Top 10 Dates for Parents of Toddlers

If you’re like me, you’re always on the hunt for new ideas to keep your marriage/partnership strong. A great way to do that is to take some time out of your day just for the two of you. And if you don’t have the money for a babysitter, that’s okay! There’s plenty to do at home.  For some ideas, here are my top 10 dates for parents of toddlers:

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1. Cook Together

Nothing is more romantic than mixing up some aphrodisiacs while your children scream “up!” at your feet. Gaze lovingly at one another while setting the table. They bring the cutlery and you bring the ketchup because your kid literally will eat nothing unless its coated in that tomato-vinegar-sugar concoction that you end up smelling in their hair for days.

When the meal is ready, sit down together and taste the love that you put into it as well as the salt because “did you put salt in this?” “yeah” “I put salt in it. I didn’t think you did.” “Well, how am I supposed to know that you did?” “Well, maybe just listen to me for once in your life.”

Mac and cheese has never been so sexy.

2. Watch a Movie Together

Curl up on the couch and escape your lives for a while in another episode of “Paw Patrol” because that high-pitched fake barking is the only thing that will stop your kids from saying “What’s that?” “What’s that?” “What’s that?” “What does $!&# mean?”

Make sure to bring some chocolate you can feed each other and then lose because for someone so loud, your toddler is surprisingly sneaky and he seems to have run off with the rest of the bar and you’re now playing a murder mystery with chocolate finger prints as the clues and the murder that is sure to take place when you find that stinking kid.

Paw Patrol, Paw Patrol, whenever you’re in trouble…

3. Take a Romantic Stroll

Enjoy a beautiful afternoon together while soaking up some sunshine. Not only will you get some much-needed fresh air, you’ll also get a huge amount of exercise pushing those ridiculous strollers or chasing after a kid who has a knack for finding every. Single. Mud puddle.

You’ll love the looks from passersby as you try to wrangle a child who’s screaming bloody murder because you put their hat on the right way or that dog that walked passed wasn’t blue. The mounting adrenaline from the fear someone will call child services will kick start that sex drive.

And nothing is more relaxing than collapsing on the couch when you get home while the bundles of unending energy destroy the living room around you.

4. Get Some Ice Cream

Sweet, cold, and delicious, ice cream is a fun way to remain children at heart. That creamy soft-serve is sure fun to eat and clean up as it drips down your toddler’s fingers, chin, and shoes. Race to keep your own hands clean while your child runs her fingers through her hair and your hair or wipes her hands on the person sitting in the booth behind you.

And don’t forget that hard chocolate shell! That satisfying snap as it cracks beneath your teeth will send shivers down your spine–or is that the cone that has suddenly been placed on the nape of your neck because the kid is “all done!”

The underpaid teenagers will surely welcome you back to their place of work, especially when they find that someone at your table had an accident that didn’t involve the food.

5. Take a Shower Together

As every romantic movie has ever taught us, showers are a great substitute for that romantic kiss in the rain scene. The water will fall on only one of you and the other person will be covered in goosebumps because the apple of your eyes is busy swinging the door open and closed to play peekaboo with the dog.

Don’t forget to hold each other close as the shower curtain is violently pulled open and that small person climbs inside and immediately pees.

6. Stargaze

On the clearest of nights, curl up together in your yard and gaze at the sky. Watch for a shooting star so you can wish that your freaking kid will just go to sleep because it’s like midnight, Buddy, and you were supposed to be asleep five hours ago and I swear to God that if you ask for another glass of milk, I will lose my mind.

Make sure to make the most of that wonderful quiet time by starting to make out before packing it in because you’re going to have such an early morning and it’s already pretty cold.

Laugh together when you realize that your kid might have locked you outside and now you’re going to have to call your parents from across town to come and let you in your stupid front door.

7. Breakfast in Bed

Remind your spouse about how important they are by surprising them with waffles and coffee in bed. They will love being pounced on by a bunch of wild people and spilling syrup on what was once white sheets. Watch as the food that you made is ravenously consumed by the kids who refused waffles in their high chairs, even with ketchup, but somehow learned to love waffles on the way up the stairs.

