Guarding Marriage

If you are a parent and have a spouse, then one of the best things you can do for those children is to guard and nurture your marriage.  Loving your spouse is a gift to your children.   Make it a priority.

Guarding your marriage has unmeasurable benefits. I hold in high esteem the joys and responsibilities of parenting.  But parenting children is a season of life.  Hopefully your marriage began before you were parents and will continue for decades longer.  It should not be put on hold during the season of parenting children or you may emerge on the other side with an empty nest as strangers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It is a united front before the children. Unless your spouse is about to be abusive with the children don’t interrupt when he/she is correcting or disciplining the children.  If you really don’t agree with their methods or ideas then discuss it with them privately. Support each other’s decisions and don’t allow the children to  wedge between you.

It’s you believing and saying positive and affirming things about them and to them in front of the children.  If you are the stay-at-home parent, be excited when the other arrives home. (not because you are at your whit’s end and need to be relieved, though this will happen, but because you are genuinely happy to be with them)  If both parents are employed outside the home, then you can both be happy to be at home together.

walking at Bob & Holly's

It’s you both choosing each other. You chose each other as mates now choose to be with and do things with each other and for each other.  Make each other a priority.  Let the children see you being appropriately affectionate with each other.  They may gag and act like it is gross but it also keeps at bay any doubts in their minds about the security of your marriage and hence their home.

Continue dating. Whether it is once a week or only once a month, do it.  Dating does not have to be expensive.  A date can be a bike ride or a picnic or a trip to the library.  A date can be a dinner and movie or a visit to see a friend.  We have a modest entertainment category in our budget.  Even if you have zero dollars for a babysitter or entertainment, you can be creative and plan a date at home.  After the kiddos are in bed plan a time to be fully attentive to each other and have conversation not centered on the children. Perhaps you could have a special dessert only for two.

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My husband wanted to try cross country skiing for a number of years.He thought it would be great exercise and easy. Our park district offered an inexpensive beginners class at the local golf course (think small inclines).  We signed up.  We went.  We fell over and over and over again.  Actually I did most of the falling.  We laughed.  Neither of us has tried it again. But we still love hiking, bicycling, and canoeing.

Here are a few more date ideas:

Bowling, Roller Skating, Mini-Golf, Golf, Driving Range, Shooting Range, Bicycling, Walking, Wall Climbing, Fishing, Hiking, Park District or Community College Classes,  Car Race, Shopping, Theater (community, high school, professional) Bible Study/small group, volunteer or service projects.  Large cities have all kinds of tours.  Be a tourist.  Go to museums, planetariums, aquariums.  Attend community festivals. Visit ethnic restaurants.  Keep variety.

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Unless one spouse loves planning all the dates and the other does not wish to do so, take turns.  Brain storm together to write out a list of possibilities and interests, and then work through the list.  Maybe give each other permission to say “absolutely not” to one or two items on the list.  Energy, time, and money spent on a date will payback great rewards in your relationship.

I think children feel security and comfort when they see their parents desiring to be together and alone.  A strong marriage is a great gift to your children.  And it is a good example to them for their future marriages.

Using Babysitters

Seven year old number one child was pushing four year old number two child in the umbrella stroller while two year old number three child rode in the grocery cart and the baby was snuggled in the pouch on my chest. This was the weekly scene as I went grocery shopping and about town on any errands.  It was as exhausting as it sounds.  Number two child was far too rambunctious to trust to walk freely.  I gave up!

Because the family budget allowed it I hired a babysitter once a week for two-three hours.  (Yes, Captain Obvious, I could have done my shopping in the evenings when my husband was home, but didn’t wish to.)  A neighborhood teen would come to our house after school and stay until I returned from errands or husband/dad came home from work which ever happened first.  I always took one child with me and left three at home.  I rotated through the children so that they each had a turn to be the one to get to go with mom.  This rotation was part of our host child system which you can read about in my Host Child post.

We also used babysitters for our dates, which for many years was a weekly date night.  The date night babysitter usually prepared and served a meal to the children and often managed bedtime also.

The best babysitter and the children’s favorite was Miss Tracie.  She was 15 years old when number one child was a newborn and she began babysitting for us. She also went away for college but came back to us.  Number one child was 10 when she was swept off her feet and married a man from Michigan who took her away from us. (We have forgiven him.)

What makes for a good babysitter versus a not so good babysitter?  The good ones are engaging and creative.  They arrive prepared to play with the children.  They may even bring a bag of toys or games with them. They listen carefully for any specific instructions and then follow through on them.   They do not just watch TV or movies or play on their phones. If the sitter prepares or serves a meal they should also put away leftover food and put dishes in the sink or dishwasher.  The children can be involved in this chore and any other clean up necessitated from activities while parents are away.

D & T playing KaiSons number two and three playing a game introduced to them by Miss Tracie.

