Back in 2019, we started this Advent challenge for Catholic couples as a simple way to prepare for Christmas together with your spouse, while making your marriage a priority. It appears to be helpful to many, since we received requests last year for another Advent challenge (and earlier this year we even did a Lent challenge after some requests!).
So here it is again: our 2021 Advent Challenge for Catholic Couples.
Our inspiration for this Advent challenge
Advent should be a calm and peaceful time, but often it’s the busiest time of the year! In the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s very easy to get focused on shopping, parties, and everything else holiday-related.
But let’s not forget about our marriages.
Advent and marriage have a special link—both point us toward heaven.
Use this Advent season to draw closer to each other, to foster your relationship together, and to remind each other of the end goal—eternal life in heaven. And we’ve created something to help you do exactly that!
A calendar with a simple challenge each day
This challenge includes both a calendar with a simple challenge each day, as well as a guide that gives you some ideas on how to complete each challenge.
As an added bonus, we also include a blank calendar in case you want to make up your own challenges or switch some of the challenges around. Both calendars include feast days (because hey, Catholic marriage!). We really do hope and pray this will enrich your marriage and Advent season together! That being said…
Do not let these challenges stress you out. Skip a day, if necessary, or switch the challenges around to better suit your schedule. These challenges are to make sure you’re spending time together and praying together. Peace is the goal….not stress. Okay? Okay.
The Advent challenge and guide is available in our shop! Add it to your cart by clicking the button below (or click here if it’s not showing up)…
Note: This is a digital download. A physical product will not be mailed to you. After checking out, you will receive an email with a link to download the PDF. Please do not share the file with anyone. If you’d like to print multiple copies to share as gifts, please purchase multiple copies, or contact us for group licenses. Thank you!
Every day of Lent, we have a challenge for you to complete together. You can choose to just use the calendar, which goes from February to April. You can also use the blank calendar and fill in challenges of your own! Both have feast days listed. Then refer to the Lent marriage guide for more thoughts about each challenge and ideas on how to complete it.
Just like with the Advent challenge, we want to emphasize that stress is not the goal of this Lent challenge. Skip a day if necessary, or switch the challenges around to better suit your schedule. These challenges are to make sure you’re spending time together and praying together as we prepare for the Resurrection. It’s a great time to strive for holiness together as husband and wife.
The Lent challenge and guide is now available in our shop! Add it to your cart by clicking the button below…
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Every year, we like to propose a challenge for your marriage during Lent: pick one thing to do together throughout Lent. It’s easy to go overboard and pick several things to do, but just pick one or two!
We’ve really come to see the power of doing one small thing together and how that can lead us to holiness. While giving up sweets or alcohol or something like that isn’t a bad thing, just make sure you’re picking something that will have a positive impact on your marriage and spiritual life together.
And remember, it’s not supposed to be easy! When you’re deciding on what to do, it’s also good to remember the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. So while we’re encouraging you to pick only one thing to do together, you should still focus on all three pillars throughout Lent.
Ready for some ideas for what you can do during Lent with your spouse? In no particular order, here we go!
Do the enrichment program Beloved: Mystery & Meaning of Marriage. If your church parish has a subscription to Formed.org, you could do Beloved for free! There are 6 sessions, so you can do one each week in Lent.
Sign up for the Pray More Retreat. It’s a self-paced online retreat with talks, videos, and study guides. The topics look so good and would be great conversation starters!
Wake up earlier to connect and pray together.
Go on a marriage retreat.
Take Natural Family Planning classes, if you haven’t done so yet (or have been putting it off!).
Don’t watch TV. But be sure to replace that TV time with something better!
Pray a daily Rosary.
Go to daily Mass during the week (in addition to meeting your Sunday obligation).
Donate extra money to your church or favorite charity.
Listen to a talk about Catholicism or marriage and family life each week. Catholic Productions has a great selection, and there are several awesome talks in their marriage and family life category. (Both CDs and MP3s are available.)
Do the Stations of the Cross together each Friday.
Do the enrichment program United in Love-United in Christ. We did this one year with a large group of couples at our church, and it was great! You could do it with a small group in your own home as well, meeting once a week for 6 weeks.
What ideas would you add to the list??
