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Me: "OK, what's on the calendar this week?"

My wife: "We have two baseball games. I have to work late Tuesday. You have a PTA meeting Wednesday morning. Our friends invited us to dinner on Friday."

Me: "OK, I have four runs scheduled. I forgot I have a dentist's appointment on Tuesday afternoon. I'll move that so I can pick up the kids. Oh yeah, don't forget we have a tournament this weekend."

We look at each other. "Do you remember life before kids? What happened?"

Does this conversation sound familiar?

Being a parent is amazing, but it's tough. Life changes with kids, and each stage of parenting brings new challenges. There's a lot to balance.

Let's be real: Kids affect your marriage. Here are a few common ways and what to do about it.

 

1. Self-care, what's that?

Self-care often takes a backseat for parents. Both of my elementary-age kids have schedules, activities, homework, projects and social lives. (Wait, when did their social lives replace mine?) It can be hard to carve out alone time, but you need it, and so does your marriage.

So what can I do about it? Schedule self-care just like you schedule everything else. Don't just wait for time to run; go to the gym, do yoga or whatever activity you prefer. Make sure your partner schedules it, too. You're a team, and team members need to be healthy (mentally, physically and emotionally) for the relationship to be healthy.

 

2. Why can't we agree on a parenting style?

My wife doesn't parent as I do, and it's frustrating at times. Ever been there? It happens. We all enter marriage with a belief system about how to parent, and it's often based on how we were parented. Couples talk about if they want to have kids, how many and when. But they don't talk about how to parent. And that can lead to frustration.

So what can I do about it? It starts with communication. If you aren't on the same page about parenting, talk about it and try to come to a resolution. Express what you both believe and why. Don't accuse; instead, work toward compromise. If you both want what's best for your child, you'll find a solution together.

 

3. What's a date night?

Dating is crucial to a healthy marriage. Before kids, there may have been elaborate date nights, expensive dinners, flowers and gifts. Now, you don't feel like there's time to think about dating. And what do you do with the kids? You don't have the time to not have a date night, because they keep you connected and pursuing each other. Date nights just may look different.

So what can I do about it? Set realistic expectations. Date nights may not be what they once were, but they can be memorable. Prioritize date nights, and put them on the calendar. Try once a month, and then progress to once every other week. Dream big: Make your goal once a week. Your marriage (and your kids) will thank you.

 

4. Where did our sex life go?

Early on in parenting, your sex life often takes a backseat because babies make life interesting. But you'd expect it to bounce back once you're past the toddler years. For many, it does, but it isn't always consistent. And kids always find a way to interrupt. Sex can become just another item on the to-do list, and that's no fun. Being intimate with your partner is a worthwhile priority for your marriage.

So what can I do about it? If you don't want to sacrifice physical intimacy due to exhaustion, busyness or stress, schedule sex. Yep, have an honest conversation about your sex life. Agree on how often and when. Plan how to handle potential interruptions. Scheduled sex may seem boring, but it creates anticipation and excitement.

 

5. Our marriage seems a little less satisfying now.

Kids and all the issues I mentioned above add stress to your marriage. When stress mounts in your relationship, satisfaction decreases. You're not alone in feeling this way. Research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that many parents with kids experience reduced satisfaction, too.

 

So what can I do about it? Here are a few ideas:

> Have social support — parents, friends, family and neighbors. Get help when you need it.

> Practice self-care. Make sure you're getting sleep, eating well, exercising and pursuing hobbies.

> Find and maintain balance. Balance work with play, your needs with your kids' and partner's needs, and time.

> Focus on your mindset — practice gratitude and positivity. Have fun and be patient.

Yes, being a parent is challenging, but it's so rewarding. Enjoy it, make memories and don't sweat the small stuff. Be intentional about having a healthy marriage, because it's the best thing for you and your kids.

Mitchell Qualls is the operations director at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at mitchell@firstthings.org.

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Mitchell Qualls
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