PARENTS & PARTNERS – Becoming better at romance and parenting

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With Valentine ’s Day approaching, what are your plans? Romance and parenting aren’t two words you often see close together. If these words were at school, they’d be at opposite sides of the canteen. Popular Romance would be giggling with wild abandon while Parenting would be slumped over a chair probably sleeping with her mouth wide open.

If you take the time to google ‘parenting and romance’, Google suggestions say it all. Among the top ten are ‘romantic gestures to win her back’ ‘romantic gesture definition’ and ‘romantic gestures for her with no money’. The common theme seems to be reviving ones relationship and worryingly, many don’t appear to know what a romantic gesture is! With all money spent on school trips and infinite pairs of children’s shoes, parents are trying to romance without spending any money – sounds familiar?

For many, long indulgent days and evenings of romantic surprises are a thing of the past, and a romantic getaway is about as likely as Mr Tumble wearing a pair of sensible trousers.

Back in your child-free days, you simply went out for the evening; an event like this was at most referred to as a “night out”. Now, as a parent, evenings like these are so rare they require a special status, a “date night”.  Standards of an exciting day out drop considerably. Simple excursions to the supermarket without the kids have you feeling giddy.

Parenting means your romantic ideals drop massively. No, he didn’t buy me flowers but he did wash the car this weekend. The only valentine card he received was the one our toddler made at nursery, what’s wrong with that?

When day in, day out you are constantly putting the needs of your children first, it’s an effort for many to then add the needs of someone else to the pile too.

Not long after having her first baby, American Celebrity Giuliana Rancic famously stated “We put our marriage first and our child second” later explaining “the best thing we can do for him is have a strong marriage.” While many initially balked at this honest statement, their approach may be one that more parents could take a leaf from.

Statistically speaking, 67% of couples come closer to divorce during the first three years of a new baby’s life. In the first few months of parenthood, 40 – 70% of couples experience “stress, profound conflict and drops in marital satisfaction” (The Gottman Institute).

According to other happiness surveys, these dips are recurring with each child. German researchers who have been tracing the pattern of parental happiness for twenty years found that happiness peaks and troughs with the first two children, and stabilises with the third. Mikko Myrskylä, a professor of demography at London School of Economics and director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, stated “Our results show a temporary and transitory gain in parents’ happiness around the birth of first and second children,” He said “The fact that parental happiness increases before these children are born suggests that we are capturing broader issues relating to childbearing such as couples forming partnerships and making plans for the future.”

Another way of interpreting these findings, is that our idea of parenthood is quite different to the reality. The sleep deprivation, financial burden, physical and emotional strain can irreparably damage a relationship. Gradually, exhausted parents sniping at each other, can ware their relationship down. Build each other up and you’ll create unshakable foundations.

While I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom, the reality is there are no shortcuts to raising a family. It is hard work. It is also the most rewarding work that you could possibly ever do, and although they may be less steamy kisses, there is no shortage of sloppy and snotty ones which are equally pleasing, in their own way.

So what can we do to keep a happy, healthy relationship with our spouse?

Be engaged

This is my personal New Year’s resolution and while I am applying it to my life in general, it will also serve your love life well.

We often become distracted with phones and Facebook. Make an effort to ignore these distractions and talk, even watching a film is more enjoyable when everyone is fully involved. Set some ground rules for when you will and won’t use your phone then stick to them. Your family as a whole will be happier for it too.

Little things mean a lot

Small gestures go a long way, cups of tea in bed, a hot bath, a foot rub. Just taking some time out of your day to do a small thoughtful and caring gesture can make a huge difference to your happiness. Behaviour like this is usually reciprocated, so if you have both fallen out of the habit, get the ball rolling again.

Make the ordinary extraordinary

No time or money to go out? No worries. Mix things up and have a living room picnic instead of your usual dinner. Surprise your partner with a cooked breakfast instead of the usual toast or cereal. You might notice a common theme here but food is the way to most people’s hearts.

Be kind

It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? Yet the most common complaint you hear from unhappy couples is about irritating habits. People don’t change, but you can change your perspective on people. It’s easy to focus on the negatives, especially when you are overstretched looking after a family too. However, life is much more pleasant when you concentrate on what you love about your partner (and people in general!). Make sure you tell them about it too.

Whatever you do this Valentine’s Day, start some habits that can keep on rolling all year round. Parenting and Romance might not be obvious bed fellows, but being romantic will make you better partners and parents.