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As soon as I heard Meggie’s discernment story, I knew I had to share it with all of you, and thankfully she agreed!Discerning another baby—or any other major decision, for that matter—will look differently for each couple. But one thing is the same: it takes prayer, communication, and a whole lot of trust in God’s will and plan for your marriage and family. Meggie’s story shows that discernment doesn’t always end up the way we expect, but proof that God always knows best. -Jen
Discernment is a difficult topic to cover; each person’s journey is so different and so personal. Growing your family (or choosing to not grow your family) is entirely between your husband, you, and God, yet so many people come out of the woodwork when your journey doesn’t line up with what they perceive from the outside.
I’m going to be completely upfront about this: I do not feel qualified to write about discernment. It is something I constantly wrestle with, but maybe hearing about it from more women in the trenches is what the NFP community needs. I struggle. I struggle with selfishness, and I struggle with fear. I do not particularly like being pregnant.
Our plans from the beginning
When my husband and I first got married, we had agreed we would wait two years before trying to conceive. Our time spent dating and engaged was almost entirely long distance due to our different timelines with school and work. Our reasoning was that we needed time to adjust and settle into our married life, which included my transition from college to the workforce, a new city (for me), and honestly, just being in the same room together for more than a few hours.
I don’t love the phrase “we make plans, and God laughs.” I like to think God sighs a little at our pigheadedness and slowly pokes and prods us until we’re heading in the right direction. This is what happened…
Discerning pregnancy together
After a few months of marriage, I started to feel a longing for a child. I slowly began to examine our reasons for avoiding, and I no longer felt they held up anymore. I was doing well at work and could get to most places I needed without a GPS (which was a huge success, as I am very directionally challenged). Geoff and I had transitioned very naturally and joyfully into married life.
So one evening, I gathered my courage and broached the subject with him. I was longing for a child and was not at peace with trying to avoid any longer, but would of course respect his feelings as well. Geoff was hesitant as this was much sooner than we had agreed upon, but he encouraged me to continue to pray about it and promised we could continue to discuss. I would go to Mass on my lunch hour to pray for clarity, and to pray that Geoff would be open to the idea of switching to TTC (trying to conceive). I felt that the longing God put on my heart was truly of God, and from God.
The next stage was terribly painful. I watched as three weeks in a row, three women in our couples’ group announced that they were pregnant. Geoff walked into our bedroom after one of those evenings to find me crying. We discussed further and ultimately agreed that it was time to try.
We got pregnant immediately…and immediately miscarried. I was distraught, but several months later finally got another positive test. I was overjoyed but struggled intensely with anxiety, as we had lost our first. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, but everything went smoothly. In November of 2017, we welcomed our son, Becket.
His first few months were a challenge. Becket was colicky and screamed nearly non-stop for five months. He slept only three hours at a time, and our sleep training attempts repeatedly failed to stick. On top of this, he became a very proficient climber early on and learned to walk the same week he had surgery at 11 months old. That first year was a blur, and the times for marital intimacy were few and far between as we navigated the postpartum period. At 16 months, Becket finally slept through the night, and slowly our lives regained some normalcy.
Discernment is a process
I have struggled with scrupulosity all my life, and at 18 months again felt that maybe our reasons for avoiding were not as strong as they once were. Surely we weren’t being good Catholics if we continued to avoid without a life-threatening reason? Sure, my anxiety was bad, but my head was at least above the water now. Geoff reminded me that God calls us to be responsible parents, and that I was in no state to have more children yet. God does not call us to drown ourselves, but to wait with patience for his love and his peace.
My anxiety continued to worsen around Becket’s second birthday, and Geoff and I finally decided it was time for me to seek help. That worked for some time, and in February of 2020, I mentioned to Geoff the guilt I felt for continuing to avoid. He again reminded me that just as we can’t make the decision to avoid out of fear, we can’t make the decision to conceive out of fear either. That decision must come from a place of peace.
Sure enough, COVID hit the US, and during the first lockdown, Geoff looked at me across the table and said, “Aren’t you glad you aren’t pregnant right now?” The anxiety of being pregnant with so many unknowns in the early days of the pandemic would have probably sent me over the edge mentally.