You’ll even get to leave the house to treat your spouse’s burns from the coffee that was basically thrown at them when the toddler tried to drink it and burned their tongue.

All in all, a great way to start the day.

8. Cuddle in Front of the Fireplace

Gaze into the warm comfort of a fire while you snuggle. The entrancing beauty of the flames will distract you from the iPad playing at full blast as the toddlers watch another episode of “Paw Patrol” or play the loading screen of an app on a never-ending loop.

Watch your spouse heroically stop the kids from touching the hot glass on a gas fireplace or grabbing the red coals from a wood fireplace. You’ll never be hotter for them.

9. Go for a Romantic Drive

Take an excursion out into the countryside to see the local fauna and flora. The beauty of nature will excite and surprise you. You’ll be able to encourage your spouse not to drive into oncoming traffic while your toddlers scream in the back seat because they’re hungry or bored or thirsty or tired or fighting.

Discuss the world at large and hold each others’ hands until a prairie dog runs across the road and bump, bump, bump under your tires. Think about the deeper things while you try to explain death to your children when they see a bleeding mound of roadkill on the side of the road.

And just as you’re about to turn into your driveway, tell your spouse how much you love them and turn to see that your kids just fell asleep even though its only like two hours before bed and this is going to keep them up until midnight again.

10. Sneak in a Quickie

Enjoy the ultimate in marital bliss after you quietly close the doors of your napping children. Be in the moment with your spouse as you take off only what clothing is necessary to get the job done. Nothing connects the two of you more than being caught by the actually not sleeping kid because both of you assumed the other person would lock the door.

Okay, you know what? Just… screw it. Wait until the kids are teenagers.

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5 Years & Counting

Brian and I celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary this month. It’s crazy to think that it’s been this long, but here we are, staring at the later half of our twenties with two little boys in our arms and five years of wedded bliss behind us.

And by bliss, I mean anything but.

Oh, there has been some incredible moments, but there have been some real tough ones too. My dears, marriage is not an easy thing to be a part of. It requires constant sacrifice, constant compromise, constant selflessness.

Contrary to what I believed when Brian and I got engaged, marriage is not a passive state of being. You have to be an active participant if you want it to do well. You cannot float through marriage. It takes a lot of work, but the reward is well worth the effort. But to make it easier on those of you who are just getting into long-term relationships, I’m going to impart some lessons that I’ve learned that have made our journey a little smoother. Of course, this isn’t a catch-all list and there is no guarantee that any of these tips will work for you. After all, all relationships are different.

5. Ditch Gender Roles

I am not very good at being the epitome of the 1950’s suburban, white housewife. “Clean” always has a layer of dust and dog fur, I need something outside of the home to make me feel like a contributing member of society, and a “home-cooked meal” is fast food eaten on plates. I balk under rules about who I am “supposed” to be as a wife and a mother. So when Brian and I got married, we decided that the “rules” that seemed to be out there weren’t for us and we made our own.

Brian cooks meals and does the dishes. I bake a lot for him. I’ll unload the dishwasher if I remember. He does our laundry and I do the boys’ laundry. We take turns sweeping and mopping and vacuuming. We trade off getting up with the boys. We both take care of the kids. I deal with all of our finances, but Brian makes the money (for now).

Your relationship means your rules. Two people have different strengths and rather than trying to conform to some made up convention, we found it was easier to do the jobs we liked and compromised on the ones we both weren’t fans of. We have found our roles that work for us in and I encourage you to do the same.

4. Focus on Gratitude

Two of the most-used words in our home are “thank you.” We thank each other for everything, even the chores that we expected the other person to do. I thank him for making the meals. He thanks me for tidying up the toys. We make it constant. Sometimes it can sound excessive, but what we are truly saying is:

I see you.

I see what you have done to make this home cleaner, better, and easier to live in. I see that you have expended time to help me. I see you prioritizing our family before your own selfish wants. I see you.

