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Time Out for Parents

My husband and I both feel it's important to spend special time alone together, but our 3-year-old constantly interrupts. After she's in bed, we typically run around trying to pick up or take care of things we can't get to during the day. We end up with very little time or energy left for each other. How can we keep our daughter busy so we can put some time into our marriage?

A. A child's toddler years are one of the most difficult seasons for parents. It's essential to make time for your marriage as you continue adjusting to the new roles and responsibilities parenting brings, and yet it's so difficult to find couple time.

Since you're already motivated to spend time together, I'd like to offer some practical ideas for keeping your toddler safe and busy while you and your spouse connect:

  • Save the last fifteen minutes of your toddler's evening playtime for the "clean-up" game. She is old enough to learn how to pick up her toys and is at a good age to start developing a routine. Make up a special cleaning song and add some incentives like an extra story to make the process go quickly. One parent can help your child while the other one gets dinner dishes cleared away so that the bulk of the necessary housework is done for the evening.
  • Schedule a weekly date night with a sitter. This helps your child get used to the idea that parents need alone time together. If you can't afford to pay someone, swap babysitting with another couple. Have one couple take Friday night and the other Saturday night. Do this regularly and it will become a natural part of your family schedule.
  • Purchase some interactive educational toys that are designed for kids to use on their own. LeapFrog (leapfrog.com) has a great series that starts with toddler activities and can be added to as your child gets older.
  • Go to your local library or Christian bookstore and check out books on tape for kids—the kind that include the book so your child can "read" along. Find an inexpensive tape player your child can operate by herself. Go through one or two stories together so she gets the hang of using the tape player and turning the pages at the beep. Then let her choose another story to listen to while you and your husband talk in the next room.
  • Plan a few 10- to 15-minute periods of independent play during the day to help your child get used to being by herself for several minutes.

Your daughter might resist these efforts at first, but don't give up. Children really do benefit when they sense that their parents love each other and have a solid relationship. If she fusses, gently remind her that you love her and will play with her at another time. Praise her when she occupies herself, even if it's just for five minutes. Soon, she'll understand that Mommy and Daddy time is her chance to be a big girl.

Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is the author of Sticks and Stones (W).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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