With COVID, my anxiety crept right back up and reached such a fever pitch that I ultimately ended up in the emergency room with a sudden and severe pain at the base of my skull following weeks of daily tension headaches. My head was fine, but the doctor had noticed a nodule on my thyroid. I was assured it was no big deal. Many people have them, and 98% of the time they’re benign. In fact, the doctor nearly forgot to tell us about it!
I did some minor research when we got home, but was not particularly alarmed. I was more concerned about finding a solution to the crippling anxiety, so I promptly scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician. He put me on anxiety medication after years of me trying to avoid it, and he also ordered an ultrasound of my thyroid, which wouldn’t happen for some time.
Leaving survival mode behind
The medication was a complete life-saver. Not only was my head above the water, but I was able to swim. I left survivor-mode behind me and felt myself becoming a better wife and mother almost overnight. I felt that I really wouldn’t mind starting to think about having another child again. So I began diving deeper into discernment. My prayer went from, “Please don’t ask me to get pregnant again, because I just can’t do it!” to “If it is your will, God, please place that desire for a child in both of our hearts, and let us be at peace.”
It was an incredibly freeing thing to put that in God’s hands—to ask Him to prepare my heart for another child if that was what He wanted of me. I was confident that He would do so, that I would soon feel that peace as confirmation that it was time for us to try to conceive again. I finally felt ready to put that decision in God’s hands.
The peace did come…but in an unexpected form. I suddenly found myself very at peace with avoiding a pregnancy, which was perplexing—it was the exact opposite of what I assumed would be our next step. So, we continued to avoid a pregnancy.
I had my thyroid ultrasound, and the technician was cheerful and friendly. I expected to wait for two weeks but received my results the next business day. The report recommended a biopsy, accompanied by very technical terms describing the nodule. I took to Google to learn about the classification method of thyroid nodules, and my stomach dropped. There was an 80% chance or greater that it was cancer. Two days later, I was biopsied, and a week after that, had all suspicions confirmed: papillary carcinoma with the BRAF v600e mutation (AKA cancer).
The importance of NFP during treatment
Ten days after my diagnosis, I had a total thyroidectomy. Our need to avoid a pregnancy became extremely serious, as I faced the possibility of radioactive iodine treatment. If I didn’t need the additional treatment, we would only need to avoid for a few months until my medication was properly adjusted. If I did need it, we faced a year of very strict TTA (trying to avoid) for the safety of the baby.
The surgery was a success, but my doctor ultimately decided I needed further treatment to kill any remaining thyroid cells, so I began preparing for something called radioactive iodine (RAI). As thyroid cells are essentially the only cells in your body that absorb iodine, by ingesting a radioactive iodine pill, any remaining thyroid cells absorb the radioactivity and are slowly destroyed. It is a very targeted therapy, and requires going on a low-iodine diet to starve your body of iodine so it absorbs better. It also requires total isolation for anywhere from three days to three weeks.
Knowing the seriousness of this treatment, I contacted a new NFP instructor to help guide us through the coming year of avoiding, who has helped me several times already as we navigate progesterone tests for confirming ovulation.
The gift of NFP and its fruits
I am now on the other side of my treatment, and recently received the news that there is no evidence of spread. There is always a chance of recurrence, but for now, we are doing well and looking forward to the future that will hopefully include more children somewhere along the way!
Discernment is a difficult topic. It involves taking a deep look at ourselves, our intentions, and our motivations, which can sometimes be painful. I am deeply grateful for the gift of NFP and the way it has helped me to learn to trust better and slowly taught me to pray: not my will, but Thine.
Meggie is a born-and-bred Midwesterner living in the deep south with her husband, Geoff, and their busy 3-year-old, Becket. She works part-time in residential architecture, and full time in domestic engineering. When not chasing her son or sketching floor plans, she can be found reading a good book and drinking a Moscow mule.
A couple of years ago, my husband saw a post about a man picking out his wife’s clothes for a week. He wanted to do it. I was a little hesitant. After all, I’m a big fan of t-shirts and flip flops (because it is hot here in Louisiana most of the year) and just knew he would want me to wear skirts and dresses. But I decided to be brave and let him choose my clothes for an entire week.
