We have reached the shortest days of the year, once again. The sun’s rays are fleeting. The nights are long. The air has cooled and depending on where you live, the first snowflakes may have already danced through the air in a slow descent to the cold, frost-covered ground.
If your life is anything like mine, it is hard to believe that December is already upon us. Each season passes with increasing speed, and the increased activity of each day only adds to the rapid flight of time.
Why is it exactly that the days seem to zing by with ever-increasing speed? I know that this answer isn’t hard to come by if you take a minute to think about. We, as mothers and caretakers, fill our days to the absolute rim with activity. Yes, there is down time and an aim to bring a renewed slowness into our daily rhythms. But even with this effort, in our lives with small children there is a flourish of daily activity that typically starts in the early morning hours and, in these winter days, ends long after the sun sets. The days are oh so full, yet I find that mine are often missing something incredibly important for my entire family…time to truly connect with my husband.
The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. ~ Theodore Hesburgh
The above quote is most likely familiar. I think that it is important to think of it the other way around too. The greatest gift a child can receive is to be cared for by two parents who love each other. It is just as important for us mothers to love our husbands, the fathers of our children, as it is for our partners to love us.
For me the love is always there, dependable and strong. It’s the expression and appreciation of the love that is often lacking. I suspect that we are not the only household who finds this to be true.
We are a family of readers, and our bookshelves are lined with volumes about caring for children. There are books about raising boys, empowering girls, and teaching children to be mindful. Some of the books are so focused as to only be concerned with the first few months of a baby’s life. I have books about nurturing myself as a woman and mother. My husband has at least one book about being a father. Our family even has books about raising a puppy and welcoming a dog into our family.
Nowhere on our bookshelves are there any books about nurturing our marriage. It’s ironic, really, since it is my relationship with my husband that was there before any children came along. We started as two, and while we love all the beautiful ways our family has grown over the years, it is easy to forget that at the beginning it was us, a man and a woman who fell in deeply in love and dreamed of a beautiful life together.
While I understand that not all marriages are meant to last, and that there is beauty in all the different kinds of families, I am also a believer in partnership and commitment between two people who vow to be together. I know that my marriage is the most difficult relationship that I have ever had, and that it will continue to be difficult. But like so many other things, with love and attention my relationship with my husband will flourish.
With young children in the home something as simple as attention to our partnership can be hard to come by. Our days are so very full. Between our demanding careers, extended family and friends, as well as our own enriching passions, it feels like every minute is filled. Our young children also need so much from us during these years that the days can be down right exhausting.
The truth is, when it comes time to connect with my husband I am often so totally drained by the end of the day that I fall onto the couch, mindlessly watch TV and then utter a few words to him before stumbling off to bed. Or, both of us sit on the couch, laptops warming our thighs, working into the night. Again, we mutter a few words to each other before stumbling off to bed.
The long conversations that were the bedrock of my husband’s and my love story rarely happen any more. Gone are the late nights hanging out at the local pub or meeting under the moon for study breaks (we met while both graduate students) or snuggling in bed watching the sun rise. While there is a part of me that misses the freedom the early days of our love held, I would never dream of trading in our full and busy lives as working parents with small children.
These days, we just have to prioritize our relationship and create the space for us to really be together. Sometimes we have to force it, because that tiredness has a way of creeping in, or work demands something of us, or a child falls ill. We can’t wait for the ‘right’ moments. If we want to nurture our marriage, and our entire family in doing so, we have to make it a priority.
This is why my husband and I have stay at home date nights and unplugged time to truly connect with each other. We put away the distractions….iPhones, iPads, laptops, and the TV. We take the time to look into each other’s eyes, to really listen, hold hands, cuddle, relax, and simply breathe it all in together.
Here’s our favorite recipe for a night of reconnecting. We stumbled upon this one night a few years ago when the power went out on a warm summer night. My husband and I sat outside on the porch talking late into the night, even after the power came back on. Now, we try to recreate what we experienced that night every few months. While I love all the times I spend with my husband, I have to say my favorite time of year for reconnecting is during the winter.
1 Fireplace (while not necessary, if you have one put it to good use)
2 – 3 Warm blankets
4 – 5 Pillows
1 Relaxing music mix (try Windham Hill radio on Pandora or Gillian Welch’s The Harrow & The Harvest)
A favorite beverage (my husband and I like to share a beer, but maybe you prefer a glass of wine or hot tea)
A few squares of dark chocolate
Light a fire in your fireplace. Scatter several pillows around the floor in front of the fireplace along with the blankets. Light several candles. Turn off all the other lights in the room (unless you need some on for safety). Pour yourselves a nice drink, turn on the music, and lay your bodies down on the floor. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths to really let go of the day. Let go of any pressing worries. Let go of thoughts of your children. Once you feel yourself beginning to relax, sit up, take your partner’s hands and look each other in the eyes. Take a few more deep breathes while holding your gaze. Then, softly say to each other “I love you. Thank you for being here with me on this journey. Thank you for being with me over these years, through good times and bad. Thank you for loving me.” Vary the words to meet your needs, but start your time by taking the time to express your love and gratitude for each other.
Then, use the following conversation starters to spend the night talking and connecting with your partner.
:: Tell me about the best thing that has happened to you in the last week.
:: Tell me about the biggest challenge you had in the last week.
:: If you could have added one thing to make your week better than it was, what would it be?
:: What is your favorite part about being a parent?
:: What is your favorite part about seeing me as a parent?
:: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next week? month? year?
and just for fun
:: If we could go on a vacation, just the two of us, with no worries about who would care for the children or the cost, where would you want to go? Let your imagination run wild on this one. Why would you want to take the trip? What would you really look forward to about being just the two of us?
The crazy busy days will return. You can count on that. But for tonight, it is just the two of you. Back to the way it all started, full of hope, possibility, and above all else, love. Don’t let life get in the way of what is really most important. Take the time to connect, to grow your love, and to nurture your marriage.
Kelly Dahl lives in Ohio with her husband Erik and their two children, Cooper and Ellery. Kelly is always striving to find meaning as a working mamma, wife, and creative woman. She is the Editor of Sparrow Magazine and you can find more of her work as a personal coach at Perched to Fly.