Between orchestra concerts, ballgames, and end of school year activities, my wife and I were constantly on the go at the end of the last school year. Is the month of May like that for any of the rest of you? While we love our children and enjoy supporting them in their various activities, months like these can wear parents out. Additionally, we’ve noticed that the busier we become, the harder it is for the entire family to get enough sleep.
But, alas, we have a new school year upon us and a chance to wisely increase the odds of harmony in the home, provide the best environment for our children’s continued development – all while simultaneously strengthening our marriages!
Sound too good to be true? Well, I suggest you read on!
Suggestion #1: Be intentional with the amount of “out of the home” activities
Years ago Carissa and I were deeply touched by these words from Sister Julie B. Beck: “Mothers [and fathers] who know…consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children – more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These [parents] choose carefully and do not try to choose it all.”
Additionally, we have also appreciated the counsel shared by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. He mentioned the following: “Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules….It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this.”
Clearly these two leaders were not encouraging us to neglect our callings, quit serving our neighbors, or give a half-hearted effort to our employers. But, what about the “unnecessary busyness” that can creep into our schedules?
Striving to apply this counsel in the Stewart household
Our family settled on a rule of 1 extracurricular activity at a time per child. You may agree or disagree with our specific approach (but that really isn’t the point of this article). Rather, please consider the benefits of intentionally reducing “unnecessary busyness” – whatever your strategy may be!
For our family, striving to apply this counsel has helped us protect some of our precious family time (our busy month of May notwithstanding). Much could be written about the parenting benefits of intentionally preserving family time. However, for now, simply consider ways in which having less on your collective family schedule could help you and your spouse have more time to focus on your marriage.
For instance, if your family schedule was a little more open, would it be easier for you to have couple prayer, weekly dates, more time for romance, more spontaneous conversation? Simply put, if your family’s schedule was a little less busy, would it be easier for you and your sweetheart to spend more time together strengthening your marriage?
Suggestion #2: Be intentional with children’s bedtimes
There are various suggestions for how much sleep children need; however, the recommendations seem to be reasonably consistent. One such reference (WebMD) suggests that our 5 children should be getting between 9-12 hours of sleep each night (depending on the age of the respective child).
Sure, knowing and doing are different things, right?! Ensuring that our children actually get this much rest can take some serious effort on our part (especially as our children are keen to point out that their friends don’t have to sleep that long).
However, as is often the case, the easier path rarely yields the most desirable results. In this case sleep provides countless developmental benefits for the children and more time for the marriage relationship!
Suggestion #3: Nourish your marriage while children are in bed
For parents with children still in the home, ask yourself if your marriage would benefit by having an hour or two of “child free” time each evening? I suspect that for most of us the answer would be a resounding “yes”. And, please don’t feel guilty for feeling this way. Like my wife and I, you surely love your children dearly! However, it is imperative that spouses also frequently prioritize “couple time”!
How the time is used may not be as important as having that time together. Marriages can be strengthened by doing dishes side by side, exercising together, reconnecting after a busy day, and even kissing for six seconds (or more :)).
Years of research conducted by Dr. John Gottman suggest that a deep and abiding friendship provides the foundation for a satisfying marriage. There are many ways to nourish that friendship. However, it is my professional observation that some alone time each evening can be a helpful strategy as we strive to maintain that marital friendship.
Further, a whole separate article could be written about sabotaging our children’s happiness (and our own) by allowing them to consistently get less sleep than they need. With regard to the husband-wife relationship, when parents deal with tired, irritable children during the day, this parental frustration and exhaustion can often spill over into the marriage relationship as well.
I believe that it is a divinely provided tender mercy that children (even teen-agers) require more sleep each night than their parents as this provides opportunities for couples to strengthen the oft-neglected, but critically important, marriage relationship.
Are you over-scheduled? Do your children get enough rest? Are you using your evenings in such a way that your marriage is being strengthened?
Remember, good marriages don’t simply happen. I invite you to carefully (and prayerfully) look at your family’s schedule and then have the courage to improve where necessary. Your whole family can benefit!