It’s easier to make time for your partner or spouse when no kids are around, but that becomes challenging when raising children together.
Different parenting styles also can complicate matters. Maintaining your relationship while caring for young children takes lots of work, but it’s highly important for your kids – and yourselves.
Caring for younger children requires more physical work, such as bathing, feeding, playing, running after toddlers and comforting them when they cry. These demands can be especially taxing and could lead to resentment between parents.
Couples must be intent on keeping the lines of communication open between themselves, as well as the entire family, while juggling work, household tasks and raising elementary-age children, says certified family life educator and program leader Maisielin Ross of the Family & Consumer Sciences Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension, University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“Choose one or two activities that you both enjoy that you can do as a couple,” she says. Some couples might choose to include their children in such activities while others may not. “It’s important to communicate your needs and to be aware of those filters that affect the way we communicate, as well as how our partner and children respond.”
Even the way we greet our spouse at the end of a busy workday can have a big impact on the family’s communication as the evening progresses.
“Communication is hard,” says Rachel Docekal, Palm Beach County mother of two. “We abide by the first five minutes rule in our house. Essentially, that your demeanor in the first five minutes after you enter the house sets the tone for the rest of the night. It’s amazing what a genuine smile and hello can do!”
Developmental benefits of a healthy parenting partnership
Research shows that children who grow up in healthy, happy, caring home environments develop secure attachments, are motivated to learn and experience long-term positive social-emotional, cognitive and language development, Ross says.
“Given that brain development is still occurring, children learn what a healthy partnership/relationship looks like,” she says. “This, in turn, can influence their choice of relationships/partnerships when they get older.”
Docekal agrees that kids thrive developmentally when parents foster healthy communication skills with each other. “When there is tension or a lack of warmth between parents, kids feel it,” she says. “It’s hard enough to be a kid without feeling tension in your own home.”
Addressing our own needs is a key strategy to success, says therapist Pamela Moss of Community Partners’ Triple P — Positive Parenting program. “If we aren’t healthy as individuals, making good decisions and being there for our partner or children is very difficult,” she says. “Parents need to be on the same page when parenting.”
We all come from various backgrounds with different ideas and experiences that influence our parenting style. Triple P offers booster sessions to help partners iron out differences in their opinions and styles, Moss says.
Jennifer Martinez, Palm Beach County mother of two, sees the benefits of a healthy relationship. “Your children see the love you have for each other, and it helps set the tone for relationships in the future,” she says. “You want them to see the love you have for each other. They notice, even if you think they aren't paying attention to you.”
Choosing peace over chaos
The stress from parents’ everyday challenges can extend to the rest of the family. Whether it’s economic issues, job losses, illnesses or behavior problems, all family members risk falling into chaotic patterns unless stressors are acknowledged, Moss says.
“Oftentimes, parents are so exhausted they don’t feel they have time enough to spend with their children,” she says. “This can lead to feelings of guilt. However, spending frequent small amounts of time is as beneficial as spending longer periods of time.”
Ross agrees that maintaining as much peace as possible in the home is best for everyone. “Children who grow up in a house of emotional turmoil feel emotionally insecure, live in a state of uncertainty, find it difficult to trust, develop anxiety and aggression, have difficulty adapting and learn that emotional tumult is a normal way of life,” she says.
Creating a safe, secure space for children doesn’t have to be complicated, however. “We love to have family dinner together,” Docekal says. “Ultimately, communication lines are opened, we talk, we laugh and we connect. The dinner table becomes a place of safety and solace – and fun.”
• Pamela Moss, Triple P — Positive Parenting Program therapist, Parent-Child Center
• Maisielin Ross, program leader and certified family life educator, SmartCouples (University of Florida Extension Office)