We were in shul when I heard my daughter Maya, 5, speak loudly and clearly in a voice that is certainly mine. She’s made two paper airplanes, handed one to a cousin and christened them “man” and “woman.” “Let’s leave the kids at home and go out for dinner, just you and me,” she suggests to the “male” airplane.
I recognize those words immediately and am stunned, first into silence, then laughter and then denial. “I don’t say that very often,” I begin tentatively, trying to recall the last time we actually did head out on a spur-of-the-moment dinner without the children. “Oh yes, you do!” she retorts.
Maya’s words ring in my ears for the rest of the day and the days that follow. At first I’m disturbed that her first thoughts, when playing “mom,” are to escape the kids. Is that how she sees me? As a mother who can’t wait to get away?
I’m comforted, though, that on some level she gets it: moms and dads need time to themselves to enjoy each other without the presence of their children. She might have launched into a different dialogue with her male airplane, say, about how he was working too much or not helping enough around the house. Perhaps I should be grateful that the first thought in her head, when playing the role of a mother, was “date night!”
Managing a relationship with your spouse is an ongoing challenge with kids in the house. In our home, when the children were younger, the witching hour – with its feeding, bathing and sleeping dramas – meant any down time was spent in shell-shocked recovery mode from the hours that preceded it. Now that infancy is well behind us, the struggle is in getting the kids to go to bed and stay there at a decent hour so that we can have at least a glimpse of an evening to ourselves. Many times, the only way to have an uninterrupted conversation of any depth is to close the front door and head out.
It’s something we don’t do often enough.
When we do, though, the harried parents frustrated by kids who don’t listen shed their skins. They clasp each other’s hands and walk into the cold, quiet night air as a man and a woman who share stories about their week and find peace and comfort in each other’s company. We’re reminded what a beautiful thing our partnership is, especially so when it has the space to breathe, strengthen and rejuvenate.
Because kids are great, but they can also deplete reserves of patience and tolerance. With those in low supply, the memory of a relationship between two adults that preceded the kids’ arrival recedes as well. And it’s the marriage, and the love within it that sustains, nurtures and adheres the whole family structure.
The stats on marriage survival in Canada are not pretty. Some 41 per cent of all marriages end in divorce before their 30th anniversary, says Statistics Canada. Where do they go wrong? How does dewy love head south to disinterest, dislike and, eventually, disassociation? Where does the communication break down, and how do we prevent that from happening?
Maybe more guilt-free date nights and weekends away sans kids are the key to keeping it together. A couple’s relationship requires oxygenation to keep it balanced and happy, after all. Maybe the marriage should be given more space in the family so that couples remember why they chose each other to begin with.
In hindsight, I’m not ashamed to admit it: though I love my kids to bits, I also want to ditch them every now and then and breeze out the door with my husband. It’s a tonic, a gift we give our partnership and one that helps us keep the glue of the family together. Without that glue, it’s a slippery slope downhill.