My husband, Logan, actually loves to pick out my clothes…but normally, I reserve that for date nights. (Our favorite date is the Goodwill date—we pick out each other’s clothes at Goodwill and then wear them to lunch/dinner.) But letting him pick out my clothes for 7 days?? That’s a much bigger commitment and requires a lot more trust.
We learned a lot from that week of him picking out my clothes, though, so I’m glad we did it. I realized he has pretty good fashion sense and that I needed to trust him more. He learned that it’s hard to pick out clothes for a woman every day and that I actually do trust him. It was pretty fun, too! Here are the pictures (selfies because Logan was usually at work once I was dressed) from that week in 2017, with commentary:
Since we are stuck at home due to COVID-19, we thought it was the perfect time to bring back the “husband picks wife’s clothes for a week” challenge. It made things a little exciting each day, and we had fun with it again. In case you missed us posting about it on Instagram, we wanted to share about it here…and encourage you to try it too.
Since Logan knew I wasn’t thrilled about dressing up every day back in 2017 (when I was actually leaving the house), he decided to mix it up a little bit this time with some casual clothes. Thankfully.
The gist of the challenge:
Husband picks out wife’s clothes for 7 days
Husband must have wife’s best interests at heart (keep it classy, basically)
Take a picture of what he picks every day. You will want to remember this!
Now for pictures from this past week!
“You should trust my opinion more”
“I like to see you in things other than just t-shirt and shorts”
“The variety in clothes helps me focus on you more”
“I like you getting dressed for the day…as opposed to just bumming it.”
I should let Logan pick out my clothes more often
Dressing nice (even when I’m not going anywhere) is an act of love for Logan
How I dress affects the way I feel
I need to just wear things I’m not 100% comfortable with instead of letting them sit in my closet…because they’re not as bad as I think. And it just so happens that Logan loves them!
Since I don’t take very many risks when it comes to my wardrobe, it was a great time to trust Logan and let him show me what he enjoys seeing on me. It also made me realize that dressing nicer really does make a difference in my day and how I approach it. I was more motivated to get things done!
So what do you think about letting your husband pick your clothes? Or if you’re a guy, would you want to pick your wife’s clothes for a week? Let us know your thoughts!
Although this post is inspired by the craziness caused by COVID-19, this is still applicable to couples who just had a baby or are dealing with illness or any other situation that keeps you stuck at home.
It’s actually the perfect time to focus on your marriage when you’re at home for an extended period, because the list of distractions is a lot shorter. And there might be a little more, um, issues that arise since you’re in close quarters. So here are some ways you can foster your marriage while stuck at home:
1. Pray together.
We say this all of the time, and we will say it forever. Praying together every day helps you grow closer together and closer to God all at the same time. It improves communication and helps you to get more on the same page. If there is one thing you do for your marriage during this time, make it this one!
2. Have a date night in.
You know we’re big fans of going on dates (check out our date night guide!), but what if we can’t go anywhere? Make a night at home special (which we do talk about in our date night guide). The key is to make it different than any other night at home! We try to put the kids to bed early so we can have extra time together. We pick a fun activity to do and a special treat to share. This may require some creativity, but that just makes it extra special. For an extra twist, pick a theme for your date night in! Check out our freebie to help you with themed home dates.
3. Do something new together.
This is a great time to find a hobby to share together – baking (we made a cake together once! Watch that video here), crafting, cooking, exercising, building…whatever it is that you’ve never done together before.
4. Play a game together.
Cards, board games, or you could do something like the “not so newlywed” game! Ask each other questions and see if you can guess what each other will say. Check out our “fun and games” playlist on our YouTube channel for some ideas. We also have a freebie to help you play the “Him or Her?” game!
5. Work on a project together.
We’re using this time to do some of the things we’ve been meaning to do. Clean up the yard, paint, create a prayer space in your home, etc. It’s so nice to work on something together and see the results!
6. Go outside together.
Some fresh air really helps, especially during stressful times! We’ve been praying a rosary outside together by our Mary garden, and it’s so nice. You could go for a walk, work on the yard together, etc.
Over the last 10+ years of marriage, I’ve noticed something. My marriage is doing the best when I’m being intentional about doing small things for my husband. It doesn’t even matter how small—what matters is that I’m doing something.
