Why mum and dad need to make a date and treat each other to a spot of romance
Being parents can be fulfilling, but their connection can also suffer as a result. Agony aunt Suzie Hayman tells Lisa Salmon how they need to look after their relationship as well as the kids
Being parents can be fulfilling, but their connection can also suffer as a result. Agony aunt Suzie Hayman tells Lisa Salmon how they need to look after their relationship as well as the kids.
The all-consuming demands of parenthood mean mums and dads often don't have enough time to care for their own relationship.
So while a new study has found more than three quarters of British parents (85%) feel more satisfied and happier since having children, it also revealed they have less quality time together, go on fewer date nights and say "I love you" less often than before they had kids.
The research, by the family care manager care.com, found most couples only enjoy an average of one date night a month, compared to two a month before they started a family.
One in 10 parents admit it's been six months or more since they last went out with their partner, while another one in 10 reckon it's been so long they can't remember their last date night.
Not surprisingly, of the nine in 10 parents who say the number of their date nights has dropped since they had kids, 57% say it's because they're too busy, and another 56% struggle to find childcare.
But agony aunt Suzie Hayman, a trustee of the parenting charity Family Lives, warns: "It's so important to try to make time for each other.
"When people talk about having no time, often it's because they're spending the time they do have doing things that aren't important at home. Close the door on work when you come home, and remember that the people you're living with are more important than the people on your social media network."
Here, Hayman shares her tips for balancing your family life with your couple life.
MAKE A DATE
More than three quarters (87%) of parents admit their attitude to couple time has changed since having children, with four in 10 saying it's become less of a priority, and more than a quarter saying date nights only happen on special occasions.
Other reasons for not going on many date nights include not being able to afford it and not wanting to leave the children.
But Hayman points out that if childcare or money are an issue, it can be valuable to prioritise time together as a couple at home.
"There is a place for having time in your home together, when you say you're going to have a special night really paying attention to each other. It's easy when you've got children to be telling them stories, doing household chores or talking about the kids and being mum and dad, rather than being a couple.
"Sometimes it can be fun to ban talking about the children and have an evening at home together being romantic. You can set it up like a date night and have shared time together."
CALL YOURSELVES A COUPLE
The research found that family time is considered more valued quality time, with 91% of parents admitting they'd now rather spend time together as a family than alone with their partner.
"Once you become a parent you start thinking of yourself as a parent," explains Hayman.
"Never refer to yourselves as mum and dad - your kids benefit from hearing that you have actual names, rather than thinking your only role in life is being parents and not allowing you to have a life of your own. Calling each other mum and dad means you stop thinking of yourselves as a couple, so you stop doing couple things and stop having that intimate link."
RAMP UP ROMANCE
After starting a family, parents also admit they share fewer intimate moments and kisses, and have less romance in their relationship. Couples go from kissing each other 13 times a week to just 10 times once they have a baby in their lives. However, there seems to be one thing that doesn't change when children come along - the frequency of sex. British parents have sex an average of twice a week, the same as childless couples.
But while sex is still on the menu for parents, hearts and flowers aren't such a priority - romantic gestures drop by a quarter from once a week to three times a month after children are born, while "I love you" is said just 468 times a year - 52 times less than the 520 times couples without youngsters say it to each other.
"Romantic gestures definitely fall away," agrees Hayman, "because small children make huge demands, so they get all the attention, whereas the partner has stopped demanding and stopped expecting."
REMEMBER WHY YOU FELL IN LOVE
If couples don't try to give some priority to their relationship, it could break down, warns Hayman.
"Cast your minds back to what it was that brought you together, what you liked about each other and what you liked doing together. Go on a date and talk about each other, listen and ask questions. That effort at communication is really important to either keeping your relationship going, renewing it, or starting again.
"Both you and your partner have already invested so much in this relationship and had children together, why not do more to keep it going? Intimate connection is really important."
'We can curl up on the sofa with a box set'
Sarah Clarke (35) is a TV presenter and journalist for UTV. She lives in Belfast with her husband Rory, an accountant, and their children, Daniel (4) and Emily (2). She says:
It can be very easy for family life to take over. Rory and I both have demanding jobs, and I work shifts into the bargain.
You find that lots of your free time can be taken up with the family, particularly when they're little like our two.
You always put your children first and they're only small for a short period of time so you want to spend that time with them.
We're so mad about them we want to spend as much precious time with them as we can.
Equally though we don't want to forget about ourselves.
We don't tend to plan ahead as we prefer to be spontaneous, but it can difficult to get a babysitter.
When we do, though, it's a night out for a meal and a glass of wine followed by a trip to the cinema, usually at the weekend. Occasionally we get out during the week too.
Because Daniel and Emily are still quite young we can get both of them down by 7.30pm or 8pm and, once all of the tidying up and laundry gets done, we can curl up on the sofa with a nice box set.
It's a couple of hours where it's just the two of us.
Even if we're not going out at the weekend, once the kids are in bed it's an opportunity for us to enjoy a nice dinner together.
Rory can be romantic, but his gestures are more thoughtful - he'll get the kids bathed or tidy up the house which is a real support when you have two young children."
'Lunch or dinner out is a time to catch up'
Kim Constable (36) is a yoga teacher and lives in Belfast with her husband Ryan. They have four children - Corey (10), Kai (8), Maya (6) and Jack (4) - who are home-schooled. She says:
Both Ryan and I work from home, and the kids are at home with us all day too, so we do need to make time together.
All the children get up at different times, but often Ryan and I will be up first in the morning and that gives us a little time to make breakfast and sit down at the kitchen table and have a cup of tea together.
Because we're not rushing the kids out to school, we're a bit more relaxed and have a little more flexibility. As a couple, we have a no-phone policy too at home, so we can have a proper chat. That little moment of connection between Ryan and I can make a real difference to our day.
Once a week, we usually go out for lunch together. Ryan will have had a meeting in town and will text me asking if I want to join him - it's rarely planned. We also go out for dinner, just the two of us, at least once a week. We don't plan to spend time together - this routine has just developed over the years.
Evenings can be very busy for us with four kids - someone always needs a hug and as soon as you've served one round of food someone else will be hungry again. It's not a time that Ryan and I can sit and spend time together, because we're doing things for the children.
We notice it if we haven't had a proper couple conversation in a little while - we'll both get annoyed with little things.
If it's been a few days, then one of us will suggest going out for lunch or dinner to get a catch-up. It helps that the kids are a little older now, they don't need watching every minute like they did when they were younger. Spending time together is very important to both of us, particularly for me as I'm with the kids a lot.
Ryan works some evenings and travels away a lot, so this is the hardest time for me, as I'm on my own. It's nice to get a chance to relax with him every now and again."