Family Life

Holiday Harmony

Halloween comes and goes. You squeeze in a day for Thanksgiving. You slowly ease into the holiday season with shopping and trimming the tree, and then the chaos ensues. Your days and nights are consumed with cookie exchanges, class parties, Nutcracker performances, Teddy Bear Teas, Live Nativities and visiting Santa. The next thing you know, it’s Christmas morning and you realize that the most substantive conversation you’ve had with your spouse over the last month was a debate over whether or not you should chaperone the middle school Christmas Dance, and the only quality time you’ve spent together was in Target trying to hunt down that LOL doll.

Parents tend to make their kids the number one priority, especially during the holidays when so much is geared towards children. By default, the spouse and marriage get bumped down Santa’s list. But when Santa checks his list twice, would putting the kids first land you on the naughty or the nice list?

Modeling Matters
Research and literature overwhelmingly support the theory that couples should prioritize the marital relationship before their children. A strong marriage often creates a safe and secure environment for children and models what a loving relationship should look like, which will ultimately benefit all of your children in the long run.

Beth Mahaffey, a local Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), agrees that the parents’ relationship with each other can definitely impact the family unit. “Children’s model for a healthy marriage is what they see at home. It is an opportunity for them to observe emotional love, physical love (hugging, hand holding, etc.), healthy communication, managing conflict and helping each other.”

She refers to Brene’ Brown’s (PhD, LMSW) quote, “Are you the adult you want your child to grow up to be?” Mahaffey puts a marital spin on this and asks her patients, “Is your marriage the marriage you want your child to grow up to have?”

According to an article written by Linda Bloom, LCSW, and Charlie Bloom, M.S. on Psychology Today, “Making the needs of the marriage subordinate to the needs of the children can, as many have discovered the hard way, lead to unexpected consequences.” Parents obviously don’t intend for the marriage to deteriorate as a result of having children, but when the marriage constantly takes a back seat, it can result in marital trouble or even divorce.

Indulging Children
Charlie Bloom, M.S., co-author of 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last states that, “It’s gotten to the point now where parents are [often] judged and ostracized if they don’t accommodate and even anticipate and provide for [their children’s] needs over the needs of their relationship.”

Unfortunately for parents today, who are parenting under a microscope, it’s all too common to be more accommodating to children than ever before. Bloom says that this can cause children “to grow up with the expectation that the world is going to indulge them, which creates a sense of entitlement”.

Of course, it is essential for children to always feel loved and valued within the family unit. You ask them how their day was at school, praise them for a job well done for every success, and cover them in hugs and kisses when they are hurt or feeling sad. But, it’s not unusual for parents to go weeks without checking in on each other’s emotional well-being or exchange similar affectionate gestures with one another.

Meeting for Marriage
One of Mahaffey’s favorite practices to share with clients is a weekly “Marriage Meeting,” which can be especially important during the hectic schedules of the holiday season. A Marriage Meeting is often 20 minutes of uninterrupted time that is spent together. During this time, each spouse should show up with a positive attitude.

The meeting usually consists of four different components:

  1. Discuss what went well the week prior, and share a few things for which you are grateful.
  2. Discuss logistics for the upcoming week. This includes the menu, nighttime practices, games, meetings, working late and anything else that might impact the family during the week.
  3. Plan date nights, and discuss any individual plans (girls’ nights, golf with friends, etc.)
  4. Share what was challenging about the prior week and what would be more helpful in the future.

As most experts agree, it is important to nurture the romantic aspect of your relationship as well. One of the most common ways that you can do this is to incorporate date nights into your weekly schedule. It can seem close to impossible to find any extra time during the holiday season, so it’s important that the two of you create this special one-on-one time together. You will soon find out that you’re both calmer and more positive. 

Kelly Papania and her husband Joey both work full-time and have three very active children, but they always make sure that they set aside time during the holidays for each other, whether it’s going on dates or running errands together. “Joey and I have an annual tradition of both taking a day off of work before Christmas to shop, have lunch together, and just catch up,” she says.

Rebekah Buco and her husband Daniel have been to Ruffino’s every year for their annual Christmas dinner date. “With four kids close in age, some years there was an infant carrier at the table just so we wouldn’t break the tradition. But no toddlers or older kids allowed!”

The magic of Christmas is no doubt a beautiful thing to experience through the eyes of a child, and the holidays provide endless opportunities to celebrate with the entire family. 

However, don’t forget to keep the spark in your marriage this holiday season! Because you know what can happen when that one light in the string goes out… ■

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