I used to be that wife who always wanted my husband to do more, to be better, to love me in certain ways that he seemed incapable of doing. (Okay, I still have my moments…) But what I’ve realized is that he wasn’t intentionally not doing all of those things. He simply needed a little love first!
Do one small act of love each day
That was the inspiration behind 40 Days of Loving Your Husband. (Sorry guys, this is for the ladies…but you will appreciate it!) For 40 days, you can pick a card with a simple act of love to perform for your husband. Just cut out the cards and put them in a basket! If picking a random thing isn’t your jam, there’s also a checklist with the same 40 items. Pick one yourself to do and check it off the list. The whole idea is to do a small act of love each day.
This can be done during Lent (although Sundays aren’t included in the 40 days), whenever your marriage is in a rut, or during a period your husband needs some extra love and affirmation. Some of these acts of love may come naturally to you, while others may be completely out of your comfort zone. But it’s important to make time for your husband and your marriage each day. Small things really do make a difference. I know that when I’m doing little things for my husband, he notices. And he reciprocates in a big way!
Try the 40-day challenge and see if you notice a difference in your marriage. To purchase, click the button below…
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Every year, February 7-14 is recognized as National Marriage Week. It really is the perfect time to celebrate the gift of married life and to show appreciation for our spouse. It’s also a great idea to do a little extra something when it comes to nurturing your relationship together. And in case you wanted some ideas on exactly what you can do during National Marriage Week, we have some ideas…
1. Pray for all marriages.
This includes your own! We need strong and faithful marriages more than ever, and since prayer is so powerful, we need to make sure we’re praying for all marriages.
2. Show love and appreciation for your spouse.
How you do this can vary widely, but we always look to each other’s love languages for inspiration.
3. Plan a date night.
Even if you think date nights aren’t necessary in a marriage, it’s still good to get out together every once and awhile! Date night doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be intentional quality time for just you and your spouse. Check out our date night guide for more thoughts and tips!
4. Read a marriage book together.
We share some favorites on our Recommendations page, but there are so many more to choose from! Reading together provides the perfect opportunity to have some great conversation.
5. Choose an enrichment program to go through together.
Just like certain professions require continuing education, we should be doing the same with our marriage! There’s an extensive list of enrichment programs at the USCCB’s website, For Your Marriage, here. We can personally vouch for how amazing United in Love is, which we did a couple years ago through our church parish. It was so fruitful!
6. Listen to a marriage talk.
Dr. Brant Pitre has some great ones (like this one and this one), and there are plenty others one to be found on Formed.org by Venerable Fulton Sheen, Dr. Scott Hahn, and others.
7. Book a marriage retreat for the upcoming year.
We love retreats! Here are 10 reasons why you should go on a marriage retreat. We also share why we try to go on a retreat every year in this video: Why We Retreat
8. Do an online 7-day marriage retreat.
For Your Marriage posts a 7-day online marriage retreat every year during National Marriage Week. Here’s the 2020 one! You can also sign up to receive an email each day.
Do you have any other ideas?? Share them with us!
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When we really think about it, Advent and marriage have so many connections.
In marriage, our goal is to get each other to heaven. Plus our relationship with our spouse is supposed to be a foretaste of heaven!
In Advent, we’re preparing not only for the birth of Jesus, we’re preparing for when he comes again. It’s a reminder that we need to be ready! We want to be with him in heaven.
So it makes sense that we should want to keep Advent sacred as a married couple. Here are ways you can do that:
1. Commit to a spiritual practice together.
Been wanting to start praying a daily Rosary as a couple? Advent is a great time to start.
Attend an extra Mass together during the week.
Pray an hour from the Liturgy of the Hours each day.
2. Read a book together.
It could be a marriage book or a spiritual book. Read a chapter and then discuss! For suggestions of marriage books, check out our Recommendations page.
A book of the Bible counts as a book! Reading through one of the Gospels together leading up to Christmas is a simple but beautiful way to connect in a faithful way.
3. Limit screen time.
Normally watch TV every night together? Try to limit it to once or twice a week.
Put your phones aside when you’re together for a designated time each day.
Doing both of those will give you plenty of time to do any of the previous suggestions!
