Over 17 years ago, my husband and I entered the wonderful world of parenthood when our daughter, Hannah was born. Two years after that, we had our son. At 23 and 26 years old, Todd and I were thrilled to have our little family complete. I set aside a full-time job and was blessed to be able to stay home with our kids. Todd was hired on at a church in Michigan to pastor part-time, but in order to keep health insurance, he was also working 30 hours a week for his dad’s machine shop. If you are familiar with ministry jobs, you know at least two things: you work all weekend and you don’t work part time. Long days and weekends, bills, parenting and LIFE hit us hard and we found ourselves drifting further apart as we tried to stay afloat.
I was a young stay at home mom, wanting to do everything I could to love on our kids, trying to figure out what I was doing, and it was HARD. As the kids became more demanding, as the bills piled up and we were pulled in many directions, we found ourselves becoming more and more annoyed with each other. Eventually it turned into bouts of anger and frustration.
As God loves to do, I believe He prompted a college student in our church to boldly say something that rocked our marriage. I’ll never be sure how he found the courage, but one day, this young man approached Todd and said, “You and Kim don’t even act like you like each other.” At the time, Todd said he wanted to punch the guy in the face because he was so insulted (He didn’t, thankfully), but as he processed the truth in that statement, his eyes became open to what our marriage had become. We truly loved each other, but we were having a really hard time liking each other. Slowly, Todd began to change the way that he spoke to me, and decided that he would never give someone a reason to think we didn’t care for each other again. In response to Todd’s actions, I, too, began to lean into the relationship we once had. I am so thankful for that honest, tough statement because I truly believe it helped us get back on a healthy path toward each other. It wasn’t over night, but we slowly began to cultivate three core values that I believe can keep parents strong in their relationship. If you are a parent of young children, I want to encourage you to keep reading.
The very first value is “Communication”. One of the most damaging things we had begun doing was communicating in a negative manner with each other. When Johnny has already pooped through three diapers, Suzy has spilled all the dog’s water out and you are already 10 minutes late, its easy to be hasty in your answers instead of giving grace first. Communication takes time. Even when there isn’t any. Take a deep breath. Pause. Be gracious. Slow down your tasks and reactions. Think first before you speak. Communication also MUST include PRAISE. You have to encourage and see the best in your partner. Even when its hard. It could feel unnatural in the beginning if you have gotten on the negative path we had, but DO IT ANYWAY. Our tongues have the power to encourage and lift up and in the same moment rip someone apart. Use your words to communicate your love for your spouse.
With positive communication comes the second value: Connection. Its so easy when your kids are little to put them first, but studies have shown that if children see good relationships modeled, they gain security. When you take time together, you grow together. One of the simplest ways to connect is beginning with warm welcomes when your spouse comes home. Whether he’s been gone all day at work or simply returning from a round of golf, if you are home and he is returning, make his return special. In the same way, husbands, leave your computer or put aside the leaf blower and wrap your arms around your wife. Let your spouse know how special they are to you. Another easy way to connect is to create “20 minute reconnects” such as short walks, doing chores side by side or even driving together to one of your kid’s sporting events. Everyone has twenty minutes in their day in which they can connect with their spouse. If its been longer than two weeks since your last date, calendar your next date. Pay the babysitter and go to the mall if you are short on cash. If finding a babysitter is a challenge , put the kids to bed a little early one night, rent a movie, light the fireplace or a few candles, dim the lights and spend time cuddling. Pull out your wedding album or video and relive your special day. A special note to wives: if you have a hard time unwinding at the end of the day consider taking a shower at night and finding that cute nightie that you tucked away under your flannel pajamas. Invite your husband for an early bed time. However you do it make ways to spend time together and connect.
The most important value in a marriage, I believe, is Commitment. In this day and age, its very easy to walk away from commitments. Its nothing for couples to sign prenuptial agreements or make plans “just in case”. Before Todd and I were even married, we made the commitment to never use the word divorce. I want to challenge you to change your vocabulary too. Don’t give yourselves an easy out. Marriage and parenthood are both hard, but one doesn’t have to rule out the other. You don’t have to choose between a happy marriage and happy secure kids. If you have the first. the second will certainly follow. Remember that there are many stages of marriage and this one is only temporary! If you neglect your commitment to each other, when the kids are in college or moving out, you will have already drifted far apart. I’ve never run a marathon, but those who have say that you have to commit to training. Training is not always fun, you don’t always want to do it, it can be painful and it can be long but if you are going to run the entire race you have to do it. Marriage is not a sprint, its a marathon. Its rewards are far greater than a ribbon at the finish line. Commit to finish the race TOGETHER.
This Valentines Day, I want to encourage you to not just focus on the romance, but choose to improve in your COMMUNICATION, continue to find ways to CONNECT and reaffirm your COMMITMENT to each other. If you create a strong relationship between you and your spouse, your kids will thank you later!