Do Your Kids a Favor

By Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos

Put them second-after your marriage. (They want you to be in love.)

When was the last time you had a conversation with your partner that wasn't
about the kids? If you can't remember, your relationship could be headed for
tough times, says Shirley P. Glass. In her new book, Not "Just Friends":
Protect Your Relationship From Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal
(Free Press), Glass argues that even good relationships have hidden
vulnerabilities, and too much "kid time" can cause stress fractures. We
talked with Glass about getting your grown-up groove back.

Know what you are up against. A child-centered marriage is one in which a
couple's energy, time and passion are focused on their children's needs to
the exclusion of their own. The adults don't have an identity-either as
individuals or as a couple-separate from their parenthood; they're only
"Mom" and "Dad." You know you fit the profile if:

You never have a private conversation, one in which a child isn't present.
You can't remember the last time you went out without your kids. Most of the
laughs you share with your partner are about the children's antics and
interests. Your children see you only as their parents, not as a man and
woman who regularly show affection for each other.

Protect what you have. Parents often feel guilty leaving their kids at home,
particularly in families with only one child. But guilt-ridden couples
should know that one of the best gifts they can give to their children is
letting them see their father and mother being in love with each other.
Children have so many friends whose folks are divorced that when they see
their own parents sharing affection and a private life, that is very
comforting. They also learn that the best relationships are mutually
rewarding and satisfying.

Schedule deliberately. Responsible parents have to do what's urgent and
nonnegotiable. But you can say no to some of the outside demands on all of
your time and energy. How many extracurricular activities do your children
have to participate in? Don't overschedule them, or yourself. In successful
marriages, the couple considers also, Is this going to be good or bad for
our relationship? You have to put each other on your calendar. Your
couplehood won't always get the time it deserves, but it needs to be your
number-one priority in terms of focus.

Try to leave yourselves time alone at night after you get the kids to bed.
New parents should get the baby out of the bedroom. Older children shouldn't
be allowed in when the door is closed (unless the house is on fire!). Get up
15 minutes early in the morning so you can ask each other over coffee: "How
are you doing? What's going on?" (One husband calls it "coffee with hon.")
Trust someone else to care for your kids sometimes and let go. If Saturday
mornings are full of sports practices and the afternoons are devoted to
errands, make Saturday night your night. Hire a babysitter on a regular
schedule, and take weekends or an overnight away by yourselves. If you have
never done this before, your kids may offer some resistance, but hold your
ground. Parents need their getaways.

Love is not enough. If you find yourself captivated by somebody other than
your spouse, or not wanting to talk about that person at home, it's time to
put up some walls-before you've slid too far down the slippery slope. You
need to take action to honor your commitment to your family and your
marriage. Also, couples who are trying to recover from an affair often
become overly focused on their children. They want to believe that their
love for their children will protect them from future infidelity. But that's
naïve. So be aware of the dangers.

Find yourselves. It's critical for couples to socialize with other couples
so they have an identity as a man and woman relating to other adults. On
double dates, try hard not to talk about your children all night. Think
about what first attracted you and your spouse to each other. If you used to
like to go hiking or biking or dancing together, go back to that. Keep an
eye on how much fun you and your partner are having. Nobody just shows up
for work and expects to be successful, so why should you and your partner
assume that if you love each other, that's all you need? Above all, you need
each other.

Originally published in Working Mother magazine, March 2003.
© Copyright 2003 WMAC. Inc.

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