4. Don’t feel like you have to attend every party.
Seriously. It’s okay to politely decline an invitation, especially if you’re already feeling overwhelmed. December is a crazy time, and if saying yes to every single event will leave you frazzled and forgetful of what Advent is all about…just say no. Keep each other accountable to this!
5. Go to Confession.
We try to go every month, and that’s especially important during Advent and Lent! Make this a priority. Receiving this sacrament regularly has literally changed our marriage! (And if things start spiraling, it’s usually because one of us hasn’t been recently.)
6. Decide on which traditions to do this year, and shelf the rest.
Really, it’s okay. A couple years ago, Logan suggested we not take out our Jesse Tree (after struggling with it the previous two years), and I realized that he was right. We brought it back last year, and it went much smoother. Not every tradition will be right for your family every year—especially if you’re in a difficult phase with pregnancy, a baby, illness, or any other number of scenarios. Do what what works best for your family this year. But make sure you decide on that together!
7. Focus on the small things.
We tend to have high expectations of doing these fancy and elaborate traditions during December. But so often, it’s the little things that we remember. So focus on those—taking a few minutes to sit together listening to music, saying a prayer together as you light the Advent wreath, etc. We created a challenge calendar to help you focus on the small things, while keeping your marriage and Advent a priority. Check out the details here!
The important thing is that you keep Advent in Advent. Let’s keep Jesus at the center of this season. Christmas will come, and then you can celebrate!
You may remember Emily from her awesome NFP series called Life Abundantly: Real NFP Stories, where we shared our story. Today she’s sharing her ideas about how to keep your marriage a priority when your life is ruled by toddlers! Because we all know how hard it is to focus on your marriage with kids, especially the 3 and under crowd…
When I was about 10 years old, my parents got into an argument. I don’t remember what it was about, but for some reason it seemed serious to me—serious enough to make me think that my parents might get divorced. Just the thought alone made the world around me crumble.
Looking back, the thought that my parents would leave each other is almost laughable. Throughout their 36 years of marriage, they have always—always—made sure to put their relationship first, and invest the time and effort necessary to keep their marriage strong.
I learned something very important that day though. The greatest gift my parents gave me was indissolubility of their marriage. Because my parents made their marriage central, I knew even from a young age that it was the greatest gift I could give my own children. My parents taught me it would take work, and it would have to be the goal from the beginning.
Kids change everything
When my husband and I had our first child, our whole world turned on its head. Everything in our lives revolved around this baby—even our marriage. My husband and I realized early on that we needed to reclaim our marriage, and that at some point our children would learn to revolve around us.
This is no easy task when our little narcissistic dictators are largely dependent on us for most things. But it’s important to take the time now to build habits that we can adapt as our kids grow up.
A couple of caveats before we start: I have two children both under the age of 3, and my primary audience is parents with similar aged children. These are simple ideas that can evolve as your kids become more independent and their personalities develop.
It’s also important to know that these are first and foremost ideas, nothing more. These aren’t fail-safes or guarantees. Try out one or two at a time, and see how it goes. And as you do, avoid using words like “always” and “never” with regard to what you’ll do to make your marriage central. Flexibility and adaptability are indispensable virtues in family life.
7 ways to keep your marriage a priority
1. Be the first ones you greet when you get home.
Growing up, my parents had an interesting rule: when Dad got home, he and Mom had 30 minutes to themselves to recap their day. I loved this rule because it very easily keeps Mom and Dad’s relationship prioritized.
I quickly realized it’s totally impractical with the under-3 crowd, so I came up with an adapted version. Dad is the first one Mom kisses when he comes in the door. Even if the kids run up to him to welcome him home, Mom still gets first dibs.
2. Keep dinner time simple and about the two of you.
Dinner can be a nightmare when your little ones’ taste buds change daily. It can be utterly exhausting to get everything ready and settle in at the table, only to find out that the same food that was gobbled up yesterday is now flung across the room in disgust.
We adopted two rules to help keep dinner time chaos in check:
Barring any dietary issues (i.e. allergies, weight gain/loss issues, or age restrictions on food), if the kids join you at dinner, they eat what you eat.
If you make them something separate or special, they eat before you. And if they don’t eat, that’s ok! Don’t make a big deal if they refuse. They won’t starve themselves, I promise.
