How can parents make time for themselves?

It's nice for Mom and Dad to get away for a romantic dinner once in a while.
It's nice for Mom and Dad to get away for a romantic dinner once in a while.
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A marriage, kids, jobs, activities -- life is busy for today's families. And despite the desire to get everything done and be everywhere we need to be, there just isn't much time left in the day to spend with the family we're working to support. This is especially true for working parents: After work, chores and taking care of the kids, there's no time for spouse bonding.

But wanting time to yourself and time alone with your spouse is selfish and unrealistic, right? Actually, that isn't the case at all. In fact, regularly spending some time alone and with your spouse away from the kids makes for a stronger marriage, a stronger family and even well-adjusted children.

According to some psychologists, spouse time sends a message to the other person that he or she is valued and that the relationship is still a top priority, even after children are born [source: Relevant]. And that time spent not being parents makes for stronger parents, uniting spouses as a solidified unit who can offer a shared sense of support. It helps restore a sense of identity for the parents, which is good since many parents feel like they're just "Mom" or "Dad." A romantic night out or simply some quiet time alone can easily remind or even fulfill the human needs, wants and goals outside of being a parent -- needs that are often so easily ignored or delayed indefinitely.

In this article, we'll look at why it's important for parents to get away from the kids once in a while and how to do it. Date nights are nice, but not always realistic. So how else can you get a moment alone with your spouse? And how can you squeeze in some healthy alone time for yourself as well?

Why Parents Should Spend Time Alone

Obviously, it's important for parents to have some time for themselves, whether it's an hour an evening or a whole weekend away. Because you're partners in life, you need to be on the same page and share a bond -- and rekindle that bond when necessary. You're not just a parent. You're an individual and you're also one-half of a couple. So you'll probably need romantic attention and adult conversation.

Maintaining a strong, healthy marriage with kid-free time actually makes better parents. Ellen Kriedman, a marriage counselor who wrote "How Can We Light a Fire When the Kids Are Driving Us Crazy," says that "well-adjusted children come from a home where Mommy and Daddy truly love each other" [source: Cohen].

Being just a parent instead of a well-rounded person with hobbies outside of the home and the office can damage a marriage and the emotional health of everyone involved. Frazzled parents do not make for the best parents, however good their intentions may be. Parents need relief from the rigors of life, and according to some counselors, you can smother a child with too much "helicopter parenting" [source: Stechyson]. You've heard the adage to let babies "cry themselves out." The same goes for children. A child grows more self reliant if he or she gets the chance to trust him or herself. For example, if you never leave your children with a sitter or a grandparent, they won't learn that it's OK when you leave them. But if you and your spouse do go out to see a movie, the two of you get a big refresher and the child gets a self-esteem boost by handling a new situation.

There are also long-term benefits for a child when parents take some time away. Kids look to their parents as role models, and that includes proper adult behavior and parenting. When kids grow up and become parents, they'll recollect how you behaved. If you were calm, collected and rarely frazzled because you kept your life in proper balance, and you were affectionate, respectful and deeply connected to your spouse, they'll remember that example and follow suit.

So, now you know that it's OK to have a little date night or an hour to yourself. And you'd love to dine in a restaurant that doesn't serve tater tots. But how? You're busy. And exhausted. Ah, but there are ways! Read about them on the next page.

How Parents Can Get Away From the Kids

For the sake of your marriage, your kids and your own delight and sanity, you have to make time for yourself and time with your spouse. It might not be easy, but you need to work at it. And there's no shame in scheduling time -- as in literally opening up your e-calendar and scheduling a romantic dinner or a morning walk alone. If you're the kind of person who is slavishly devoted to what the calendar says, then play to that strength. So what if you and your spouse aren't as spontaneous as you were when you were dating? You have kids now, which is why you need to schedule things.

It doesn't have to be every day or even every week. It doesn't have to be "romantic" time, although that's a not a bad idea. Figure out how much time you need to feel balanced, refreshed and reconnected. That might mean a weekend away at a spa in the mountains with your spouse every three months. It could mean something as simple as sending the kids off to play for 10 minutes while you wash the dishes and your significant other dries them. When you're out running errands as a family and the kids are in their car seats, the marrieds up front can chat happily. If you want to step it up and schedule something, the date night idea is an oldie but goodie. You get to experience real romance, reconnect and focus on being just adults, not parents, for a few hours. If that seems trite, boring or expensive, try something new together: Take a class on something you both enjoy, like cooking or family tree research, or play a sport together. Or meet in the middle and have a lunch date. The time commitment is low but the sense of "away-ness" is high.

The marriage is regularly rekindled with small conversations and a dinner out. Hooray! Now what about solo time for each parent?

How a Parent Can Find Alone Time

Finding time for yourself to grow and change as an adult and to get some respite is just as important as couples' time. That's why it's not a bad idea for parents to regularly set aside a chunk of alone time outside of work, family and marriage.

There are all sorts of options, ranging from just a few minutes a day to no more than a few hours a week. This kind of personal time doesn't even have to be solitary or scheduled -- stolen moments can be found throughout the day. If your 5-year-old splashes toys around the bathtub by himself for most of his bath, pick up a book. If you'd prefer complete silence, get up 15 minutes before the rest of the family and do a few minutes of yoga or listen to a few songs on your headphones.

Scheduling "time-outs" is also a handy way to create pockets of personal time. If you work in a city or even a major suburban area, chances are, there's a gym nearby. Take a lunchtime exercise class, which fulfills both your exercise time and personal time. Less formally, leave your spouse on kid-duty for an hour at a time on a weekend morning so you can go enjoy something fun and frivolous, like a walk through a bookstore or a latte run.

But because one of the benefits of taking personal time is creating a stronger bond with your spouse, make sure you both get equal chunks of private time. That means that if one of you gets to take a pottery class every other Tuesday night, then the other person gets to have a couple of regularly scheduled hours each month to work on that novel he or she has always wanted to write. Added bonuses of this arrangement? Solitary time at home for the one who's staying home, and if the kids are still awake, one-on-one parent-kid time.

For more on parenting, check into the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Cohen, Marisa. "Keeping Romance Alive Once Baby's Arrived." Parents. (March 10, 2010)http://www.parents.com/parenting/relationships/staying-close/keeping-romance-alive-once-baby-arrives/
  • Discovery Health. "Happy Parents Make Happy Kids." Discovery Health. (March 10, 2010)http://health.discovery.com/centers/stress/balancing/couples.html
  • Relevant, Julie. "Make Time for Date Night." NY Metro Parents Magazine. (March 10, 2010)http://nymetroparents.com/newarticle.cfm?colid=22183
  • Stechyson, Natalie. "Parents Should Spend Time Alone." Saskatoon StarPhoenix. (March 10, 2010)http://www.thestarphoenix.com/life/Parents+should+spend+time+alone/2511871/story.html
  • Taylor, Julie. "8 Great Ways to Pump Up the Passion." Parents. (March 10, 2010)http://www.parents.com/parenting/relationships/sex-and-marriage-after-baby/8-great-ways-to-pump-up-the-passion/