We are stopping the feeling of “they never notice all the work I do” before it starts. I know he knows what I do because he thanks me for it. Even if we don’t feel like thanking each other, we say it. Because the feelings can come with the words and, even if they don’t, feelings aren’t how we govern our marriage. They’re too fleeting to build a foundation on.

So thank each other. Thank them and tell them how their action has positively affected your life. For example, “Thank you for vacuuming the living room. I feel better about the boys rolling on the floor when it’s clean.” It’s simple once you’ve made it a habit.

3. Learn Their Love Language

When we were in our mandatory marriage preparation class, we took a test to determine our “love language.” For those of you who haven’t read the book, Dr. Gary Chapman outlined five different ways that people prefer to show and receive love. He calls these “languages” and like language, you learned it from your family when you were growing up. You have a primary language that you understand love best, but you can become fluent in the other four. Many people don’t have the same language as their partner, so they learn their partner’s language.

The languages are physical touch, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and quality time. I have always prioritized acts of service and gifts as my languages. When I am grocery shopping, I love to pick up Brian’s favorite chocolate bar or something that reminds me of him. When I try to make friends, I often send them truckloads of baking. I love getting little gifts back or having someone do something for me that I didn’t want to have to do myself.

Brian, however, needs words of affirmation. He wants to be specifically told that I’m proud of him, that I care for him, that he is a good husband and father. When we struggle in our marriage, it’s often partially due to forgetting to express our spouse’s language. We feel like we are showing love, but it’s not being noticed, which is usually because we are showing love in our own language, which is getting lost in translation. Brian could tell me he was proud of me a million times, but that wouldn’t be the same as if he brought me flowers on his way home from work. I could buy him a hundred chocolate bars, but he’d rather I just tell him that I love him.

If you haven’t done so before, I encourage you to take the test with your partner to see what your primary love language is, and then commit to learning a new language if necessary.

2. No Scoreboards

“Well I changed the last eight diapers so now it’s your turn.” “And when was the last time that you cooked anything?” “I do all the chores around here.”

Fewer things destroy relationships faster than tallying up each other’s actions all in the name of fairness. It leads to resentment, frustration, and unhappiness.

I am bad for this. I am someone who tallies everything in every relationship. Not because I want people to “owe” me, but because I never, ever want to feel like I owe anyone else. I try to go over the top so that the tally is always in my favor so that I never have to feel that action inequity. I know I can ask other people for help because I have made sure to have a higher score. This is dangerous. Sometimes I overspend my time and money to make sure I’m not indebted to others. I burn out or stretch myself thin. I over invest too early in relationships and then I can’t sustain the spending so it seems like I back off and people ask where I’ve gone. Others can tell that I’m counting and want nothing to do with it.

I have to actively stop myself from tallying both in my marriage and in my friendships. I’m better now than I was years ago. I hope each day that I’m better than the day before. I’m going to kick this long-practiced habit once and for all. I’m warning you to stay away from it because it’s not pretty.

1. Support, Support, Support

I’ve got some pretty big dreams. So does Brian. There’s a lot we want to accomplish in this short time on Earth. And now that we are in this together, sometimes one person’s goals require the other to step back or step up for a while. Like right now. I’m going to school in the fall and Brian is going to remain our sole breadwinner until I’ve finished my degree. It’s a lot to ask of him, but he willingly is shouldering this burden to help me complete a goal.

It’s amazing to be in a partnership where you are completely supported. When it’s my turn to do the supporting, I feel honoured. When I’m being supported, I feel grateful and very, very humble. We are in this together and my successes are his successes. His are mine. When you realize this, it’s easier to make the other person’s goals your priority. Together, you can accomplish much.

 

What do you think? What are your tips for a successful, long-lasting relationship? Do yours overlap with mine or do we have completely different lists?

Knives and Papercuts

When I was fourteen or so, I was told that love is not a feeling, it is a decision that you make every single day to be kind, devoted, and faithful to another person. Sometimes it produces that feeling of ecstasy, where you get butterflies and feel the warm rush of affection, but most of the time, it’s an uphill battle. When I heard it, I nodded as if I had already known that and was so much wiser than the other teens around me. I didn’t really know it, though, until I experienced it.