I preferred adult sitters over teen sitters.  Adults are usually more trustworthy and capable of handling emergencies however they are more difficult to obtain.   Whether the sitters are teens or adults all expectations, like putting dishes in the sink, need to be clearly explained and not just expected.  Make sure they have your cell number and you have theirs before you leave.  We always kept a laminated information paper near the house phone which had on it our name and address as well as other important names and phone numbers such as family members, neighbors, poison control, etc. . . .  Now many homes do not have land lines, but such information is valuable and a sitter needs to know how to find it. Perhaps post it on the refrigerator.

Eventually number one child was old enough and mature enough to watch his siblings for an hour or two during the day.  I could still take one with me and that left only two at home.   This was a good exercise for him.  The siblings were not always fully cooperative and he figured out ways to get them to cooperate.  By the time he was sixteen he was in high demand as a babysitter for other families. He too, was creative and engaging.

Giving care to little ones as a mommy’s helper while mom is present or being solely responsible as a babysitter is good for teens.  It is good to focus on others.  It is good training for parenthood.  It is good to be responsible and earn some money.   It is good for mom and/or dad to get a break or assistance.

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Miss Tracie with four of our children and friends, Katie and Adam.  Practicing the parade wave.

When our number five child arrived on the scene our older children were 10, 12, 14, and 17. They saw first- hand and were involved with caring for a baby.  They were his babysitters.  This was also good for them on many levels.  Perhaps the biggest benefit is that it helped them be more confident caring for a baby when they became parents themselves.

How many children?

While I was in labor with our second son I told my husband, “You are absolutely right.  Two children are enough.”  Later we had two miscarriages and three more live births.  No major decision should be made in the midst of a crisis such as labor.   Never, never make important decisions in a HAT.  H.A.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Tired.  All of these could happen in labor.

What criteria does a couple use to decide how many children they should have?  For some, like my sister and husband it was reality.  Before having any children they thought they would have a dozen.  After having two children they stopped.   Parenting is very hard work.  Parenting has very big rewards.  Parenting is ever evolving and changing and continues for a lifetime.

There is the “how many can we afford” dogma.   It usually sounds something like this: We can only afford one or two children because we only make ____ amount of money or we are choosing a particular lifestyle or we have certain plans and goals.  This thinking tries to measure expenses and potential income.  Its focus is monetary.  It is an extremely realistic, but extremely narrow view of family.  Yes, raising a family is financially costly and requires self-sacrifice. Frequent evaluation of real needs versus wants is revealing. Most of us do not need much of what we think we need.  Fifty years ago bigger families fit in smaller houses because they had less stuff.

A guideline I often wrestled with is the “this is all I can manage well” argument.  I felt that I managed three boys really well and was ready for a fourth child.  But after the fourth child was born I felt I really had my hands full enough.   In fact, I clearly recall asking myself what in the world was I thinking.  I was homeschooling and wanted to be sure I was doing my very best at it.  I still think this argument has merit.  However I have since learned a few things and had a fifth child.
DSCN0141Some people follow what I call the blessing ideology.  I agree with them that all children are a blessing from the Lord.  They also believe they should not hinder conception.   These families usually have many children.  Hooray for them.

These are my own brief synopsizes of these principles of which books have been written.   The crux of the matter is that every couple must decide for themselves what is best.  They need to pray about this matter and seek God’s guidance for their family planning.   Equally important is the need to be totally in agreement.  If they are not in agreement there will be resentment and anger and other marital issues.

This is not a decision to be made once and never considered again.  I think the issue needs to be revisited every few years.  Couples need to continue to be in agreement or at least in a mutual compromise.   The issue needs to be reconsidered in view of major circumstances such as parental health changes.

Believe it or not I have met people who wished, too late, that they had had more children.  I have never met anyone who wished they had less.  Of course, there are those who are disappointed with their children’s lives.

I recently discovered comedian Jim Gaffigan who has five children.  He answered the why so many children question like this. “Well, why not? I guess the reasons against having more children always seem uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money?  A few more hours of sleep?  A more peaceful meal?  More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life. I believe each of my five children has made me a better man. So I figure I only need another thirty-four kids to be a pretty decent guy.”

I like his perspective.  Yes, our children impact our lives in almost all positive ways.  Yes, they are a lot of work.  It is work worth doing.  It is work with an eternal impact.  As we do it we are learning and growing and becoming better people.   If two children can provide a lifetime of education and meaningful relationships, imagine what four or more will do.

Here is my crazy advice for your family.  Have two children close in age, then wait 3-5 years and have two more.  Repeat as often as you care or dare!  Even with this formula you will eventually not have anyone in diapers and you will eventually have an empty nest.  Don’t rush through your children’s childhood.  They will be grown and gone before you know it.

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This picture was taken on the last Easter that all our children lived at home.  3.31.97