After money, the second-leading cause of arguments in marriage is decisions over the kids. This is especially true with the challenge of blended families. We often speak at family camps, where the topics in the adult sessions range from marital issues to how to discipline and motivate children and teens. There are a few vital times we suggest you get away to get on the same parenting page.
Before the birth of your first child. You will want to talk through how you were each raised. What things do you agree with and what things do you want to change? What is your parenting philosophy? Books such as Discipline Them, Love Them, and much of the work of James Dobson, FamilyLife Today, and Kevin Leman can help you define your philosophy of parenting. Philosophy simply means the “how” of raising children. Our philosophy of parenting is found in The 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make and Got Teens? Because we took time early to get on the same page in our parenting philosophy, we rarely disagree in this area.
Before your first child enters school. Life is about ready to change. Children will pick up their own social life, activities, and schedules. Which one of you will manage science fair, math homework, or teaching them to do chores? At what level will you be involved in your church’s children’s ministry or as a volunteer in the community? Will you coach soccer, head up a parent-teacher organization (PTO) board, or help run the Fall Festival on October 31? Talk about how much time and energy you can each donate to your children’s lives and activities. You have a responsibility to give to those groups that are giving to your children, so your biggest question should be, “How much do we do individually, and how much do we commit to together as a couple or as a family?” And how will you keep your romantic life alive? Will you have weekly date nights? Weekends away? Vacations? Who arranges child care for these things?
Before your first child enters their teen years. Now life is really going to change. Your schedule will move into warp speed, especially during the high school years. You must be on the same page in your answers to your teen on how you will deal with dating, discipline, drinking, drugs, dances, and all the other dilemmas that crop up during the teen years. If you took the time to lay a strong foundation, the teen years can be a delight as you see your teen blossom into an incredible and grounded young adult.
The biggest challenge to your red-hot monogamy at this stage of life is privacy. Your bedtime is probably before your kids’. How do you have sex if in the next room more than 15 teens are eating pizza? You will need to create some private space in your home and private time in your schedule. Take advantage of those Friday and Saturday nights when the kids are all out at a movie. (Just be sure you get the movie time accurately from your teens so they don’t walk back in the house with their six friends and catch you with your pants down (literally). They are now old enough to arrange to stay with friends when you go out of town. Take advantage of this. Don’t be afraid to tell your teens that you are going away for romance. They will probably be embarrassed, but inwardly they will be proud of you.
Before your first child leaves home for college or career. This is the launching pad. Your empty nest emotions may surprise you. There are many areas of potential disagreement too. In the teen years there were allowances, decisions about who pays for what when they start driving, etc., but now the stakes are upped There are college bills, rent, and weddings. Be sure to talk issues through privately before you meet with your adult child. As the last one flies from the nest, you might look at each other and ask, “Now what? We’ve been spending all our time with the kids. What do we do with this free time?” Or you might ask, “Who are you?” The responsibilities of life will change us, so you may need some extended time together to become reacquainted. Some helpful books at this stage of life are The Second Half of Marriage, Fighting for Your Empty Nest Marriage, The Act of Marriage After Forty, and Why Men and Women Act the Way They Do. Words like “Viagra,” “K-Y Jelly,” and “hot flashes” might become part of your vocabulary as the sex act changes with age. The upside is you can go on adventures because no one is waiting for you at home. Those trips to your kid’s college weekends can also be mini second honeymoons.
Before your first grandchild. Along with the joys of being a grandparent are a few challenges. How will it impact you emotionally to be called “Grandma” and “Grandpa”? Short skirts are long gone, so what clothes are “sexy” now? How much time will you devote to your grandchildren? If they live away from you, how often will you visit and how often will they visit you? This is also when the reality of your mortality hits. Are your affairs in order for your mate should your health fail? Are you financially ready for retirement?
This is also a time when love is the sweetest and most poignant. In the movie The Notebook, we see a husband fighting to stay emotionally connected to his wife, who has Alzheimer’s. He daily reads to her their love story out of a notebook. Sometimes her mind clicks back into reality and she responds. Those few brief moments make all the hours of reading worthwhile.
What’s the next natural life transition on the road ahead? Is it time to plan a getaway to better prepare for this life stage?
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