Dinner will ideally evolve into a wonderful time for family conversation and bonding. Break in the kids while they’re young: cook what you and your spouse will enjoy, and let the kids try it as they like. If the kids turn their noses up or if tantrums ensue, don’t sweat it. Just excuse them—to their room if necessary—and proceed with your meal. Bon appetit!
3. Sit next to each other in church.
There is some wisdom to having your acrobats nestled in between two solid adults. But while it may keep them from being disruptive, it could also be sending a subtle message of who’s the boss. (Hint: it’s not who it should be.)
When our daughter turned 2, she became an unholy terror in Mass. We made a plan to address the tantrums and communicate what was appropriate behavior while we were in God’s house (I forget how we have to teach kids literally everything). Once she understood the clear and consistent consequences, we implemented sitting next to each other. It shows her not only that Mom and Dad are central, but that the whole reason we’re all there is to re-center on Jesus, not to make our kid sit still.
4. Talk to each other and be affectionate to each other in front of the kids.
And I mean have a conversation with each other and let the kids be. No really. Kids can entertain themselves—even a 2-year old can reasonably be expected to play independently for 15-30 minutes, depending on the kid—though it may be a skill that needs to be taught first. Use that time to talk, hug, and give a random kiss or two. These are all important elements of maintaining a healthy marriage, as well as being a teaching opportunity for your kids.
Children need to see that conversations that Mom and Dad have are important, and that healthy communication is the backbone of a marriage (refer back to my anecdote in point 1). And if you think a 2-year old is too young to notice or care, just wait till they shout their first cuss word that they incidentally learned from you.
5. Make time for date night.
I know this one is so tough. One of the biggest impediments to going out is finding someone who can stay with your kids. Jen and Logan have a great download for planning date nights, complete with ideas for babysitting swaps, so I’m just going to tell you about a twist I have on that idea.
While I don’t live near any family, I am blessed to have close friends who also have kids, and here’s what we do: Mom A babysits for Mom B’s kids, BUT Mom A doesn’t arrive till after Mom B’s kids are in bed. This means Mom A has a night to herself (at a different house), and Mom B has a worry-free date with the hubs. Then Mom A and B trade off. Pretty cool, right? It doesn’t cost a thing, and you both win every time. Pro tip: put the kids to bed a little early so you can have some extra time to get ready.
6. Discipline in unity.
It’s paramount that your kids see you as a united front. If you don’t agree with how your spouse handled a certain situation, DO NOT confront it in the moment or in front of your kids at all. Bring it up once they’ve gone to bed, which little ones mercifully do fairly early. Talk about your child’s behavior, appropriate discipline, and the thought behind how you approach it.
We typically model our own parenting on how we were parented, but even good things from your childhood may not make sense in your own family. It’s important to understand where you’re each coming from and think through what makes sense for your family. Children need to know that Mom and Dad are in it together, especially when it comes to the behavior that is expected from them.
7. Have fun together as a family.
What’s the common element of your favorite childhood memories? Having fun together as a family! We love music and dancing, so most evenings before and/or after dinner, we have a family dance party. It’s also a great way to diffuse the tension of a tantrum or let out some pent up energy on a rainy day.
Find a few activities that you enjoy as a family and do them regularly. These don’t have to be elaborate! The simpler and more spontaneous, the better.
It’s worth the effort
After all of that, you may still be wondering…why is it so important to make my marriage central right now?
You’re teaching your children about marriage through your marriage, and you’re building the foundation of that education right now. Any builder will tell you if the foundation isn’t right, the whole project will be moot. Building a family takes time, patience, perseverance, a ton of humor, and most importantly, love.
You aren’t going to get it right everyday, and that’s ok. Most building projects take double the time and double the budget, but it’s always worth it. It is never a bad idea to work on keeping your marriage a priority. I can promise your kids will thank you for it.
Emily is a south Louisiana native living outside DC with her husband Nick and two cherubs. After five years working in the political arena, she left to run her own rat race at home and was amazed at how well working with politicians prepared her for toddlers. Her background is in architecture and she finds the principles of building incredibly well-suited to the job of molding little humans and designing her blog. You can connect with her here: Total W(h)ine Blog | Instagram | Facebook