Of course, I had my infatuations. I mean, after I turned fifteen, I pretty much dated non-stop until I was married. I cared for a lot of people and I learned a lot about what I was looking for in a mate. I don’t regret dating a single one of those people (well, mostly). I see the lessons I learned from past relationships in the relationship I have now. I hope they made me better.

When I fell in love, the infatuation was quickly snuffed out by all the trials we encountered as a couple. The butterflies were replaced by that steady, secure kind of love that perhaps isn’t as exciting, but is preferable to the rollercoaster of feelings in that the early honeymoon stage. I knew fairly quickly that this was going to be the man I married. For me, I just knew. Though I know for others, they had to discover that truth.

Since then, I’ve seen many marriages of friends and family members. Joyous occasions all. I’ve seen all the reasons for them too. The rushed ones because a child was on the way, the engagements that seemed to last forever while the couple scrounged for cash, the ones that were magazine perfect in every way, the ones that seemed destined to fail. And after a while, some of them do fail (though not necessarily the ones expected).

I’m no expert. I’ve been married for nearly five years. I like to think it’s long enough to feel like we know each other inside and out, yet short enough to remember what it was like at the beginning. We’ve been through quite a bit: the death of a parent, the birth of a child, living paycheque to paycheque, living with a moderate amount of money, going to school while both working, trying to maintain a marriage with one child and another on the way. We have been blessed in many ways, but we have also seen our share of hardship. We have both been betrayed, both been hurt in big ways and small. No one can hurt you the way a spouse can.

Which is part of what I have been thinking about lately. No, we are not thinking of separating or divorcing or anything like that. I’ll admit, it’s been a hard year. Hard and wonderful. Children change a marriage like nothing else. But I have understood better this year why marriages fail, which I hope helps me better steel myself against that ending. Maybe it will do the same for others.

Sometimes marriages end because a knife in the back. You know, infidelity, abuse, financial crises, lies that run so deep that the foundation of the marriage is riddled with holes. These are the obvious reasons that we all accept as reason enough to end a marriage. Of course, the knives are nothing to sneeze at. But they mask the more insidious, and I expect, more common, reasons that people decide to separate. I call these the papercuts.

My husband leaves every Saturday afternoon to play board games with his buddies. This is the way it always has been. I’ve bucked at this boys’ afternoon before, when Saturday was the only day both of us weren’t working or when I felt lonely at home. Lots of times I’ve accepted it. He needs time with his friends as much as I do. What’s wrong with having it scheduled? It’s not like they’re doing something bad. Besides, it makes him happy. The papercut happens, though, when I’ve had a long week with the baby while he’s working and Saturday becomes yet another day when I’m stuck in my house with a child who is sick or teething or screaming and he’s out enjoying himself. The times when it feels like I’m in it by myself.

Now it can end there. I can be a little grumpy about it, but then get over it when I realize that I’m happy that I get to have more time with Monkey. I know the time spent together, loving him, will help him be a better adjusted little boy. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t end there. I don’t let that papercut heal. I pick at it. I think of all the times I was left alone and unappreciated. I think of the guilt I feel when I leave Monkey home with his dad so I can get a prenatal massage and I blame him for making me feel that way. The cut gets bigger. It gets infected.

Then I cut him when he gets home. I make him feel like he owes me something for letting him leave the house. He gets a papercut and now he has to decide if he will let it heal or if he will pick, pick, pick at it. If he picks and becomes resentful, it’s easier to cut back. Soon, both of you are covered in festering papercuts and are filled with resentment. When you have so much practice cutting each other, it’s easier to plant that big knife in the other’s back.

I have learned that some papercuts aren’t worth picking at. Some you have to let heal on their own, others you have to talk about with your spouse (not with your friends and relatives so that you can pick at it together) to stitch it back together. Every day remind yourself that love is a decision and so is ignoring the superficial little cuts that happen.

Do you agree with my theory? Have you been in a situation where you didn’t let the paper cuts heal? Did it lead to a bigger knife? Let me know what you think in the comments!