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Parents First

A few years back, we were so completely consumed with life – attending back-to-school nights, planning Halloween costumes, working on a parenting magazine, managing a myriad of important fall commitments – that we just forgot about our wedding anniversary.

It wasn’t even a blip on the radar. “Hmmm,” my husband said on his way back from the mailbox. “Your sister sent us a card.

Wonder why? I thought. And as I opened it, Scott peered over my shoulder, just as curious. Sadly, it actually took us a few seconds to figure out why my very thoughtful sister was wishing us love and laughter forever after.

Right then and there, we made a vow to “never let this happen again.” Then we made a list of couple’s resolutions: spend time alone together; kiss more often; talk about things other than the kids’ schedules; make each other laugh.

“For our anniversary, we’ll give each other the gift of time,” we declared, rather conveniently eliminating a need for last-minute shopping.

happy_coupleWe knew finding couple time would mean putting our priorities in order. Sometimes, we told ourselves, Mommy and Daddy come first. But lately, it was getting much harder to follow through on some of the best parenting advice I had ever received. That is, to ignore your children.

So how can parents disregard their children and still be called good parents? It’s not easy.

In the beginning, a hormone makes it virtually impossible to ignore your child while breastfeeding. I should know, I had nearly five thousand opportunities to try. But it’s oxytocin that compels the nursing mother to gaze intently upon the sweet face of her baby.

Fathers, of course, are not affected by this hormone.

Fortunately, the next substantial stretch of early parenting – establishing sleep habits for baby – affords not just mothers, but dads too, ample and equal opportunity to ignore the progeny.

Heeding the experts’ advice, I wrapped up my newborns like baby burritos, and put them in their cribs, completely zonked, but still awake. Meanwhile, my husband and I did just what we were supposed to. We ignored them. Sometimes we even let them cry.

We were alone together at last. Occasionally we made out. More often we engaged in conversation that had nothing to do with our kids. Or we held hands and fell asleep watching CSI. Consequently, our babies fell asleep, too – alone, on their own, and in their own beds.

That said, I confess to feeling a little smug when other parents spoke of lying with their children in racecar beds for hours, before crawling out of the room commando-style. (True story!) Not in our house. It took us a grand total of five minutes (not including book time) to get all three of ours down for the night so we could have our quality couple time snuggling on the couch. Our kids, meanwhile, mastered a skill for life: sleeping.

Now over the years, I’ve come to realize that ignoring your kids is much easier when “a” they are non-verbal, and “b” they weigh less than forty pounds. I don’t recall, for instance, having any trouble blowing off a four-year-old who came at me, double-fisted with Polly Pocket dolls. Likewise, toddler temper tantrums and hissy fits were especially easy to ignore.

But just try ignoring the sixth grader who plops herself between you and your honey on the couch and declares, “It’s movie night!” at nine o’clock on a Friday. No way I’m rolling this one into a burrito. Or the fourth grader who insists on the entire family eating dinner at Chick-fil-A because “It’s spirit night, Mommy!” Admittedly, it’s much more difficult.

Things get complicated when the kids’ activities dictate the whole family’s schedule – and indeed this is the case for most of us. Between homework and soccer and piano and gymnastics and drama and basketball and…well, you get the idea. Weekdays belong to the children. By the time the weekend arrives, Mom and Dad have nothing left to give. Forget romantic date nights, we need to concentrate on acknowledging each other in the room.

So we go back to the list: kiss, talk, laugh, snuggle. And occasionally we make out.

Even though you love your children more than you ever thought possible. Even though, for the most part, you like having them around. For the health of your marriage and for your children’s sake, too, you should try to put your relationship first – at least every once in a while. Because whether your kids realize it or not, Mommy and Daddy were a couple before they were parents.

That’s something many of us forget.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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