I don’t remember a lot of advice I was given during the newborn haze of the first few weeks of LJ’s life, but I will never forget these words from our pediatrician at his 2 week check-up: “You are the foundation of his life.” Basically, he said we can do a lot of things to help LJ grow and develop but the thing he is going to see every single day is US. The stability of our relationship and how we treat one another is going to be one of the biggest things that he watches as he grows. Our marriage is a huge part of LJ’s life and will form the foundation for his childhood. The pediatrician took a few minutes to specifically encourage Justin and I to make sure not to lose ourselves or our marriage to our new job as parents, but to continue to foster our relationship and prioritize one another as well.
I mean, wow, right!? What an amazing reminder to brand-new, slightly-overwhelmed parents to not get so wrapped up in parenthood that they forget what started the journey in the first place: their relationship. Justin and I were so appreciative of this reminder that we can love our son SO much, want the absolute best for him, try our hardest to be great parents, and still want to prioritize our marriage.
I blogged about our recent trip to Chicago last week. We take LJ with us on a lot of trips, but this was one we took without him. It was so wonderful to have a few days away together and we both felt reconnected and rejuvenated and ready to get home and love on our boy on Sunday! Obviously, it doesn’t always work to do something big like a multi-day getaway; but Justin and I have really tried to take our pediatrician’s advice to heart and remember to prioritize our marriage and spend time together. It doesn’t mean we have to spend a lot of money, or even any money at all, but it is important for us to connect and enjoy our marriage together every once in a while. Sometimes it’s just talking on the couch during LJ’s naptime. Other times we go out for a movie, sporting event, dinner, putt-putt golf, etc. It keeps our marriage strong, helps us focus on our love for each other, and is just plain fun. We are always ready to come home and give LJ so much love and attention afterwards!
Today I’m sharing a few ways that Justin and I utilize to spend one-on-one time together. These are ways that work for us – they may not work for you and that’s totally okay. I encourage you to find what works for you and your partner and carve out some time to focus on the relationship that started your little family: your love!
Relax together after LJ’s Bedtime
We have a few shows we both really enjoy watching (This is Us, A Million Little Things, and occasionally The Bachelor depending on the season and main person). Some days one or both of us may still have some work to finish on our computers so we will have those up while we watch but it’s still fun to be together while the show plays so we can discuss our thoughts during and after. Some nights we both are totally finished with work and there isn’t a show we want to see so we’ll curl up together on the couch, usually with bowls of ice cream, and watch a movie together. It’s such a fun, relaxing way to just spend some time together! Of course, there are days when it feels like Justin and I are just counting down the minutes until LJ goes to bed and we’re both so exhausted from our long days that we just kind of zonk on the couch and do our own thing. It’s always nice though to watch something together.
Occasionally during naptime or after bedtime, we’ll intentionally set 30 minutes of screen-free time. TV is off, computers are shut, phones are away, and Justin and I just sit and talk. We might talk about our days, our dreams for the future, our plans for the week, or whatever else is on our minds, but it’s always just nice to have focused, uninterrupted time to reconnect. The busier the season of life, the more important I think this time is!
Utilize grandparents (if possible)
I know we are SO lucky to have parents who want to be very involved as grandparents. Both Justin and my parents adore LJ and love to love on him. We are also lucky that my parents only live just over an hour away and frequently babysit LJ (we know Justin’s parents would love to do this too but they unfortunately live several states away). I personally think it’s important to take them up on their offers to babysit not only so Justin and I can have some time to reconnect, but also so LJ can develop a relationship with his grandparents. It is so sweet to watch their bond grow! My mom often offers to come watch LJ at our house so we can have a date or take him to their house for a day/night/weekend. I had no problem leaving him in their care early on (they first babysat him at 2 weeks old for 2 hours so we could attend Justin’s work Christmas party nearby) but I did take much longer to feel comfortable leaving him overnight. They first watched him overnight when he was about 8.5 months old. It went so well though – they loved it, LJ had a great time (they sent lots of pics and videos), and Justin and I got to enjoy a little getaway for my birthday (read the recap here). Once we did it once, it became much easier to continue to do and increase the length of stay. My parents just had LJ for 4 nights while I joined Justin in Chicago and it was amazing. They all had a fantastic time and Justin and I both agreed that it was so nice to have time away together to relax, explore Chicago, and just spend time together.
