They’re really nice, aren’t they? Around this time last month my husband and I rocked up to a school function that didn’t exist because we had got the date wrong. Since we’d already bribed our eldest to babysit we opted to stay out for a while.
I was almost as excited as a teenager on a first date at this unexpected freedom, but didn’t want to hang around the actual teenagers we saw out on a Friday night. We found a café where some younger parents were having their own date nights with babies in tow. It was acceptable, if noisy. We had a real conversation, like proper adults, uninterrupted except for the arrival of our hot chocolates until we were done talking. What a revelation!
Relationship experts say couples should spend 15-30 minutes a day re-connecting with each other in conversation. I don’t know about you but for sometimes a whole half an hour of proper conversation with my husband seems quite the luxury.
It seems we’re not the only ones. A study of families by the University of California, Los Angeles found that couples raising children talked to each other for about 35 minutes in a whole week—with most of it focussed on daily family logistics.
This was a study in which both spouses were in paid employment, but I would argue that in any family with dependent children both parents are working very hard, whether paid for it or not. It could conceivably be the same for a couple where one worked and commuted long hours and the other occupied with home, caring, and volunteer duties.
Sometimes we will pay good money, like we did last month, in babysitting and the cost of eating or drinking out, mainly so we can remember how to talk to each other as people who are married to each other and not just ‘the mum and dad’. It’s money well-spent, and much cheaper than the therapy we would otherwise need if you think about it, but we can’t do it every day or even every week.
We’re grateful to be busy with raising our family, and love that all five of our kids still want to be with us so much. But we need some time alone before our brains turn completely to mush at the end of each day. Fifteen minutes is probably enough but that’s a long time to find face-to-face every single day if you have young kids and a job or more between you.
Thankfully there are lots of little ways to sneak in some daily private time and we’ve tried a few. These are pretty good.
The post-kids-bed-time chat
This is best enjoyed with a glass of wine and the fancier chips, chocolate, or ice-cream we’ve managed to hide from the kids. For us this requires some routine setting up, so that the lunches are organised, bags packed, and kitchen reasonably clean already. We keep things moving along after dinner so that the little ones are settled in their beds and the older ones reading quietly in their bedrooms before we’re too tired to stay up ourselves.
Then the tricky bit. We have to: A. Remember where we hid the good chocolate or chips and get them without making too much noise. B. Not have rushed the little ones’ night time routine.
If someone comes out to say we forgot to say night prayers with them or brush their teeth and we can’t hide the contraband quickly enough, we just resign ourselves to a round of complaints from everyone in the morning: “It’s not fair. You stayed up and had a nice party all by yourselves.”
Using secret code
We used to be able to spell things out if we wanted to transmit sensitive information that couldn’t wait until after the kids’ bedtime. It was really handy and I miss that. There’s an amazingly short window of opportunity between when kids can understand enough so that you have to spell things, and their being able to understand enough spelling to work your message out.
So sometimes we try the mind-meld thing; our own informal code which is just a combination of body language, in-jokes, old references or whatever we can think of that will hopefully go over their heads. The problem is that it can get annoying and even disturbing when our kids then try to guess whatever we were trying to say that was so apparently unspeakable.
A hiding place
The old get-them-all-occupied-and-steal-away-to-our bedroom trick. We usually get enough time in for an update on thoughts and feelings before someone small crashes in to demand a story, a hug, a tickle, a snack, some sibling arbitration. Or to tell us, “Hey, you can’t just come in here and laze around whenever you want! You’re our parents; you’re supposed to be serving us!”
It’s the price we pay for encouraging kids to live without being glued to a screen but only have small yard space and live on a busy road. If they don’t have new books/games/toys on hand it doesn’t take long before they need us for something.
Go for a walk
We don’t do this much, but it has worked out ok if we can get out of the house: A. Before dark. B. Without a child seeing us and melting down because he hasn’t been invited to come along.
Have you got any tips for getting one-on-one talk time with your significant other?