Happy Parents, Happy Kids

From Parents Magazine

As a parent, it’s easy to let life revolve around your child, but experts say a marriage needs just as much attention to thrive. “Making your kids the center of your life may seem child-friendly, but it can create long-term unhappiness for everyone in the family,” says David Code, author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. Your relationship is the emotional environment in which your kids live. Just as you want them to breathe clean air and drink pure water, you want them to grow up in a loving atmosphere. Here are some ways to connect with your partner—and create a nurturing environment for your kids, too.

    Have a weekday update.

    In these days of tag-team parenting, those lazy hours you once spent talking together can feel like a distant memory. To stay close, Code suggests that you each share a highlight of your day (like when your son winked at you across the room) and a low point (that parking ticket). Discussing your worst moments may seem like a downer when you have limited time together, but when you each understand what the other person is going through, you’ll be more of a team.

      Don’t coast.

      No matter how great your marriage was before you had kids, you can’t just leave it on autopilot now. “A lot of family life is about putting out fires,” says Linda Waite, Ph.D., a sociologist at the University of Chicago. “With children, there are so many things you have to deal with immediately, so you don’t work on your own relationship.” However, you have to invest time and energy in your marriage—and address tense topics—if you want the relationship to remain strong during tough times.

        Make time to be alone together.

        Your child may push all your buttons when she begs, “Don't go!” but adult-only time is crucial. Find a great babysitter and create a regular date schedule. You’ll feel less guilty going out if you know your child is home having fun with that college student she likes.

          Be a cheap date.

          Even if you’re game for quality time together, a night out can get expensive. Psychologist Carolyn Pape Cowan, Ph.D., encourages couples to focus on togetherness by going on a $2 date. “It's amazing how budget-conscious parents can be—they beg friends to babysit, and just sit on a park bench and talk.” You can also have a date night at home: put the kids to bed early and enjoy a quiet dinner together.

            Look for little ways to be nice.

            One of the big differences between couples who make the transition to parenting smoothly and those who don’t is their ability to express the three A’s—affection, appreciation and admiration—says researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., author of And Baby Makes Three. So be generous with compliments. When your partner arrives home late, try to be sympathetic. And when you split parenting duties, remember to thank your spouse for helping out. This kind of feel-good behavior makes you want do nice things for each other because there’s such a gratifying payback.

              Go out on a limb.

              Routines are great for little kids, but they can make a marriage stale. “It's important to find new ways to connect and keep your relationship fresh,” says Waite. Sign up for a pottery class or go dancing. Be willing to risk your dignity and stumble a bit as you learn new things together. This will give you fresh conversation topics and help you connect as a couple each day. 

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