Just for Moms - Health and Beauty Page

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Who Do You Put First, Your Spouse or Your Child? Date nights keep couples connected Carrie Grange Isaacson

Maybe you shouldn't answer that question! Having a new baby in the house can radically change family dynamics and change the way spouses relate to each other. It's easy to put the baby first, at the expense of your relationship, so how do couples stay connected? After studying thousands of couples over two decades, the research of Dr. John Gottman shows that happy couples share one special characteristic, to make their relationship a priority. The best way to achieve this goal is to take "baby steps."

Stay Emotionally Connected Parenting requires a lot of work; it can feel like there is zero time and even less energy leftover to put into your relationship. Enjoying a happy and successful marriage means building quality time into ordinary moments. If the baby is napping, but there is a mountain of laundry to fold, ask your partner to turn off the TV, and while you fold sheets together start the kind of conversation you rarely have time for anymore. "Is fatherhood everything you imagined?" Or, "Where would you like to spend the baby's first holiday season?" Successful couples create a culture of appreciation for one another and build this into their relationship during everyday moments. Each couple creates their own unique family style and distinctive rituals that fit their personalities. One creative couple celebrates a "romantic happy hour" every night before bed. During this time, each partner shares one thing that the other did that day that he or she appreciated. For example, "Jon, thanks so much for remembering to pick up the dry cleaning. It slipped my mind, and it feels great to know you've got my back."

Get Out of the House Take advantage of the free help from family and friends in the first few weeks after a new baby's birth. Even small gestures like going for a walk around the block, getting a cup of coffee for your partner or just picking up dinner emphasizes to your spouse that you still are a connected team. Mark your calendars six months (or less!) after your baby's due date, and write "date night." Make date night a regular event and take turns planning your evening out. Celebrate with your partner; you've made it through the first half-year! It's time to make sure you put time and energy into sustaining a solid foundation for your family: your partnership. For example, Sue's mother offered to watch the baby so that she and Jon could go out to dinner. While Jon was more than ready to go, Sue felt worried and guilty about leaving her child. She equated being a good mother with never leaving her baby. Yet, by taking time to recharge and reconnect with her spouse, Sue will be a better mother to her child.

Remember, You're Just a Phone Call Away! With the new fiscal concerns that come with parenting, some couples still resist the price of date night; yet, there are many inexpensive ways to enjoy time together in San Diego, from free concerts in many of the local parks to a short hike at Torrey Pines. It takes only a little research to find activities in your neighborhood. Sue and Jon's favorite date night is a picnic dinner on the beach, watching the sunset from a blanket on the sand. Surrounded by natural beauty, this time together gives them an opportunity to relax and reconnect.

Get Social In addition to alone time with your spouse, there is something wonderful about being social with your partner. "I love watching my husband in conversation and getting to see him as I did when we were first dating; I fall in love with him all over," says Sara, a mother of one. Plan a double date or a couple's night out with friends and leave the little ones at home with a sitter.

Potential Stumbling Blocks There are two main barriers to finding relationship time without the baby: cost and finding quality childcare. A childcare swap solves both issues: Find another family with a parenting style similar to your own, and plan for one couple to go out while the other watches their children. The following week, swap roles. Set some time guidelines to make sure it's equitable and voil?-free childcare that you can trust. Parenting requires an enormous shift in the way we think about our lives. A great date used to mean a romantic weekend getaway; now it might be something simpler. If you make time for one another by integrating quality couple time into your family culture, then you and your partner will create and maintain the best foundation possible, and your children will thrive.

Carrie Grange Isaacson, LCSW lives in San Diego with her partner and her daughter. She is the founder of Baby Maven, dedicated to helping couples beat the odds and become a secure parenting team.