, as well as Restoration Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, all of which are tools she uses in her work with families, couples and individuals to support them in their journey toward healing and wholeness. She makes her home in CT with her husband, daughter and 2 rescue pups. You can learn more at juliehalltherapy.com.