I will say – yes this is a “free” option for us, but we do try to be conscious of the fact that it’s not free for my parents to drive an hour or buy groceries for LJ when they keep him overnight. We try to split driving (I’ll drop him off, they pick him up) and I’ll typically send along some food for him in addition to what they have. If my parents come to watch him so we can go out to dinner, I will try to either have dinner made for them to eat or they know they can always raid our fridge/pantry if they need. We never want them to feel like we’re taking advantage of them and want them to feel appreciated for all they do!
Swap with friends
I realize that many people don’t have the option to have grandparents babysit for a variety of reasons. Justin and I also swap free babysitting with friends. We have close friends who actually live in the same neighborhood as us so it’s super convenient to drop our kids off at each other’s houses. This isn’t something we keep track of, like your-turn-my-turn, but it’s more of a “when we need each other, we’re not afraid to ask” situation. We watch their two little boys if they need us for a dinner (they’re also into intramural sports so we sometimes watch the boys if they have a game in the evening) and they watch LJ if we need a date night or have something else going on. We 100% trust them and vice versa so it works really well for us.
Split a babysitter
There was a night when both we and our “swap” friends needed a babysitter, so since we couldn’t swap with each other, we split a babysitter. It was much cheaper to pay one person to watch 3 kids together and split the cost than to find two separate babysitters. I dropped LJ off at their house and the babysitter was great with all three! Problem solved!
Mega-Swap, or the “Night of Chaos”
One of my friends had the brilliant idea to create a kind of “mega babysitting swap” amongst our group of friends. There are six families with 12 kids between us. Each couple takes one month and picks a night to host ALL the kids at their house so the other couples can have a date night. It’s a pretty hectic night for the hosting couple (hence we playfully dubbed it the “Night of Chaos”) but you only have to do it 2x each year and the other 10 months of the year you have a free babysitter and date night each month! I will say that each couple has at least one member certified in CPR/First Aid and we are all parents who handle a variety of situations, which definitely adds to our comfort level with something like this. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have trust and confidence in each couple that was part of the group. But it works really well for us and it’s a great way for Justin and I to make sure to carve out time each month to do something together!
If nothing else, take him along!
Our friends hosted a Christmas party and we didn’t have someone to watch him so we just took him along in his jammies. We set up a pack n play in their guest room, brought our sound machine and his wubbanub, darkened the room, and just put him down there at bedtime. When we left at the end of the night and got him down from upstairs, guests who showed up after we put him down said “wait, there was a baby up there!?” He didn’t disturb the party and we didn’t disturb him. We’ve done this a few times now and while it is still preferable for LJ to fall asleep at home, this option works well if we need.
I know not everyone feels comfortable with this and that’s okay. You don’t have to do it if it doesn’t work for you! I will say that the more we do it, the easier it becomes. We travel enough with LJ that he has gotten used to sleeping in places other than his crib in his bedroom and he does a good job in other environments. If we never had him sleep anywhere else, he probably wouldn’t do well with a pack n play in a guest room during a Christmas party. But because he sleeps other places often enough, now it’s super easy to put him down somewhere and have him go right to sleep! He transfers well to the car seat then and back to his crib when we go home. I would just encourage you to try it a few times and see if it works for you. The first time didn’t work flawlessly, but we kept at it and LJ got better at it (and so did we) and I’m glad we didn’t give up.
What works for you in making time for your spouse? What dates do you enjoy together?