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This post originally appeared on To Love, Honor and Vacuum.
My kids blew past me toward the door, an early-morning tornado of jackets, back packs, and lunch boxes.
“Come on,” called Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, jiggling his keys. “We’re going to be late!”
“Wait! I want kisses!” I said. “That means you! And you! And you!” My three older kids clattered back into the kitchen, planted kisses on my cheeks, and then rushed to follow my husband out to the van.
When the door slammed shut behind them, my two-year-old looked at me in horror. “Mama kiss Dada!” she said.
I blinked at her for a moment, not understanding. I heard the sound of the van pulling out of the driveway.
“Mama kiss Dada!” she insisted, her voice becoming frantic. She tried to pull me toward the door.
Then I realized: She was right. I hadn’t kissed my husband. I chuckled, trying to justify myself. “You’re right, but Daddy is coming right back, so that’s why I didn’t kiss him.” Even to my own ears, the words fell limp, a lame excuse. Little Miss stared me down, authoritative even in her bare feet and plaid nightie. I was not off the hook. “Mama kiss Dada.”
I felt a blush creeping across my cheeks. “You’re right,” I said. “I should have kissed Daddy. I’m sorry.”
Little Miss seemed to accept this. We went back to our oatmeal. Ten minutes later, the door banged open again. My husband was home.
Before he’d even rounded the corner, Little Miss rounded on me. “Mama kiss Dada! Mama kiss Dada!”
Laughing, I stood up. “Okay, okay, you’re right! I’ll kiss him!” I walked over to my husband and planted one, two, three firm kisses on his lips. He kissed me back with a baffled half-smile.
I turned back to my daughter, who stood watching us. Weighing me. “There. Are you happy now? Mama loves Dada, see?” When she still seemed unconvinced, I wrapped my arms around him and snuggled into his chest.
She smiled her approval and toddled off to find her toys.
That day, she reminded me of several truths I had forgotten, lessons I’ll carry with me always.
The secret most kids won’t tell you
Our children have a secret, and it’s this: Kids love it when their parents are in love. Older kids and teens may pretend to be embarrassed by our kisses, but secretly, they love it. It makes them feel safe. Happy. Like they are a part of something special.
When my brother was young, he invited a neighborhood friend over. My parents walked into the room and gave each other a little kiss, and the neighbor boy said, “Ew! Your parents kissed! My parents never kiss!” My brother grinned and bragged, “Well, my parents kiss all the time!” My parents’ affection was a source of confidence and security for him—and for all the kids in our family. I want to give my own children that same gift, that same confidence, through my marriage.
Keeping the home fires burning
But let’s be honest: It’s all too easy, once kids come along, to neglect our spouse. To forget about even the simple things that keep us connected and close. We don’t do it on purpose, of course, but once a baby enters our world, our first and best cuddles and snuggles and kisses start going to the baby. When we walk into a room, our eyes slide right past our husband, hungry for another drooly “Mommy-Is-My-Whole-World” smile from our chubby-cheeked cherub.
And at first, our husband doesn’t mind. For a season, he’ll gladly serve as our Baby Gear Sherpa, the carrier of car seats and diaper bags and Pack-n-Plays. For a time, he’s happy to take a back seat while we figure out the whole new-baby thing . . . but before long—sooner than we think—he needs the front seat again. He needs and deserves our deliberate attention, our devoted affection—not just the leftovers. Not always the afterthoughts. Song of Songs 8:6 describes a passionate romance so beautifully: “Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” Every fire needs fuel to keep burning. If it runs out of fuel, even the strongest of blazes will die down to ember and ash. We have to keep stoking the fire of our marriage—nurturing it, coaxing it back to life when it ebbs, feeding it fresh fuel.
I get it: This is easy to write about, and not easy to do. Believe me, I know! As a survivor of four New Baby Adjustment Periods, I totally get it! I can’t tell you how many times my husband has turned to me after a few months of me disappearing into New Baby Land, and gently said, “Come baaaaack to meeeee!” Which of course made the post-baby hyper-hormonal version of me cry and feel terrible (which in turn made Kevin feel terrible and wish he’d never said anything), but also reminded me that I was a wife before I ever became a mother. So please don’t read this and feel guilty . . . It’s hard for EVERYONE. It’s complicated. We all have to figure it out in our own messy way, and give each other jumbo-sized packages of
diapers grace. But here are a few strategies Kevin and I have tried over the years—I hope they give you some helpful ideas.
Five simple ways to stoke the marital flame, even with little ones in the house
These five simple tricks can help you connect with your spouse, even on chaotic days with babies and young children underfoot:
- Remember simple acts of daily physical affection. Don’t underestimate the power of hugs and kisses to keep you feeling connected and close.
- Use timers to set aside “Mommy and Daddy Time.” Tell the kids you need a few minutes to talk uninterrupted, and set a timer. The kids can’t come back into the room with you until the timer goes off.
- Schedule sex. I know, this does not sound romantic in the least, but IT HELPS, especially when kids are young and life is crazy. We have found that if we wait for the stars to align—kids in bed early, house clean enough for me to relax, me not wearing exercise clothes covered in spit-up, both of us rested enough to be willing to stay up a little later, both of us “in the mood” at the same time—um, they will never align. But if we both agree ahead of time that on such-and-such a day, we will work together to put the kids in bed on time, get the dishes done and the house put back together so I can stop cleaning, shut down all the computer and phone dings, and meet up for an interlude in the bedroom—then as long as one of the kids doesn’t start vomiting, we actually stand a chance! We might go really wild and light candles and play mood music.
- Build sacred Mommy-Daddy time into your schedule at a set time each day, so your children get used to it. (This idea comes from John Rosemond’s book New Parent Power.) Kids know, “This fifteen minutes always belongs to Mommy and Daddy, not to me.” You could try early-morning coffee together, before work and school. If mornings are too hectic at your house (like they are at mine), try setting aside a time slot right after you get home from work, or right after dinner. (When kids get older, we can even let them clean the dinner dishes while Mom and Dad catch up on the day! Let’s all take a moment to daydream about how fabulous that’s going to be . . . )
- Buy yourself an extra half-hour on evenings when you need time to connect. How? Put kids to bed early with a book and a flashlight. They’ll think it’s a treat to read in bed—it’s kind of like they’re getting away with something—and you can start some early couch-cuddling before you turn into a pumpkin.
Strategies like this are especially helpful for the time of life when we have small kids in the house. But this isn’t just a new-baby issue. The older my children get, the more I realize that this is an ongoing struggle. Older kids mean a busy life and crazy schedule packed with homework, sports, friends, and activities. We will all have to re-learn how to put our marriage first in the preschool years, the elementary years, the preteen years, the teenage years, the empty-nester years. At every stage, it takes a conscious effort to give our marriage the attention it deserves—to give our husbands the attention they deserve.
My wise two-year-old saw what I didn’t see. My husband comes first, not last. No matter how late we are or how busy life is, everybody deserves a good-morning kiss . . . and every kiss counts.