The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Children
A Sunday School teacher asked her class why Joseph and Mary took Jesus with them to Jerusalem. A small child replied: “They couldn’t get a baby-sitter.” Had this been the right answer, my wife, Erin and I would know exactly how Joseph and Mary felt. The frustrations surrounding baby-sitting are endless. Either you can’t find someone available or the cost of watching two kids limits our date choices to free or low cost activities. Not that there is anything wrong with free or low cost. The true problem with this baby-sitting dilemma is that issues like the cost and availability can create a situation in which many couples are unable to find quality alone time to nurture their relationship.
The Importance of Spending Time Together as a Couple
“Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which [God] has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life…” . This encouragement was written around the year 935 B.C. Even thousands of years ago, King Solomon realized the importance of spending time enjoying your spouse. Current research supports this same mandate. Marital research experts Dr. Scott Stanley and Dr. Howard Markman conducted a survey to discover what creates a “strong” relationship. To their surprise, the amount of fun couples had together emerged as the strongest factor in understanding overall marital happiness. Furthermore, experts know that marriage satisfaction is at its lowest levels when a couple has its first child and again when the child is a teenager because couples tend to lose relational focus during these times. Finally, stepfamily experts suggest that the single most important factor is bringing stability to the family is the couple relationship. For example, remarried couples tend to neglect to nourish their own relationship because they are trying to meet everyone’s needs and move towards full family integration. The bottom line is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a strong, satisfying marital relationship. How do we accomplish this when babysitting can be so costly and difficult to find?
Protect Time Together at Home
There are many ways we as parents can find time to cultivate the marital relationship. Even if we can’t go out, we can carve out time after the kids go to bed. Erin and I make it a point to model the importance of marriage by telling our girls that after 8pm (which is their bedtime) its “mommy and daddy’s time.” Outside of an emergency, we do not allow the girls to interrupt our time. When they play the “we will do whatever it takes to not go to bed” game, we lovingly, but firmly, remind them that this is mom and dad’s time and you are cutting into our time. If necessary we will inform them that they have cut into our time by fifteen minutes so tomorrow you will go to bed fifteen minutes earlier to make up the time. However harsh this may sound, the point is that they need to learn that we value our marriage to the point that we will not allow anything to take away from the time it takes to cultivate a satisfying relationship.
A Baby-Sitting Co-Op
Erin and I got fed up with the cost and availability of baby-sitters to the point that we needed to look outside of traditional baby-sitting ideas. That’s when we heard about couples who traded off watching each other’s kids so they could have a date night. Bingo! There was the answer we were looking for. A Baby-Sitting Co-Op (cooperative) is several couples who form a group or “friendly society” and trade off baby-sitting responsibilities. It works simply by rotating the baby-sitting responsibility from one family to the next—week by week. For example, Erin and I have one other couple who we feel comfortable with; in other words, we feel safe to leave our girls with, and then we watch their kids one week so they can go out and then the next week they watch our kids so we can go out. You just keep rotating so you get two date nights per month that you don’t have to pay a baby-sitter for. It’s awesome.
As a result of the baby-sitting “co-op,” we have been able to skirt around some of the baby-sitting frustrations by finding a free solution. Thus, we are able to do what King Solomon has mandated: Enjoy life with the ones we love.
Low Cost Date Activities:
1. Sit and read books at a local book store
2. Drive around and look at houses in different neighborhoods
3. Check your local paper for special events which are free or low cost
4. Go to the mall and give each other $5 to spend. See who can buy the most creative gift for the other with that amount
5. Instead of buying a card, go to the card aisle and find a romantic card and then show it to each other. Don’t forget to put it back where you found it!
6. Sit together in a crowded location and try to guess what people do for a living or what they’re saying just by watching them.
Benefits of a Co-Op:
1.You get quality alone time with your mate
2.Send the message that the relationship is a priority
3.Baby-sitting costs no money
4.Your children are exposed to other people who can positively impact their lives—much like a mentor.
5.You can minister and mentor other children.
Dr. Greg Smalley serves as executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and is passionate to equip premarital and married couples with the knowledge, skills and insights necessary to enjoy a lifetime together.